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  • Lenore Lambert

How to escape a negative eddy

I got a real kick out of a reply to last week’s post on the Negative Eddy, thanking me and remarking how helpful it was.

Our fellow reader said:

There was a moment a couple of days ago when, as I began to get sucked into a series of unhelpful mental movies, the actual image of a well-meaning but inept projectionist popped into my mind. I understood what was happening, chuckled to myself and moved on.

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The negative eddy is where we have an unpleasant experience of some kind, and then those not-nice feelings stick around and trigger more unpleasant mind activity with a similar theme. Because our minds are well intentioned by only semi-skilled friends, they try to protect us by putting us on high alert for danger. They try to keep our attention on that danger by playing mental movies of a similar theme.

The result of this over-protective pattern is that we find ourselves sucked in to a downward spiral of unpleasant feelings for hours or even days – feelings that have well and truly passed their use-by moment.

The first step, as I wrote last week, is to recognise that we’ve been pulled in - to see it for what it is, as our friend described in his reply. Doing this helps us see that it’s not reality, it’s a little mental film festival curated by this well-intentioned friend, around the theme of the danger it recently detected.

Simply recognising you’ve been sucked in to it, is in fact the first step of extracting yourself. In fact sometimes it's all we need to do - we can chuckle to ourselves and move on as our friend did last week.

At other times that’s not enough – the eddy has quite some fearful momentum that’s persisting. In this case, I've invented a helpful process that I want to share with you.

An effective way to get out of a negative eddy is to let the movie operator know you’re onto it – to soothe their fears – to let them know you’ve looked at the situation, you’ve assessed the danger, and it’s ok.

Our projectionist is no fool though. Remember this cinema is your mind. Our projectionist is in there and they see everything. They know if we’re speaking nonsense!

This means that to placate the projectionist we DO actually have to look at the situation and assess the danger. We have to be willing to face our fear - to have a little tea party with our demon as I like to say. It’s only by doing that, that we can extricate ourselves from the eddy – that the projectionist relaxes and switches off the projector. The swirling stops.

Here’s the process I use:

1.      Ask yourself what am I afraid of?  Include here both the event and the outcome/s.

2.      Note the answer, and then ask is there anything else? Let your body be your guide here. If you’ve nailed it, there’ll be a change in the tension in your body. If there’s more to the answer, an unease will remain in which case simply keep repeating this question until there’s nothing more coming up.

3.      Ask yourself for each item: how would that work? Describe the chain of events that would have to happen in order for this fear to be realised.

4.      For each one ask: what is the likelihood of that outcome occurring? Use the scale of: very low, low, medium, high, or very high.

5.      For each item with a medium rating or lower, ask: what makes this unlikely? Describe the answer/s in detail.

6.      For any items with a high or very high rating, ask yourself: which of the Nine Elements of Human Flourishing is feeling in jeopardy? (It can be helpful to identify which Element is feeling thwarted for the low-medium likelihood issues too.)

They are: material security (feeling physically safe), autonomy (ability to decide for yourself in your own life), ease with uncertainty (accepting that much of life is inherently uncertain but being ok with that), belonging (to a group), pleasure (including mental pleasures and fun), engagement (flow), achievement, connection (with people), and contribution (to others).

7.      For each high/very high likelihood issue ask yourself: what can I do to mitigate this outcome?

8.      For each high/very high likelihood issue ask yourself: what can I do to nourish this Element in other ways?

9.      Decide on any actions you want to take that accord with your values, that would mitigate or remove this stressor.

Here’s how it went for me (this is a continuation of a story I told in last week’s post which you can find here if you haven’t read it).


What am I afraid of? 

1)      She will bad-mouth me to other people in the athletics community and cause people to think poorly of me and not want to know me. (Bad-mouthing me would be the event, people thinking poorly of me and not wanting to know me would be the outcomes.)

2)      She will poison the positive culture of the Whatsapp group which will make it a source of stress and remove the power of its positive contribution to the participants.

How would that work?

1)      She would take opportunities when speaking to people either in my local community here, or in the broader athletics community to tell them I think I know more than I do, and I’m self-delusional, they would believe her and think less of me, and cut off from me. (Note how I described it all the way to the end – ‘they would believe her and think less of me and cut off from me’ are important links in that chain of causality.)

2)      She will make more negative comments on the chat, which will diminish people’s willingness to participate or even be part of it, and cause stress to me.

What is the likelihood of that outcome?

1)      Low

2)      Low

What makes it unlikely?

1)      In my local community people know me and have direct experience of me, which would contradict her criticisms. I have a whole bunch of young athletes and their parents out there who have direct positive experience of my skills as a coach and my self-awareness as a person. Most people privilege their direct experience of a person over hearsay. Those who know both of us may also know that this person is prone to negativity and they would likely attribute her comments to this.

2)      I will remove her from the group if this looks like happening.


Which of the Nine Elements is feeling in jeopardy? – Belonging. The mind also offered the possibility of Connection, but as I thought about it, anyone who knows me reasonably well would not be convinced by negative comments from this person.

What do I want to do to mitigate or remove this stressor?  - I decided to suggest to her that if I am as unsatisfactory to her as it sounds, then it might be best if she removes herself from the chat. This is what I did, and she has been as nice as pie ever since. I also decided that if she didn’t remove herself and continued with the negativity, I would remove her. (Her message to me showed that she wasn’t someone with whom I could have a constructive conversation to resolve any problems which would be my usual MO.)


This process has worked for me many times with mild to medium intensity eddies. If you’ve got an unwieldy issue that’s got you in an eddy, you might need something more structured like my Tool called Inviting your demon in for a tea party. 

I’d LOVE to hear if any of you use this process and how it goes. 

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