How to turn negative self-talk in a new direction

The thoughts in your head define who you are. They steer you left or right and forward or backward on the road of life.

Constant negative self-talk floods your brain with fight or flight type chemicals and hormones, which create a sense of urgency and heightened levels of attention and distress. Within seconds those chemicals and the feelings they elicit can take you off the path of positivity and get you running around a cul-de-sac of negativity and keep you circling it until you completely run out of gas.

Don’t do that to yourself, okay?

When you find yourself mentally beating-up on yourself, interrupt the cycle by noting:

“Ooh, that sounds pretty harsh. I must be worried.”

Then ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Let your mind wind its way through:

 “I’m afraid I will be late . . . My boss will be furious . . . I will get fired.” (Or wherever your imaginary worry is taking you.) Give yourself a green light to ride it until you exhaust your thoughts and reach a dead-end.

Next, ask yourself if your ultimate feared outcome is really likely to happen. Most of the time the answer will be a resounding “NO!” (The majority of our worries are simply our imaginary thoughts gone wild!)

Now, think of at least one positive thought related to your particular situation:

“Yes, I’m late, but I really don’t think I will get fired over it.”

“Yes, I’m late, I hate this feeling, I guess it’s time to start getting up a few minutes earlier.”

“Yes, I’m late, but other than that I’m doing a great job at work. I need to figure out a way to get better at being on time.”

If you find yourself going back down a negative path, simply start over with “Ooh, that sounds pretty harsh. I must be worried”, and continue from there. DO NOT under any circumstances ask yourself WHY you are late (or whatever your current worry is), that’s a tricky little way we have of making a u-turn back onto our path of negativity. Don’t be fooled!

The key to turning negative self-talk in a new direction is to become more aware of what you are thinking. Most of us feed ourselves negative thoughts 17/7, without ever questioning them. We let our minds ramble down roads that take us away from our destination – happy town – and around curves and turns, that while familiar, truly are leading us nowhere.

Negative thoughts are a habit, and habits can be changed. Here’s a quick review of how to redirect your thoughts.

  1. Start with gentle awareness: “Ooh, that sounds pretty harsh. I must be worried.” (Create the perfect signature phrase for yourself, so when you are saying it, it sounds right to you.)
  2. Ask yourself if your ultimate feared outcome is really likely to happen.
  3. Then jump on the highway of positivity: “Yes, I’m late, but I’m good at lots of other stuff at work.” (Note: this isn’t an excuse, or just a cute way of ignoring the situation, it’s a way to create a new path for your mind to follow. )
  4. Be aware of the danger signs: don’t ask yourself “Why?” – we are not coming-up with solutions at this point, we are simply shifting gears.
  5. When you make a negative u-turn, start again with Step 1. (Please note: Do not misconstrue starting over as failure, you are really doing something quite brave and resourceful, you are practicing something you value and will have a positive impact on your life. You are creating change and that is courageous and impressive.)

Give it a try, the road of life will feel much less bumpy and you just might find yourself ready for a whole new journey.

If you are ready to shift gears and create a happier, less stressful life,

contact Patrice Koerper to start your Wishful Thinking Works life coaching today.

Here’s what Patrice’s clients have to say about their journeys.

Thoughtful challenge epilogue

The “Thoughtful Challenge” survey results – as totally unscientific as they may be – were 100% negative, which indicates that negative thinking is our most common internal conversational approach.

We tend to spend a great deal of time telling ourselves what we should have done; blaming ourselves for a wide variety of situations, which may or may not have been our fault; predicting the worst; and remembering and ruminating about the one bad thing that happened on an othewise perfect or pretty good day.

Why does it matter how we talk to ourselves?

Here’s a few words on the subject from an article titled “Positive thinking: Reduce stress by eliminating negative self-talk” from the Mayo Clinic web site:

“The health benefits of positive thinking

Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:

Increased life span

Lower rates of depression

Lower levels of distress

Greater resistance to the common cold

Better psychological and physical well-being

Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease

Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

It’s unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body. It’s also thought that positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and don’t smoke or drink alcohol in excess.”

As noted in the article above, the jury is still out on the details as to why positive thinking has so many emotional and health benefits (We do know it increases brain growth and neural connections.), but researchers tend to agree that in most situations, positive thinking is the way to go.

So how do you turn those nagging negatives into precious positives?

  1. Become more aware of your thought patterns. The “Thoughtful Challenge” is a good first step.
  2. Start small, but think big. Don’t expect to change overnight, but do predict better for yourself and start picturing yourself doing and feeling better. Spend a few moments a day picturing wonderful things happening to you – finding the parking space, arriving on time and prepared. Picture projects, meetings, events and appointments working out well, and friendships and relationships blossoming. If that all sounds too Pollyanna for you, ask yourself why you find it easier to accept a Cruella de Vil approach to self-talk than the possibility of living life sunny-side-up. Then ask yourself if your answers hold-up, or are they simply hold-overs from your childhood, parents, relatives, etc.? Who taught you to be timid about being happy? Why does being cynical seem fashionable? What is scaring you out of a life of fun, flow and fulfillment?
  3. Enlist the help of the three “H’s”: Humor, Health and Happiness. Laugh more – especially at yourself. Create a  healthier lifestyle – eat better, exercise more. And, last but not least, become aware of the good things in your life by developing an attitude of gratitude. Begin focusing on what is going well rather than what is “wrong”; notice what makes your heart sing and makes you feel good and then find ways to bring more of what you love into your life, instead of complaining about what’s “wrong”.

And, don’t worry if your glass is half-full or half-empty. Either way there’s room for more good stuff, and if you fill it with what you love, you will never mind if it overflows.

Have a great weekend!

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