Are you kind, forgiving, and encouraging? Or are you harsh and punitive?
I have found that the pattern with most of us is to be more of the second; to be negative and judgmental towards ourselves.
“Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become…habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.” – Margaret Thatcher
This quote has been circling the internet for years but the underlying message has never stopped being true. The way we think about ourselves and how we talk to ourselves will shape our lives. That is both terrifying and liberating. Terrifying because negative thoughts could lead us down a spiral, but liberating because each of us have the ability to shape and alter our lives just by how we think.
Some of you may be thinking, “well, I guess my thoughts are negative so I am doomed…” You’re not. We all have the ability to change how we talk to ourselves. Here are two of my favorite ways to combat negative thoughts.
Replace a negative thought with a positive one: This takes practice. When you are thinking negative thoughts, sometimes it is hard to stop. I am asking you to be deliberate with your thoughts. When you feel yourself going into a negative space, deliberately change what you are telling to yourself. If you are thinking, “this is too hard. I’ll never be able to do it!”, the positive thought to replace that could be “this is hard but I will figure it out” or “I’ve taken on plenty of tasks that seemed hard at first but I was able to succeed”. Viewing things in this way doesn’t diminish the fact that something is hard or difficult but instead helps you change your perspective of the problem. It helps you see that you have all the potential to take on the task, activity, or event and usually, reminds you of previous successes.
Three good things today: I will admit, clients find this to be a bit strange at first. This technique asks you to write down (on a notepad or in your phone) three things that went right today. They can be big (“My friend bought me a nice gift for my birthday”) or small (“There was chocolate pudding in the cafeteria”). It can be about things that happened to you, how you felt about something, or how you gave to others. The main point is to make you actively see what is going right in your day instead of what is going wrong. I challenge you to try this for a week. I have found for myself and my clients that doing this combats negative thinking by making us see the positives of our lives.
To sum up, be careful how you talk to yourself! It is extremely powerful. We all have negative thoughts but it is important to combat those with positive ones. Remind yourself of your successes (big or small), your support network, and what is good in your life.
Lara Abounayan, Associate MFT