Most therapists in mental health agree that staying positive helps promote good mental health. Well, this is getting harder and harder for some folks given COVID-19, financial strife, and domestic issues resulting from periodic state lockdowns from the pandemic. Staying upbeat is increasingly unattainable with additional personal problems, new or worsening psychiatric symptoms, and possible environmental issues.
One great and simple tool for re-framing a negative thought process into a more positive idea is taking inventory.
Imagine your history as a store like CVS or a supermarket. Now, instead of hair products and candy, think of your feelings and emotions. These packages are sitting on ‘mental shelving’, which needs to be monitored, restocked, and cleaned up a bit periodically.
As the owner of your ‘store’, you are the expert on conceptualising your products’ best storage. These are your thoughts and feelings logged away. Your job is to keep a running inventory of all of them.
How is this done? I recommend pausing in your busy life from time to time and visualising your ‘store’. How is the store running? Are products getting sold? Do you need to ‘order’ more of them? Is there too much of one ‘thought or feeling’ on the shelf? In the end, this is genuinely your metaphor. If it is helpful, think of products as days worth of emotions or thoughts. Are you finding you have too many negative feelings sitting on your mental shelving? In this case, it may be time to make a concerted effort to find more positive linings in your day or engage in productive, constructive activities.
Seeing the world in more favourable terms and keeping a more upbeat and optimistic approach to life sounds easy, but how is this done? Taking inventory begins with scaling, but it has more value and application. Taking stock also identifies a deeper appreciation of your accomplishments, milestones, growth, maturation, obstacles overcome, and all the incredible feats you accomplished during your life.
The metaphorical inventory you are taking stock of is an exercise in building and mental construction. Making a list of positives not only serves to re-frame negative thought processes at the moment but can also paint an entirely new narrative of negative experiences throughout a lifetime.
You are establishing a new narrative through the identification of positive aspects of your life. The journey to constructing a ‘new’ history begins by measuring your stock and its worth. Once you see how much your inventory is truly worth, the story emerging becomes brighter, and the path lit in more favourable terms.
I do not recommend combating extreme states or extreme depression with the metaphorical self-CBT ‘inventory’ exercise. In these cases, you may want to consider a level of care that can address your increased risk of self-harm to yourself or others.
However, for less extreme states, this skill is extremely easy to self-implement or learn with a trained therapist’s help. Therapists help aid your recall and insight into weekly events before the emotional landscape becomes too rugged to manage on your own.
Periodic review of your mental and emotional inventory trains your mind and increases its capacity to see the bigger picture. Taking yourself out of the moment and evaluating your behaviours, feelings, and experiences that shaped them both over time, you can better handle how you are doing on a moment-by-moment basis. Go ahead and apply this approach to different intersections of your life. Think of this as a self-assessment tool to get in touch with your mental and emotional barometer.
For example, apply these techniques to managing medical conditions and generally how you feel and what you think of your overall health. I recommend engaging in inventory reviews to stay on top of your life’s labile aspects and problematic areas that seem to shift unexpectedly. Staying present-focused, even future-oriented, is only furthered by periodic inventory reviews. After all, it is always time to think of your life circumstances better, in more practical terms.
Understanding how you attach an emotion to thought will hinge on taking an accurate mental and emotional inventory over more considerable periods – identifying patterns of behaviours, taking stock of your capacity to regulate over the long-haul, and maintain healthy behaviours in the long term.
In doing so, you can appreciate how consistent healthy behaviours are essential in reaching your goals over time.
A trained psychotherapist might help teach you this skill initially, and with practice, you will find you can do it on your own. Clinicians are helpful to evaluate the frequency and intensity of symptoms. They interpret your reporting and chart how intense or severe disturbances in your life are, how often, and can help get an accurate barometer.
Planning for the future means knowing what went wrong and why. Ensuring you don’t follow the same patterns again, leading you to go awry, will be critical. To make things even more complicated, sometimes disorders, psychiatric or medical, leave us ruinously unprepared with less insight needed to make this skill work.
Specific symptoms rooted in psychosis, for example, can limit or restrict insight, judgement, and other faculties needed to carry out enough decision-making skills to make the right choice. Other symptoms can interfere with your ability to recall, understand past experiences, and how they impact your life.
In these cases, I again recommend working closely with a trained therapist who can build and cultivate enough awareness to make this skill work, and for you to be successful in implementing it on your own.
Ultimately, better self-regulation will allow you to not only report to your therapist more accurately concerning your thoughts and feelings but generally get your sense of how you are doing over time. Working together and bringing in friends will always improve your therapy gains and speed up your recovery rate.
Max E. Guttman, LCSW is a psychotherapist and owner of Recovery Now, a mental health private practice in New York City.