By Joan Herrmann
“You’re fat!” “You’re stupid!” “You don’t have the right education!” “You’ll never be able to get the promotion!” “No man will ever want you!” “You’re old!” “She doesn’t like you!” “You’re ugly!” “You can’t do anything right!”
Do any of these words sound familiar? While most people would never consider speaking to another with such negative, degrading words, we have no problem saying these things to ourselves. The rant of self-abusive language runs rampant for most on any given day.
It is estimated that the average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day, 80% of which are negative (and this is a conservative estimate). Imagine 48,000 negative thoughts running through your mind every day of every week, of every month, of every year – year after year! It’s no wonder we feel beaten up, insecure, fearful, and anxious. No one could survive that abuse unscathed.
You’ve heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” Well, just as important, “You are what you think.” Your thoughts influence your outlook on life, your attitude toward yourself, and they have a profound impact on your physical and emotional health.
So, how can you eliminate negative self-talk, especially when you may not even be aware that it’s happening? The following exercise is designed to help you recognize your thoughts and learn to replace the negative with a more positive, self-affirming thought.
- Get a notebook or journal and create four columns on each page. Label the top of each column, “Thought”, “Location”, “Activity”, “New Thought”. For one to two weeks, write down your negative thoughts and where you were and what you were doing at the time. Every time a negative thought comes into your head, write it down. Note where you were at the time and what you were doing. Leave column four blank. If you can’t write down all of your negative thoughts, make a commitment to jot down at least five to 10 per day. Do not evaluate during this period.
- Reread your journal after the one to two weeks. Determine what underlying themes or messages are behind your negative thoughts. What were some of the triggers? What activities or people triggered negative thoughts?
- Evaluate the validity of the thoughts. Ask yourself if there is any truth to what you’re thinking. Are there things you can change? Which thoughts are garbage that must be deleted? Now work on deleting them.
- Ask yourself how can you change the negative thought to a positive one. Instead of looking at situations in the worst light, try to find the positive aspects and focus on them. For instance, if you worry about the results of a test and start thinking of the negative consequences, such as failing a class, turn it around. Focus on the fact that whether you pass or not, you did your best and learned important information. Avoid thinking about the worst-case scenarios. They usually never happen. Write down the “new thought” in the fourth column.
- Monitor your thoughts. When you are thinking negatively, stop yourself as soon as you realize it and replace the negative thought with your “new thought”. Even though negative thoughts will always come up, the perseverance you develop will keep you going and after time the old thoughts will be replaced with the new ones.
To learn more about this topic and exercise, listen to Joan’s discussion with Michelle at: https://michellephillipsblog.com/2013/09/12/joan-herman-change-your-attitude-change-your-life/