Self-talk: The incessant stream of thoughts coursing through our brains every second of the day. They’re automatic, which means that most of the time we allow them to roam free and unmonitored. But whether you think positive or negative, thoughts can go a long way in determining your quality of life. Experts at the Mayo Clinic say that, “Positive thinking helps with stress management and can even improve your health….(it) means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.” Unfortunately, most of us are covert negative thinkers, and we’re the ones oblivious to that fact!
But they’re just thoughts! Mahatma Gandhi said, “A man is but the product of his thoughts.What he thinks he becomes.” There is a potent connection between thought and emotion. There are times I’ve felt uneasy and wondered, “What’s bothering me?” I’ve always been able to link that feeling to something I’ve been worried or anxious about. Your thoughts determine your emotional state so it is imperative that you become cognizant of them and the effect they have on your life.
Recognize negative thinking. According to Lucinda Bassett of the Midwest Center for Anxiety and Depression, a negative thought will inevitably stir adverse emotions. It will leave you feeling sad, lonely, rejected, unloved, unappreciated, stupid, anxious, ugly, incapable, incompetent, afraid, doubtful, apprehensive, and the list goes on. If you feel a negative emotion, chances are it was triggered by a thought. By contrast, a positive thought is one that makes you feel energized, excited, capable, accepted, smart, loving, compassionate, energized, in control, joyful, calm, content, loved, appreciated, important, relevant …. need I continue?
Rephrase your thoughts. You are not your thoughts, so it is important to learn how to distance yourself from them. In her Attacking Anxiety and Depression program, Bassett explains the need to daily, proactively, arrest our negative thoughts and replace them with empowering ones. In order to do this, the process can’t remain in your head. This is where the work comes in. She instructs you to get a small notepad and keep it with you at all times. When that negative thought pops in, whip out that notepad, write it down and replace that annoying rant with a superior alternative. I use this journal solely for that purpose. I call it my “Rephrase That!” journal, and the moment I feel that little dark cloud drift across my subconscious, I write it down and then coin a healthier alternative.
Put up a stop sign! Here’s an example of how this works. You wake up a little later than planned and are frantically rushing to make it to work on time. In your frenzied dash for the door, you’re chastising yourself, “Really? I can’t even wake up on time? I’m an idiot! Now the whole day is ruined!” Put up a mental stop sign. Arrest that thought, and replace it with, “I woke up a little late. It’s no big deal. It’s been a rough morning, but it doesn’t have to be a rough day. I’ll get to work and give it my best effort, and I will have a great day!” Read each of those statements out loud and compare the different emotions each one evokes.
Soothe yourself like you would a friend. If you can’t think of kinder, softer words to soothe yourself with, think of how you would reassure someone dear to you. How would you speak to a best friend or a sister who was beating herself up? You wouldn’t join in; instead you would put your arm around her and let her know that she’s okay. Imagine that, then do the same for yourself.
Get your kids involved. The best gift you can give your precious tykes is the one of positive self-talk. They learn how to talk to themselves from you, right? Setting a positive example is the first step. The second step is reinforcing the first by taking time out each day to take advantage of their tendency to mimic by saying affirming things to them such as, “You are the best thing that’s happened to me,” “You can be and do anything you put your mind to because you are so capable and talented,” and the like. It won’t be long before their inner voice will replace yours, thus initiating a habit of positive self-talk.
Make it fun! Make a small stop sign out of red poster board and help your kids use it as a tangible aid to changing their own thoughts! Whenever Negative Nancy rears her ugly head, have your child get out that sign, and coach him or her through countering those thoughts with positive ones. Teach them to reassure themselves with affirmations like, “I am very calm,” “I am brave,” “I will breathe deeply,” “I am smart,” “I am talented,” “My parents love me.” You know your child; feel free to implement this whenever you see fit, and encourage your young one to do the same.
Break the habit. Negative thinking is a bad habit that needs to be broken and replaced with positive or empowerment thinking. It takes a little effort, but if you make it fun and stick with it, the return is priceless!
image: Darin McClure, Creative Commons