It’s important for all of us to have positive thoughts, and patterns of thoughts because it helps keep us mentally and physically healthy. My parents were definitely a proponent of the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” movement, but what if your not so nice sentiments aren’t actually spoken words, but thoughts that saturate your mind day in and day out? Our thoughts about ourselves AND others impact our feelings and behaviors – if our thoughts are for the most part crappy, negative, self-defeating or judgmental, our emotional state and behaviors will follow suit…even if we don’t mean them to. So, – how can you crush these negative thought patterns, helping yourself stay mentally positive? Here are 4 key strategies for your toolbox:
1) Recognize a negative thought is there – this takes some practice and being more mindful of what is running through our heads throughout the day. If it’s practical for you to keep a note book or small writing pad, jot down these pesky thoughts as they pop up. For me, it was easier to identify my behavior first (I think because it’s something I’m actually DOING, so someone else can help you out with this) and then backtrack from there…what was I thinking about when I was doing that. A personal example of mine – I have written before about the fact that I have anxiety. On days where the anxious feelings are super strong, I make a tally on my calendar for that specific day, each time that anxiety speaks to me - “I’ll never get this done”, “ugh, that was not the way I should have phrased that, she hates me now”, “I always make this mistake, what’s wrong with me?” tally, tally, tally. If you’re having trouble identifying negative thoughts, look for key words like NEVER, ALWAYS, and SHOULD.
2) Look for a connection between all of the negative thoughts your having, thus creating a thought pattern. I believe this is best done with a therapist or mental health professional, but essentially, are these intrusive negative thoughts all centered around one theme? Are they all focused internally, on your own abilities, or perceived weaknesses? Are they all focused externally on others behaviors? Are they all judgmental in some way? This will also help you connect a specific thought to a specific behavior – wow, on Tuesday, I had a lot of self-defeating thoughts and it was so hard to concentrate the whole day…I snapped at a student, and I never do that!
3) Go back to step one and shake up that thought, stop it in its tracks. I’m big on visuals so I advocate for picturing yourself slamming on the breaks in the car, picture the thought being blown into a huge tornado and disintegrated, picture the thought evaporating into thin air. Now replace the thought with an affirmation, my favorite is “I am extremely capable and I always figure it out. This time will be no different” or simply “You’re going to make it thought this”.
4) Endlessly practice step 3. Continue to acknowledge and replace these thought patterns as they pop up. And then practice some more. If this is overwhelming, or you’d like to delve deeper into the root cause, seeing a mental health professional may be a good idea.
If you don’t mind sharing, what is a negative thought that pops up for you often? Let’s work through one and see if we can create an affirmation to replace it with.