Think of all the compliments you’ve ever given yourself.
Then think of all the times you’ve said something negative about yourself.
Which group of memories is easier to recollect?
If you’re like most of us, sadly, your answer is the latter.
As human beings our negative self-talk often runs rampant. We tend to ruminate, thinking the same oppressive thoughts over and over again. And the more we think these thoughts, the stronger they grow.
A frequently visited thought is like the path our sled leaves behind on it’s way down a snowy hillside. The more we sled down that same path, the easier it is to go down that path again, rather than starting a new one. But, with intent and effort, we can create new paths that are just as easy to travel.
When it comes to our inner dialog, replacing well-worn paths of negative thinking with fresh paths of positive thinking can be astoundingly powerful. Various positive psychology studies have shown that people who put forth the necessary effort to do this have healthier minds and happier lives in the long run.
It’s important to note, too, that replacing our negativity with positivity isn’t about turning off all our negative thoughts – that’s nearly impossible to do because negative thoughts typically arise spontaneously and uncontrollably. It’s also not about turning our false negative thoughts into false positive ones. The goal is to reframe negative thoughts effectively, so they are based entirely in reality, detached from needless drama, and focused on the next small, positive step forward that can be taken in the present moment.
1. Record and Review Your Negativity in Real Time
To change your thinking, you first need to have a clear understanding of what you’re thinking. When a troubling (negative) thought arises in your mind, instead of ignoring it, pay closer attention and then record it. For example, if you’re sitting at your desk and you catch yourself ruminating about something negative, pause and write it down immediately. Get that raw thought out of your head and down on paper – just a short sentence or two that honestly depicts the specific thought that’s presently troubling you: “I’m not good enough for the job I’m applying for because I don’t have enough experience.”
Then quickly identify what triggered the thought. Again, be brief and specific: “I’m new to the industry, and therefore I’m feeling out of my comfort zone.”
At the very least, the process of recording your troubling thoughts helps bring a healthy, objective awareness to the negativity that exists within them, which ultimately helps you shift your mindset.
2. Challenge Your Negative Thoughts by Turning Them into Questions
Many of the things you tell yourself when you ruminate about your troubles are completely and utterly false. You really have to catch yourself in the act and bring yourself back to reality.
The key is to challenge your negative thoughts. And one of the simplest ways of doing this is turning them into questions. So, let’s revisit the example mentioned in #1 – “I’m not good enough for the job I’m applying for because I don’t have enough experience.” Simply change this thought into a question:
“I’m not good enough for the job I’m applying for because I don’t have enough experience???”
Then, once you’ve mulled over the question for a moment, ask yourself:
Can I be absolutely certain that the answer is yes?
Think about it, and then find evidence to the contrary. What successes have you had in your career that may be applicable to this new job? Where and when have your relevant efforts made a positive impact? Write down a short, specific list of some times when you absolutely have been good enough, and then examine it.
Do you fall short sometimes? Sure you do – everyone does. But you also succeed in incredible ways sometimes too. That’s the whole truth, and it’s worth reflecting on.
The ultimate goal is to see yourself, and the entirety of your reality, more accurately. (Angel and I dive deeper into this process at our annual conference. Check out Think Better, Live Better 2017.)
Practice Positive Self-Talk
When you practice the exercises covered above, you will notice your negative self-talk dissipate as you gradually pave a deeper path for positive thinking.
Of course, you won’t be able to completely revamp your thinking over night. You’ve spent years navigating the negative thinking paths your mind habitually uses. But you can create a habit of positive thinking in a relatively short time frame. It just takes daily practice.
Keep recording, reviewing, and challenging your negative self-talk whenever you’re able.
It can also be advantageous to have a few go-to mantras that you can repeat silently to yourself when you need a quick mindset shift. Here are five such mantras I personally use…
- Positive thinking isn’t about expecting the best to happen right now – it’s about accepting what happens right now, and making the best of it.
- Use today’s obstacles to motivate you rather than annoy you. Be mindful. You are in control of the way you respond to life. (Angel and I discuss this further in the “Happiness” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Effort is never wasted, even when it leads to disappointing results. For it always makes you stronger, more educated, and more experienced.
- Stop rushing. Breathe. Be where you are. You’re where you’re supposed to be at this very moment. This present step and experience is necessary.
- Feel the genuine, positive power that flows from your decision to rise above the petty drama and negativity that doesn’t really matter anyway.
Closing Thoughts on Negative Self-Talk
Refuse to accept any more nonsense. Refuse to settle for the same old (unchallenged) excuses, negative thoughts, and destructive self-talk.
Begin anew today!
There’s a quote I’ve always appreciated that’s often credited to Ignatius: “Pray as if God will take care of all; act as if all is up to you.”
In my mind, that’s a powerful way to live. It’s about using your faith to fuel positive thinking and positive action, day in and day out.
That is what I wish for myself. And that is what I wish for you.
Let’s challenge negativity.
Let’s choose positivity.
(And yes, we’re here to help if you need us.)
So, let’s get started with exercise #1 above…
Write down a short sentence or two that honestly depicts a specific thought that’s been troubling you. Then try to identify what may have triggered the thought.
If you’re open to it, leave a comment below and share your thoughts and findings with us.
Also, our next annual Think Better, Live Better conference is taking place February 18-19, 2017. You can get info and tickets here (discounted early bird tickets are presently available, while they last). Note: you can watch short clips from our 2016 event here, here and here.