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.
Here are two exercises Angel and I often cover in detail with our course students (and live event attendees) who are struggling with the backlash of negative self-talk:
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.
Fay Daliva says
Such helpful thinking exercises, M&A! Your guidance here reminds me of the self-inquiry questions and tools you covered at your Think Better, Live Better event this past year. That part of the event was a real game-changer for me–lot’s of positive change in my life has come from those teachings.
Anyway, a specific thought I’m still struggling with on a regular basis involves my weight. I’m always thinking that I’m too overweight, even though I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I’m just so darn used to thinking of myself as someone who isn’t physically fit and attractive, and it distorts my perception of myself.
But I am starting to see things more clearly, thanks in part to what you’ve taught me.
Marc Chernoff says
Fay, it’s wonderful to hear that you’ve implemented some of the tools we gave you at the past live event. Cheers to your growth! 🙂
Like 99% of all your emails, articles and life coaching tips, the two exercises you’ve shared here really hit home with me.
I have spent more time than I even know ruminating about the possibility of never meeting the right guy. This kind of self-talk has inevitably led me into some incredibly unhealthy relationships over the past several years. I actually turned to your work for help when I was at the lowest of lows a couple years ago, and it’s really helped me re-think things. Thank you, and please keep doing what you do.
BB I’m in the same place as you.
Struggling with another recent failed relationship so am seeking methods of support and ways of snapping out of the negative thinking. Finding marcandangel a big help. Thank you.
Beginning of this year, for the first time in my life I felt peace and contentment and I was single. But then had my world turned upside down by a guy who swept me off my feet when I wasn’t looking, but now it’s over and I’m trying to get back to the place I was before.
Good luck to you x
THANK YOU! That is all.
PS: I’m looking forward to seeing you two speak next February at your seminar.
Marc Chernoff says
We’re looking forward to seeing you too, Kirk.
These past months I have thought so much about my future, my career – if I’m gonna be capable to acheive many things in my professional life and have my own business. These put me down tons of times and I don’t like to think about it but I do doubt about myself if I’m gonna achieve more.
Awesome instinctively mind exercises. it came exactly when I needed it. Thanks M&A! May the heavenly wisdom never depart from you.
Thank you Marc and Angel for the guidance. After receiving the diagnosis burnout with secondary depression, I decided to battle it and slowly turn the rest of my life into the best of my life. I am recently discovering so many new things about myself that have made a burnout at 24 inevitable. Your e-mails help me a great deal and also reinforce new energy and motivation to keep it going. I have realized how often I put myself in a negative train of thought and suddenly feel helpless and emotional. I will try to use your suggestions today and see if it helps.
Thanks for helping me.
Marc Chernoff says
Keep taking those small daily steps, Nelly. I’m inspired to know that we’ve been able to assist you in some small way. 🙂
you two have such warm hearts overflowing with love. using that love and wisdom to uplift other individuals is such a rewarding thing that i get to read. i love seeing all the comments about how so many people can relate and their experiences and now they know its not “just me” … you two are heaven sent ! keep em coming ! ???
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for the extra dose of kindness, Mo.
Interesting to read this at this time.
I recently had that kind of ‘Aha’ awakening!
You have had many blogs on positive approaches.
I apply them and am much happier!! 🙂
Recently, I’ve been taking coaching programs to improve my business–I found myself falling into the old traps of beating myself up, because I wasn’t keeping up to the action steps and was, once again, feeling like a ‘failure’.
Thanks to your useful earlier blogs where I learned to say, ‘STOP!!!’ and then ask myself where these feelings of ‘failure’.
That was easy for a number of chapters in life.
I said, ‘Okay’ think back to a time when ‘failure’ wasn’t part of your vocabulary.
Now, I was very blessed!
Our parents encouraged us to do whatever (morally, ethically correct) we wanted to do!
We learned, by example, that ‘No dream was too big!’
So, as a young child at home I had no concept of ‘failure’.
Still, as a school age child, I did come to know and feel that.
Couldn’t hit a ball with a bat.
Always the last kid chosen…and then with the sigh, ‘We’ll take her…’
Ouch! That hurt!
…but it wasn’t until recent times that I revisited that time and said, ‘Wow! You were GREAT at Double Dutch! (skipping between two ropes), AND always one of the first chosen for Dodge Ball! (I was good! Grin!!)’
All these years I mistakenly felt like a ‘failure’ because I let other peoples’ opinions affect me!
I eliminated failure from that chapter of my life and went on in a like manner to others.
My grades were always in the 90’s in grade school.
Fell in junior high….had no ‘study’ habits.
I looked at the why’s and took a lesson from it.
Slowly and quietly I examined each chapter of my life and my reasons for feeling like a failure!
In some there were circumstances beyond my control.
In some, it was like my ‘athletic’ abilities, I was simply focusing on the down side as opposed to the upside and in some cases I similarly let other people ‘tell’ me what I was or was not.
Anyway, I’ve grown a lot and this process has been an eye opener to say the least!
Marc Chernoff says
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Marg. It sounds like you’re making the right mindset shifts. Keep going. 🙂
Allegra Ghiloni Fashion Stylist says
These suggestions are so great. I have been working really hard on my negative thoughts recently and Ive noticed such a huge impact of my outlook and life.
Positive thoughts all the way!
This is, as usual, an amazing read. For most of my life I have looked at others with rose-tinted glasses & felt of myself as not matching up. I live under a cloud of self-doubt & lack of confidence in myself, I don’t know why. I am constantly ruminating & listening to my own negative self-talk. Your article has really opened a door for me & I hope to chase away this dark cloud with the help of these exercises. A huge thank you for such positive & lovely words x
Marc Chernoff says
You’re welcome, Mollie. Thanks for the kindness.
It touches the deepest wire of mind.
I have been practicing this kind of questioning on negative thoughts for years now, and have tried it out on my husband, who has been struggling over a year now with major depression. It’s easy to forget to challenge our thoughts… and even easier to let worries fester.
One of the biggest takeaways I’ve had through reading your blog is that nothing is ever black and white… and we are all so many things at the same time. So, even if my current worry is accurate (that I may fail a big test tomorrow), it doesn’t make ME a failure because I am so much more than this test and competency. I am a good mother and wife, I am a good writer, I’m a good friend, also.
Thank you for your inspiring posts. I always like reading them. I have your book too and it’s awesome! 🙂
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for supporting our work, Susanne. 🙂
Great read and right on time ! I saved one of the mantras as my lock screen on my phone so I can see it multiple times a day 🙂
alan phillips says
Hi Marc & Angel,
I thank you for the inspiring work you do. The insights, reminders and tools you provide have been a gift to me. I am as a rule very good to myself. I love what I do and others are touched by it. I like to get things done. I think the muses describe me as the benevolent dictator and that is only with myself. Lately I have been saying please at the end of a command. “Let’s make sure ‘we’ (heart, mind, soul and body) get x-y-z done today!” Please… which gives me a smile and great feeling that makes the task feel like a joy to embrace.
I needed this article. God knows. I’m usually very positive but recently I have had this ‘negative chatterbox’ in my head. ‘It’s hard to make any really good friends’ or ‘Good guys are non existent’ and ‘Why Is my life so rollercoaster-like?’. This write up is a major jolt. Now I’m thinking. ‘All my mistakes and troubles will turn to gold and miracles.’ I like that mantra. This present step is necessary…..I’m tilting back to positive talk. ‘I will stick with it’. ‘My life is in order’. Yes!! Thank you M & A. Hugs!
Thank you Marc and Angel for all your inspiration thoughts and messages. I really needed some uplift and reassurance as At the moment I’m going through a tough time having lost my job and relationship breakup after 15 years. These positivity has made me realise to move forward with life every sadness will come to an happiness soon. I’m positive I will find a great job and happiness with a true love ahead.
Julia Kellett says
Thanks for this! It’s like a potted version of the CBT program I’m working through, much simpler though.
I’m really going to try and capture the crappy self talk and get it written down then challenge it. Sometimes negativity is almost seductive, i can’t imagine ever being glass half full but I’m optimistic that I may be able to re-frame the default negative pathways into a more positive (and realistic) mind set, followed by doing, not time wasted thinking unhelpful thoughts.
umaru kpaka says
Oh you guys are really amazing. Your blog have being helping me through my relationship until now i have decided to let go of the relationship. Am really happy with all of your posts.
You guys are awesome! Always on time. Keep the zeal burning!
Thanks a lot for your wonderful emails!
Marc and Angel is right! You are in control of the way you respond to life. Refuse the negative thoughts and destructive self-talk. Choose positive rather than negative. Negative thoughts will do nothing on your life it will just destroy your life. Use negative thoughts to come up positive thoughts. As Marc and Angel quoted “Pray as if God will take care of all; act as if all is up to you.” Negative thoughts brings head trash. Positive thoughts will get you unstuck , overcome setbacks and fast-track your life!