By Melonie Dodaro
I’ve provided several positive thinking strategies to help you overcome negative patterns that have prevented you from achieving your goals in the past. Choose several you feel will help you most and incorporate them into your daily life. Write down these strategies and remind yourself to pause and change your way of thinking each time you find yourself being critical of yourself. As you become more comfortable with each new way of thinking — for example, learning not to apologize or accepting blame for someone else’s anger — try adding a new positive thought strategy to your list.
1. Avoid absolutes and exaggerations.
Correct your internal voice when it exaggerates, especially when it exaggerates the negative: “I always eat too much” or “I’ll never lose weight.” These are absolutes, meaning they’re always 100 percent true, but there are very few absolutes in life. If you exaggerate or use an absolute, rephrase what you say. For example, “I always eat too much” can be changed to, “In the past, I’ve often eaten too much. Now, I’m getting better at how much I eat.” Then feel good about taking control of your thoughts.
2. Halt negative thoughts immediately.
Sometimes putting a stop to negative thinking is as easy as that. The next time you start giving yourself an internal critique session, tell yourself to stop it! If you saw a person yelling insults at someone else, you’d probably tell them to stop, wouldn’t you? Why do you accept that behavior from yourself?
3. Look for the positive.
Did you know that love is a word derived from the Sanskrit word that means looking for the good? Be loving toward yourself (and others), and instead of focusing on what you think your negative qualities are, accentuate your strengths and assets. Maybe you didn’t develop enough stamina this month to run a mile, but perhaps your hard work and perseverance led to losing an additional five pounds. Maybe you felt nervous and self-conscious when going out to a formal social event, but you received numerous comments from friends that they were happy you joined them and had a good time.
4. It’s OK to blow it.
Maybe you got nervous and embarrassed that you couldn’t keep up in fitness class or felt bad that you gave in and ate those potato chips. It’s OK. All people have weaknesses, and we all fall off the path at times or don’t do things as well as we think we should. Your boss, co-workers, friends, family, mayor and favorite movie star have all had embarrassing moments and setbacks. Perfection is a high goal; don’t start or even end there. Make doing your best your ideal goal. Focus on what you’ve gained from the process and how you can use it in the future. Avoid focusing on what wasn’t done or should have been done differently. Allow yourself to make mistakes and then forgive yourself.
5. Don’t bully yourself!
Don’t hold yourself to standards that you wouldn’t expect others to meet. It’s great to want to do well, but expecting yourself to be better than the best and then punishing yourself when you fail is a vicious cycle. Using expressions like “I should have” is just a way of punishing yourself after the fact. Stop it. Live in the present and move forward. Don’t drag the past along for the ride; it gets heavy. Do you remember the children’s story of the little train that could? That’s how you need to live your life. Keep saying to yourself, “I know I can…I know I can…I can…I can!” Tell your subconscious you’ve already done it. Be kind to yourself and remember you can do this!
6. Encourage yourself.
Instead of focusing on the negative, replace your criticism with encouragement. Give constructive suggestions instead of being critical. (“Maybe if I try to do ____ next time, it would be even better,” instead of “I didn’t do that right.”) Compliment yourself and those around you on what you’ve achieved. (“Well, we may not have done it all, but we did a pretty great job with what we did.”) Giving praise will also encourage others to praise you, and this builds up your confidence to continue on the path.
7. Lose the guilt.
You’re not to blame every time something goes wrong or someone has a problem. Apologizing for things and accepting the blame can be a positive quality — if you’re in the wrong. You learn and move on. But you shouldn’t feel responsible for all problems or assume you’re to blame whenever someone’s upset. Many of us know people who seem to start almost every sentence with the words, “I’m sorry.” I challenge you to remove the word “sorry” completely from your vocabulary. Every time you say, “I’m sorry,” you reinforce the idea that you’re less than you should be in your subconscious mind. If you’re wrong, use the words “I apologize” instead and stop telling yourself and everyone around you that you’re sorry.
8. Only you are responsible for you.
Just as not everything is your fault, not everything is your responsibility, either. You’re responsible for you; it’s great if you also influence others positively, but you’re not responsible for their thoughts, feelings and actions. It’s OK to be helpful, but don’t feel the need to be all things (and do all things) for all people. This is putting too much of a burden on yourself — and is disrespectful of those around you. Allow others to be responsible for themselves and their actions. You’re not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. No one can make another person happy; we’re all in charge of our own emotions. Trying to force someone to feel a certain way is just wasted energy on your part.
9. Be responsible for your feelings.
Just as you can’t make other people happy, don’t expect others to make you feel happy or good about yourself…and don’t blame them if you feel guilty or bad about yourself. You create your own feelings and make your own decisions. People and events may set the stage for your emotions, but they can’t dictate them. What others think about you and say to you can only have as much effect as you allow it to have. What’s important is what you tell yourself, and how you react to others.
10. Be kind to yourself.
People often feel perfectly comfortable treating themselves in ways they wouldn’t consider treating others. Do you call yourself names like fat, ugly, and loser? Would you use those terms to describe a friend? Remind yourself that you deserve to be treated well. Do something nice for yourself sometimes, either in thought (give yourself a compliment) or action (treat yourself to a massage).
11. Let it go.
You don’t need to be all things to all people or please everyone. Give yourself permission to decide you’re doing the best you can. Remind yourself when you’re doing things well — don’t wait to hear it from someone else.
12. Learn to accept compliments and build your self-esteem, self-image, and confidence.
A compliment is a gift to the receiver and a gift to the giver if the receiver really accepts it. The inability to accept compliments is like a plague, helping to create a society of depressed people with poor self-images. Very few people do this well. Truly taking in a compliment is an opportunity to increase our self-esteem, self-image, and confidence. If you don’t accept the gift of a compliment, it hurts the giver’s feelings and the chance of that person giving you a gift again is decreased.
13. Let bygones be bygones.
Don’t hang on to painful memories and bad feelings, as that’s a sure-fire way to encourage negative thoughts and bad moods. Your past can take control of your present and rob your future if you let it. If you can, forgive past wrongs and move on. This includes forgiving yourself. Forgiveness is done for your peace of mind and your happiness, not for the other person. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you condone their behavior; wrong is wrong. The purpose of forgiveness is to set you free, since holding onto anger is like putting yourself in a jail cell. If you have a hard time forgiving or forgetting, consider talking through your emotions with a good friend or counselor, but try not to dwell on the matter. It’s important to work through things, but you can’t let the past determine your future.
14. Focus on what’s possible.
Avoid “can’t” thinking or other negative language. Don’t be afraid to seek help in accomplishing things, but remind yourself that you don’t need approval from others to recognize your accomplishments. Focus on what you’re able to do. Remind yourself of all your capabilities and positive qualities.
Let go of the past; you must look to the future to change. Stop thinking of old failures. They are the past. This is NOW. Remind yourself that this time you’re focusing on the core issues that will ensure your success. BELIEVE IT!