Every single day, all day long, we are thinking. And let’s be honest: the thoughts that most of us have running through our heads as we drive, do our work, make our meals, and go about our day usually aren’t positive. Most of them are about how we don’t measure up in some way. They tend to fall into the “if only” category: if only I were thinner, if only I were more successful, if only I were more disciplined, if only I ate better…
Negative self-talk is usually just a habit, something familiar that we do without even noticing it. After all, we are hardwired as humans to seek out dangers and potential pitfalls to better our chances for survival. But the problem with focusing on the negative is that it actually has a real impact on our lives. If we are constantly thinking about ways in which we are deficient, we tend to make decisions that reflect that reality. If we believe that we don’t deserve a better job with a higher paycheck, we will stay in our dead-end job until the end of time. If we believe that we don’t deserve a healthy relationship, we will settle for an unhealthy one, or none at all. If we believe that we are unfriendly and that people don’t like us, we will isolate instead of making connections with others. Our thoughts can sabotage any real change or improvement we want to make, without us even being aware of it.
If we want better lives, then we need better thoughts. It’s as simple as that. So how do we get them? By interrupting the negative thoughts and replacing them with better, truer, more positive ones. And the best way we can do that is to really look at our negative thoughts and consciously rewrite them.
First, write down your negative dialogue. What do you tell yourself the most? What negative things do you believe about who you are? I, for one, believed that I wasn’t warm or friendly. (Why did I think this? I’m not sure, but boy it was a hard thought to let go of!)
Now that you’ve figured out what you are telling yourself, think of the traits you would like to cultivate or focus on instead. I have been wanting to focus lately on being lighthearted, so I have started saying to myself, “I am of good cheer, I am warm, I am tender, I am kind, I am lighthearted.” It may feel strange or ridiculous (or whatever your inner critic feels about it) but it works. I have actually noticed a shift in my perspective since using positive affirmations. And the constant stream of negative thoughts has lessened, too.
They work even better when you write them down. Get in the habit of writing them down each morning, ideally after you’ve written a short list of things you’re grateful for. Positive affirmations pair beautifully with gratitude.
If you’re still thinking this is woo-woo or crazy, you’re not alone. I too used to wonder about how well they could possibly work, if I could even get myself to do them. But they do work. Give it a try yourself and see. After all, we spend a lot of time working on our bodies. Why shouldn’t we do the same with our thoughts? As the godmother of visualization, Shakti Gawain, once said, an affirmation is simply a strong, positive statement that something is already so.
Here are some more ways to alter your thoughts for the better:
- Take inventory. When you catch yourself having negative thoughts, take stock of how you’re feeling. Are you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? If you are, then do what you need to practice some self-care, and see if the thoughts have dissipated. (By the way, the acronym H.A.L.T. is a great way to remember these four different states.)
- Develop a positive morning routine. It’s not a coincidence that most successful people make a habit of reading something positive or thinking positive thoughts first thing in the morning. The act of deliberately choosing to start your day off in a positive way can affect the rest of the day.
- Focus on the why, not the what. It’s easy to focus on all the things around us that are going wrong or not according to plan. Instead try to remember your end goal, or where you are headed; what got you excited about a certain project or career or person in the first place.
If you’re still finding it difficult to overcome negative thinking patterns, please schedule your complimentary thirty-minute phone session with me here.