Do you have an incessant personal judge that constantly tells you what you should or should not do? We each make choices every day about the words we use. Language is a powerful force and simple word choices can have an enormous impact. Create more freedom and less stress in your life by changing your language to a kinder tone and by changing your ‘shoulds’ to ‘coulds’.
The word ‘should’ often carries with it feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame. ‘Should’ implies there is an ultimate way of behaving in every given situation. ‘Should’ suggests that you are supposed to be different than you are, that you don’t measure up, you need to improve, and you must be perfect. Often ‘should’ carries with it feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame. It reminds us of the expectations of others for us and creates external motivation based on those expectations.
The word ‘could’ implies a choice rather than an obligation. Because it is more easy-going and less demanding, ‘could’ can open us up to opportunities rather than confining us to a supposedly righteous way. ‘Could’ can help create an internal motivation that is more powerful and compelling than an external motivation.
Consider replacing your ‘shoulds’ with ‘coulds’. Do you worry that you would not accomplish your goals without the harshness of ‘shoulds’ to motivate you? Consider how a set of demanding and rigid expectations makes you feel. Are your ‘shoulds’ helpful or do they serve to de-motivate you by making you feel guilty and inadequate?
Spend a day trying to catch as many of your ‘shoulds’ as you can. Take a neutral attitude as you notice these self-critical commands that you have been automatically telling yourself. At day’s end, notice when you used ‘should’ the most. Was it in relation to work, relationships, chores, leisure time, or something else?
Next, spend a day replacing your ‘shoulds’ with ‘coulds’. While ‘should’ implies an obligation, ‘could’ is more liberating because it implies a choice. Instead of saying ‘I should do better at work’ change it up to ‘I could do better at work’. And, then carry it a step further by asking yourself, ‘How could I do better at work?’ What new options and possibilities do you discover when you do this? Do you find that you can tap more easily into a genuine internal motivation?
Treat yourself well and change your language to a more gentle and forgiving tone by replacing your ‘shoulds’ with ‘coulds’. Abolish ‘should’ from your vocabulary and increase your possibilities for more happiness and less stress by refusing to impose unrealistic expectations on yourself.
Do you have a habit on dwelling on the same negative thoughts? Do the same discouraging thoughts constantly play over and over again in your mind? There are strategies you can use to break this cycle and restore your peace of mind and happiness.
Before looking at ways of tackling incessant negative thinking, let’s acknowledge that it isn’t necessary, or probably even desirable, to monitor every thought you have and to eliminate every negative thought. A more balanced approach, in fact, would be to let emotions, thoughts, and sensations rise and pass, regardless of their content. However, if you are plagued by incessant negative thinking, there are techniques to turn down the volume on them.
Here are some action strategies to reduce your repetitive negative thoughts:
Do something else!
It can be easier to change your actions than your thoughts. For a quick fix to break a cycle of negative thinking, do something else. Distract yourself from what is worrying you by doing something completely different. The mind cannot entertain two thoughts at the same time. Give yourself an easy task, watch something funny, go for a walk, or do some simple exercises – anything that will engage your mind in a different way.
Recognize that you can change your thoughts!
Your thinking contributes to your feelings more than any other factor. People generate negative thoughts so automatically they are unaware that it is happening and that it is actually a choice they are making. While negative thinking is a very strong thought habit, it is very possible to control the quality of your thinking.
Identify your pattern of negative thinking and substitute more positive thoughts.
What is your pattern of negative thinking and what triggers it? Do you focus more on problems than solutions? Do you constantly berate yourself for your shortcomings? Do you focus on the worst possible outcomes?
Once you identify your patterns, the next step is to replace your negative thoughts with more positive ones. For example, instead of thinking “This is a disaster” change it to “I wish this hadn’t happened but what are my options now?” and instead of “I’m an idiot” change it to “Good for you for trying!”
As you create more positive thoughts, avoid over-the-top, unrealistic proclamations. It may make you feel worse if you replace “I’m an idiot!” with “I’m the best!” because really, you don’t believe it. Keep your new, more positive thoughts consistent with what you think is possible or real.
Use these strategies to reduce the volume of your negative thoughts. Remember, your goal is to reduce incessant negative thoughts rather than trying to banish every negative thought you have. For even more peace of mind and happiness, begin to detach from categorizing your thoughts as negative or positive and adopt an attitude of non-judgment.
Do you take yourself a bit too seriously? Does your mind feed you a constant stream of self-critical messages? Has your mind told you that you can’t do anything right? Really – you can’t do anything right? Can you gently laugh with yourself and see some humor in that?
We have the choice to change our train of thought. We don’t need to listen to our inner critic and self-talk! People often resist the idea of monitoring and changing their thoughts because they see it as form of escapism. You may worry that if you change your thoughts, you may start to actively avoid facing problems and issues in your life. This won’t happen if you pay attention to what you are thinking. Are you considering action to help you move forward or are you only berating yourself? Distinguish if your thinking is helpful or hurtful and make your choice from there.
The key is to consider your thoughts as they happen. One way to tell if you should allow a thought to continue is to apply a ‘lightness test”. Does the thought make you feel light or heavy? If a thought is helpful to you, it will feel light and may include action to move you forward; A hurtful thought will feel heavy and may make you feel defeated or depressed. Choose those thoughts that make you feel light and consciously override those that make you feel heavy.
Our thoughts generate our feelings. When we choose to allow thoughts that make us feel heavy, the stress response is engaged. Your heart may begin pounding, your breathing becomes shallower, and your muscles tense. Once this is set in motion, it may take more effort to change your thoughts and mood.
If the stress response is engaged, laughter and humor can be used to counteract the physical effects of stress and panic. You can start that laughter by exaggerating your fears to their extreme and most absurd conclusion. Create a parody of your fears by accentuating the negative until you just have to laugh at yourself.
Another technique for moving into happiness when you’re stressed is to ask yourself what thought you could have that would make you feel better. Your thought could be anything – the thought of a loved one, the memory of a sunset, music you love – whatever creates a good feeling for you. If the newly activated thought only makes you feel better for a few moments and you return to feeling stressed, repeat the process as often as needed.
Be a friend to yourself and apply humor and thought-changing to break the grip of your mind and self-talk over your emotions!
Are you your own best friend or your own worst critic? Does your mind generate a constant chorus of self-talk criticizing you and your choices? Is it time to change your mind – specifically, your way of thinking and talking to yourself?
The words we say to ourselves go to the very core of our being. These words shape what we think of ourselves and what actions we take. The brain believes what we tell it and we become what we think about most. We can be our own strongest motivator or our own worst enemy. We can, in fact, create our own happy or unhappy state of mind.
What words and tone do you use when you talk to yourself? Chances are, it’s unlikely that you would ever talk to a dear friend or loved one with the same tone and criticism that you shower on yourself. In fact, there is probably no one whom you treat as badly as you treat yourself.
Our culture sanctions the idea that you should be hard on yourself. Do you believe, as many do, that self-criticism serves to keep you in line? And, that if you weren’t self-critical, you would become overly self-indulgent?
Has all this self-criticism and negativity helped? Has it motivated you to improve or meet your ideal? Studies show that children and adults are more motivated by encouragement than by threats. Research also suggests that giving yourself a break and accepting your imperfections may lower stress, depression, and anxiety, and improve happiness and life satisfaction.
The most direct solution to short-circuiting self-criticism is to give up judging and evaluating yourself and to replace this with self-compassion, an acceptance of yourself despite your perceived weaknesses. This is not about self-indulgence or lowering your standards but rather about accepting your humanness and accepting that ups and downs are part of life.
Cultivating self-compassion provides a foundation of love, acceptance, and security for yourself despite the circumstances of your life, despite your failures or disappointments. Self-compassion looks beyond your actions, values you for yourself and your imperfections, and respects all aspects of your humanity. In short, you exercise self-care and give yourself a break!
Many of us find it easier to extend compassion to others. One way to extend it more to yourself is to commit to treating yourself as well as you would treat your friends and loved ones. Encourage yourself and acknowledge all of your efforts, just like you would for a friend. Be kind to yourself and be your own cheerleader, your own motivator, and your own comforter.
What would your life be like if you had a more positive set of attitudes, beliefs, and feelings about yourself? Find out by gifting yourself with self-compassion and by being a friend to yourself
Do you have a positive or negative self-image? Do you basically feel good about yourself or do you worry that you aren’t good enough? Everyone’s self-image changes somewhat depending on circumstances, but when you feel bad about yourself in many areas of life and these feelings become persistent, then your negative self-image can impact your physical and mental health. In this article we’ll explore that impact and ways to achieve a more positive self-image.
The health benefits of a having a positive self-image are many. Those with a positive self-image are more likely to manage stress better and to be more resilient when facing challenges, disappointments, or illnesses. Those with a positive self-image are generally more assertive and they enjoy strong relationships.
Low self-image often leads to stress and, at times, depression and anxiety disorders. The negative emotions that come with low self-image weaken the immune system and increase the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer. Low self-image is also associated with addictive behaviors, such as alcoholism, smoking, drug addiction, and gambling.
Negative self-image can affect individuals regardless of age, ethnicity, sex, or socioeconomic status. While the picture of a person with low self-image can vary greatly, from a shrinking wall-flower to a highly competitive workaholic, the common denominator is that a person with a low self-image is extremely self-critical.
Your own thoughts – what you tell yourself in your self-talk, your interpretation of situations, and your beliefs about yourself and others – probably have the biggest impact on your self-image. It is important to realize that your thoughts are within your control and that you can change them. If you tend to focus on your weaknesses or flaws, you can learn to re-frame negative thoughts and focus instead on your positive qualities.
If your self-talk is habitually self-critical, it will take some practice to change. When you notice that you are having a self-critical thought, consider if you can replace strong negative words with more neutral or positive words. If your inner critic has a favorite critical name for you, see if you can turn it around to something more positive. Instead of calling yourself wishy-washy, substitute open-minded or flexible; instead of sloppy, substitute relaxed; instead of too noisy, substitute energetic and outgoing. And, instead of saying that you hate something about yourself, see if you can replace “hate” with “don’t like” or “I’m ready to change.”
Don’t confuse positive self-talk with self-delusion or mindless positive thinking. Draw the distinction between what is true and what is negative. Recognize self-sabotaging messages and replace them with more rational and positive self-talk.
Be a friend to yourself and speak to yourself as kindly as you would speak to a friend or loved one. Affirm your strengths and acknowledge your efforts rather than punishing yourself with negative self-talk. Use your inner voice to reassure yourself.
How you feel about yourself affects every aspect of your life. Change your negative self-talk into positive affirmations of your worth to improve your self-image and the quality and quantity of your life.