It is so easy to get pulled into negative thoughts and self-criticism. Once stuck in this pattern, it can be hard to break free. When you internalize all the derogatory things you have said about yourself or others have said to you, self-esteem suffers or becomes non-existent. If your negative thoughts are outweighing your positive thoughts, it is time to focus on feeling better about yourself.
Begin with the simple step of awareness. Catch yourself as you begin to have these negative thoughts. Are you engaging in “stinkin’ thinkin’?” – the term used in the book, You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!, by authors Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo, who ask readers to visualize these negative thoughts as physical masses dragging us down. Being aware of these thoughts is the first step to getting better control of them.
(I’d like to thank a reader who pointed out to me that “stinkin’ thinkin’” was originally coined by motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, in the late 60’s. Click on Attitude Makes All The Difference to hear Mr. Ziglar speak about stinkin' thinkin'.)
We all have an inner monologue with ourselves. Sometimes it is as innocuous as, “I need to pick up some milk from the grocery store.” While other times it can have a negative connotation like, “I’m so spacey, I’ll never get promoted.” When you repeatedly engage in negative self talk, you begin to limit yourself and your abilities. To change this pattern, an individual must actively practice positive self talk.
Be a Neutral Observer
Sometimes it is easier for those on the outside looking in to appropriately assess situations. Try to become that neutral observer of yourself. Are you engaging in negative self talk because you are assuming too much responsibility for bad happenings? Do you automatically blame yourself when things go wrong? Do you tend to minimize or ignore your accomplishments and magnify the negatives? Talk with a trusted friend to get this outside perspective if you find it is difficult for you to do this on your own.
If you have a negative thought, try to reframe it in a more positive way. If you are telling yourself - “I am so irresponsible, I can’t even get to the meeting on time” – dissect the thought. Get rid of the negative judgment and reframe the thought in a more productive way – “I was late to the meeting. What can I do to be on time the next time?”
Get Rid of Absolutes
If you find yourself using terms like “I always...” or “I never...” with associated negative thoughts, work hard to get rid of these absolute descriptions. “Always” or “never” implies that you aren’t capable of doing things differently and such absolutes can carry negative connotations.
Be Kind to Yourself
It is easy to slip into the pattern of being your own worst critic. You may say negative things to yourself that you would never dream of saying to another person because it would be too hurtful. Treat yourself with the same kindness. Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to another person.
Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo. You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!. Scribner. 2006.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Positive Thinking: A Skill for Stress Relief. May 31, 2007.