The negative review is the act of rehashing and embellishing conversations in our minds after an interaction has already occurred, while at the same time focusing on our perceived shortcomings. It is a shameful, demoralizing, and unproductive process. These following steps will help you to overcome the negative review and put your thoughts back into balance.
- Notice that it’s happening. Observe that you are feeling lured inward and pulled into the content. Identify the trigger and when it occurred. Notice your suffering, and be compassionate.
- Label the temptation to ruminate, by saying, “This is the ‘Negative Review!’”
- Be suspicious of your mind. Do not trust this process of investigating your thoughts. The mind is not your friend at this point. It is doing a lot of repeating and reviewing; it is stuck in the same gear, doing an endless loop. And it’s shaming. Don’t participate.
- Think briefly about your usual triggers with social interactions. Do you worry about being misunderstood, blamed, or judged? Are you afraid of looking dumb, awkward, anxious, rude, or foolish? You may be jumping to the wrong conclusions. This incorrect process of using negative feelings to assess reality is called “emotional reasoning.” Emotional reasoning happens when we say, “it feels real, so it must be real.” But feeling judged doesn’t actually equate to being judged. Feeling stupid doesn’t equate to sounding stupid.
- Don’t try to find evidence. When we use worry as “evidence” that things are going poorly, we also fall into the trap of “self-confirmatory bias” — proving to ourselves over and over again that the worst thing is really happening. But anxiety isn’t the most reliable tool for measuring social interactions. Feelings matter a great deal, but they shouldn’t be used as explanations for reality. The truth is, our anxiety isn’t so easily detected by others, and we can actually be anxious and socially competent at the same time!
- Check in with your feelings (perhaps refer to a “Feelings List”). Identify as many as you can. Use self-compassion to short-circuit the mind’s obsessions. Keep distrusting your mind, but make sure to have sympathy for your feelings. Every time you identify a feeling, put your hand on your heart and say, “Of course I would feel this way. . . This is the area where I suffer. . . No wonder I experienced that. . . . This is so hard . . .These emotions are acceptable. . . Everything is forgiveable. . . It feels true but it might not be true.”
- Notice whether you are also beginning to obsess over a future social situation. Beginning to strategize about future conversations is just like doing the Negative Review but in reverse – an equally unproductive and demoralizing process. Rehearsing a speech is fine, but rehearsing the future isn’t going to work, because you don’t have access to all the information yet. Reality takes place in the present moment, with give-and-take dynamics that are continuously unfolding. When it comes to small talk, you will be better “prepared” if you simply wait for the moment to occur. When a future scenario begins to play out in your head, say, “It’s not happening right now.” “I guess I will just wait and see.” “I’ll handle things when they occur.” This is what resilient people say, so start practicing this internal dialogue as soon as possible so that you can begin to feel stronger. There is no future conversation that will take place exactly as you imagine it, so you needn’t plan for it in any detail. You are off the hook in terms of trying to anticipate the future or manage things from inside your head. Save yourself from unnecessary agony and don’t even try.
- Mindfulness will save you. Let go of both past and future conversations. If you’re craving more certainty and detail, you won’t find them by ruminating. You only have complete information in the Now, which is where you are anyway. So stay right here — you’re in a good place! Try to be more graceful with ambiguity and the unknown; set the future and the past aside. Orient yourself by saying, “Back to Now,” and focus outward, using your senses to anchor you. Become completely absorbed in what is in front of you. Find comfort in your own constant presence. Remember that you have never not been in the Now. You are here Now, with all the information you need, and you are safe.