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How A Simple Formula Can Help You Stop Downward Spirals After 40

Episode 17 | (0:00)

Hey there, friend, how are you doing today? I am so glad you decided to join me because I wanted to talk to you a little bit about downward spirals.

Basically, downward spirals are when you have a negative thought and then another negative thought, and it starts thought after thought after thought and it just takes you down and you start spiraling towards that drain, right?

This little formula has helped me so many times over the years because I used to get stuck in that spiral and just go down and down and down. It's just gets lower and lower and lower. And sometimes when you get stuck in those spirals, it's very hard to get out. I can say this with great authority and from personal experience. So, you ready to get going? You ready to find out what this formula is? It's helped me a lot, and I hope it can help you too. So let's do this, alright!

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So today, we're going to be talking about how a simple formula can help you stop downward spirals after 40. Oh my goodness, think about it. I don't know about you,  but this whole downward spiral of thought caught me way back in my 20s. So let me tell give you an example of how that worked for me, and let me tell you what not to do. But I think it's happened to all of us so I'm just going to give you an example of where I was back in my 20s.

I had gotten my first big corporate gig as a public relations specialist. This is what I had studied in school. I had my Bachelor of Journalism degree and had a specialization in PR, and I was so excited. I had worked for other companies, smaller companies, and I had fun there. But to work for a big corporation, I was like, oh my goodness, this is so great.

So like all corporations... I was going to say like "any corporation" but actually pretty much like all corporations, the word "reorganization" comes up pretty regularly. So this particular corporation would transfer people in and out to have a well-rounded team of PR professionals.

In this latest round of musical chairs, I got assigned to an older gentleman. He was kind of a toughened news reporter. He was the guy, you know, smoking the cigar with the hat and the little card that says "Press" —  He was that guy. He was really gruff. He was kind of difficult to talk to, and I couldn't read him. I couldn't figure him out at all. I didn't even know if he liked me or not, and that made me really, really nervous.

Because when I think about it, I think the best way to describe him is Walter Matthau. I'm thinking Walter Matthau, Grumpy Old Men... you remember that show? He was a bit of a curmudgeon.

So I would be doing my work, doing my little PR stuff. I was going to make sure that we had everything together for our PR activities, whether it was with the media or community relations or whatever we were doing, and I was so excited. I was doing my work and then all of a sudden, a head would pop up over the wall of my cube. All I could see was from the chin to the top of his head. And he wouldn't smile or anything, he would just say, "Hey, Michelle, come by my office before the end of the day" and he'd walk off.

Well, as a 20-something, obviously that just struck a fear in my heart. And I immediately went to "the bad place." I started this downward spiral of thought, thinking, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, what's he going to tell me? Why does he want to see me? What does that mean? What did I do? What did I mess up? Did I mess something up? What did I do? Okay, no, I think that was okay... What did I miss? Oh, my gosh, what if he demotes me? What if he yells at me? What if he fires me?"

I mean, this spiral just went down, down, down, and I went from having a great day to the pits of despair in less than a millisecond. And I kept doing this every time he talked to me. I was just filled with dread. I don't know...

I know I just had a lot of fear of him. I don't know whether it was a fear of authority, a fear of — I'm not sure — maybe a fear of cranky old men. I have no idea.

So I would get my nerve up and I'd walked down to his office just trying to breathe deeply so I didn't hyperventilate. 


I'd walk in there just praying he did not see the armpit stains that were down to my waist because I was so nervous, I was sweating so much.

In a real shaky voice I'd say, "Hey..." (I was trying to be cool, y'know?) "Hey, you... You wanted to see me?" He said, "What? Oh, yeah. That's right, we need to set up a press conference for the President" and blah, blah, blah, and he would just take off.

After all that stress, all that dread, all that worry, all that anxiety I had put upon myself, and all he wanted to do was call me in to start another project.

I let my thoughts get the best of me. And that didn't happen just once, it happened over and over and over again until I finally got to know him. He was that guy that was really tough on the outside, but he was a big, squishy teddy bear inside. I ended up liking him a whole lot once I relaxed, once I realized I didn't need to be afraid of him. He was not doing anything to me. I was the one doing things to me because I would get into that downward spiral of thought. But he wasn't doing anything. He was just being himself, that's just who he was.

This is just one example of how downward spirals can take over our lives. I mean, I immediately went to the bad place. I had one bad thought then another then another. I'd get myself into a tizzy over a story that I made up in my head. And of course, I couldn't leave it there, I had to give it a really unhappy ending. And then I put it on a silver platter and handed it to myself like it was the truth... and none of it had even happened yet!

Have you ever done this? Actually, I don't know why I'm asking the question. I know we've all done this at some point in our lives. We just get caught on one thought and then another and another, and we go into that downward spiral of thought.

When we worry or we get anxious or we feel dread about something, it's generally based in a fear about something that may happen. It hasn't happened yet. But we make up all these stories in our heads, right? And that's what creates the downward spiral of thought.

When was the last time you worried about something? Was it something that had already happened? Or were you just worrying about what might happen? Because whether we admit it or not, knowing is better than not knowing. It's the not knowing that leaves us up in the air and kind of takes the ground out from underneath us. It's the not knowing that puts that thing in your stomach and you just can't sleep because you're worried about it. It's the not knowing that keeps us in this real "iffy" place. And when we're in this "iffy" place, that's when our imaginations start running. That's when we start creating these crazy stories. That's when we start thinking of all the horrible things that can happen.

So that's why it's important that when we start these downward spirals, we need to have a way to stop ourselves from creating these outlandish stories that just don't benefit us.

One way to stop the spiral is to understand that within every situation, you have options. I mean, granted, there may be consequences with some of these options but when push comes to shove, you always have an option. And having options is freeing. It calms you down. It lets you think clearly.

For example, if I'm listening to someone complain about their job, "Michelle, they don't do this and they do that" and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and they say, "I just really don't like it there. I'm not happy there. I really don't like my job."

They go on and on and on. And then they look at me like I have three heads when I say, "Well, if you don't like it, quit."

They respond, "What?"

"If you don't like your job, if you're not happy there, find a new job and quit," I say.

"Oh, Michelle, you don't understand."

"Oh, I do understand, I understand that you don't like your job, and you'd be happier somewhere else."

"Oh, but Michelle, I can't, I can't."


"Why not? Who says? I mean, you're a grown up now. You don't have to stay there if you don't want to."

"Oh, but Michelle, I mean, you don't understand. There's just so many benefits, and I have X number of vacation days" and blah, blah, blah.

"So you can't match those benefits anywhere else?"

And there's always a pause as they say, "Well... well, probably not."

The fact that you're saying "probably not" means that you haven't even checked into it. You have an option right in front of you, and you haven't done anything. You have not exercise any options at all. Not yet anyway, because understanding that you have options moves you from a downward spiral into possibility.

You know, when I say to people, "Well, quit. Find a new job that can match the benefits and a place where you'll be happy." I know that sounds simplistic, but I'm simply saying it just to point out that options exist. Knowing these options exist and there's something bigger out there helps us dramatically.

I mean, at that point, somebody may get mad at me and say, "That Michelle, I can't believe she said that." And then maybe about an hour two later, they're going, "Hmm, maybe I should update my resume.... You know, I could call a headhunter.... Oh, you know, I had lunch with George the other day and he was saying that his company was hiring, so I need to give him a call."

And then we start getting an action plan, then we start thinking, "Hey, maybe this or hey, maybe that" because knowing we have options — whether we like the option or not isn't really the point — the point is, you have options.

Honestly, for a lot of us, these downward spirals are a habit we don't even know that we have. It just becomes our "go to" action when things are up in the air, when we're not sure what's going to happen next.

Okay, so here's a three-step formula for you when you find yourself in a situation and you're noticing you're taking downward spirals of thought.

Grab a sheet of paper and a pen, along with a timer. The first step is, you're going to set your timer for two minutes. During this two minutes, you are going to write down all your fears, anxieties, dreads, worst case scenarios, everything negative about this particular situation that has you spiraling. The important thing is, you're going to write as fast as you can. If you repeat things, it's fine, it doesn't matter. Just keep the pen moving across the page for two minutes.

The goal of this is to get you to pour everything onto the page, all that negativity, all that fear, all that bleech. You just want to get it out of your head and onto the page so it's in one little place. Otherwise, the thoughts are going to be running all over your mind, they're going to be hiding out little recesses and little cubby holes in your mind and come up at inappropriate times. And we don't want that. It's like herding cats if they're up in your brain.

But once you see them and they're concrete and you can touch them and you can read them, then you're going to be able to take control of them.

Number two, review your list. You know, it's kind of nice to be able to look at this list objectively.


When I do this, I generally experience two things.

First, I'm generally embarrassed because when I look at all the silly, ridiculous, outlandish things that I've come up with in my head, oh my goodness, it's so silly. I look at them and I go, "Well, that won't happen. And that'll never happen. And that's not going to happen."

In my head, it all made sense. And when I put it down and look at it objectively, it makes no sense at all. It helps me take control back. You're going to like that, you're going to like being able to take some control back from these crazy thoughts that were running through your head.

The second thing you may notice is some patterns. Most of us have two to three areas that we run to immediately. They're kind of our "go to" areas. So as you do this exercise more and more, you're going to notice some areas that trigger you. When you become more aware of what triggers you, then you can start making some changes to that. Okay, so that's number two.

And number three, you're going to set the timer again for two minutes, and you're going to write as fast as you can. But this time, you're going to write out all your options. Now these options can be realistic or ridiculous, it doesn't matter because no one is going to see this list but you, so just go nuts on this part if you want.

And ask yourself some really good questions. Start thinking, "Alright, so if this situation goes in Direction A, what am I going to do? How am I going to handle this?" It's really interesting, when you ask yourself good questions like that, your brain is automatically going to start coming up with the steps. You're going to come up with a "mini" action plan right away. And that, again, is going to help you feel more in control and help you take back some of your power.

The best thing about using this formula when you feel yourself going into a downward spiral is that you're going to be able to take responsibility early on. You're going to slow down or even stay out of these spirals. You're going to have a more positive outlook and when you have a brighter outlook, you're going to open yourself up to possibilities.

Just knowing that you have options will help you think of even more options and more solutions. And one of those, maybe a number of those, are going to be exactly what you're looking for.

To recap, the formula is, number one, write down all your fears, all your anxieties, all the negative stuff. Just dump it out onto the page. Number two, review your list. And number three write down, as fast as you can, all of your options. Because as you write those options, you're going to think of more options and more solutions. And who knows, you may have this solved in one quick exercise.

So that's it for today. Again, a reminder get on my Insiders list at Until next time, peace, love and blessings to you and yours. Take care. Bye-bye!


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