Jan 13, 2013

Negative Thinking: Some Tips to Help Combat Self-Criticism

We all need it. We may not like it, but, negative thinking has saved our patooties more times than we know. Negative thinking isn't always so negative. Self-criticism can be your best friend. But not every situation in life requires self-criticism. Sometimes, a body needs to be a body's best friend as well as it's own worst enemy.
Those of us whose mind is somehow "flawed" or "imperfect," and we are in fact, not one of the fair-haired children of this world, see things a bit differently than most. Where most people see a challenge, we see a battle. Where most others get angry and then get over it, we see a reason to carry the embers of the cold fire of revenge, until it eats at our skin too.

It is all-too-easy to slip into the default mode of anger and negativity towards ourselves, sometimes to the point of not being capable of even supporting our own efforts, as well. It's been known to happen that, even mundane activities, such as housekeeping-even basic hygiene-can be seen as futile in the light of the self-critic. Excessive self-criticism can develop into full-blown clinical depression.
Controlling negative thinking is a bit like living with a food addiction. We need to think in order to live, just as we must eat and while the food addict wrestles with their addiction with each bite, we wrestle our self-criticism with each memory...each action. Some folks get to a point that the assistance of a doctor or a therapist might be needed.
I've been fortunate to have acquired some good information over the years, and as my own life has occasionally tanked, I've found ways to struggle back against my own self-defeat. That information has come from as varied of sources as Anthony Robbins, Napoleon Hill, Lao Tsu, Sun Tsu, Donald Trump, and Norman Swarzkopff. There have been others...many others. But these particular individuals seem specialized with self-understanding.
Before presenting these to you, it's necessary for me to point out the fact that this is not exhaustive. I believe no one could cover every possible scenario. There will always be an exception to a rule and some folks might be in need of professional help. However, most others are quite capable of negotiations with their own minds. So for those who need the ability to see your own achievements, as well as your flaws, here are a few tools I've been fortunate enough to have learned and would like to share:
Tips to deal with chronic negative thinking and excessive self-criticism tip number one:
Question your thoughts
All too often, a thought-pattern can become so ingrained, like a tradition if you will, that we continue using the phrase (I.e., "I need a cigarette," "I hate my life," or "Nobody loves me.") without ever questioning it's validity.
At the time the phrase was first used, it might have actually even been valid. Since it worked then, a person might continue using it, like a crutch whether it's still valid or not. Upon questioning that negative thought pattern or belief ("Do I really need that cigarette?" "If I really hated my life, wouldn't I be dead?" or "Even if I am so ugly even a mother couldn't love me, there's still me, and I'm a value."), it'll be so obviously invalid.
The power of these negative, self-critical thoughts rests within our beliefs of their validity. Challenging our own beliefs negates their strength because it causes us to step out of "auto-pilot" mode, and to see that, our habitual thoughts might not really apply to reality at all.
Oftentimes some of these self-criticism and negative thought patterns are simple universal generalizations that, we picked up as children, long ago. While we were children, those adults influencing us, were just as screwed up then as we are now.
Challenge your own negative thinking honestly. Your answers will always be in silence. No one will know what you really tell yourself unless you share...and who's listening anyway?
Tips to deal with chronic negative thinking and excessive self-criticism tip number two:
Reverse your thoughts
This method almost sounds too simplistic to be effective, until you try it, and see what the word "effective" really means! It's been my experience with this method, to almost feel the exact moment, when my state-of-mind changes. Let me tell you: It's pretty exciting to experience a change so immediate and drastic as to know when it occurs. You'll be a believer in controlling your own brain the first time you try it.
Anytime the old "tapes" of negative thinking and self-criticism start playing, as soon as the messages normally ran go, just reverse them!
As an example: Let's say you always tell yourself "I'm not good enough," when it comes to the idea of a new job. Make it a point that the first words out of your mouth next are to the effect of "You'd be crazy to not hire me," and look the new employer right in the eyes while you say it.
At the very least, reversing any habitual thought will make you pause in your motions to consider whether what you normally say is even true here in reality. Do it right now, in fact. Take any negative, self-critical thought you normally have and tell yourself the exact opposite, even if it feels ridiculous at first. Be as blatant and extreme as it takes. The statements you tell yourself now, are blatant and extreme, are they not?
Say the exact opposite, at least to yourself, of any negative, self-critical thought you normally encounter. Don't knock it 'til you try it. Sometimes, the corny stuff, works better than the fancy methods. Give it a try. There's no equipment to buy. No membership fees are due. There's no monthly contract! You already have everything you need to do this! So do it!
Tips to deal with chronic negative thinking and excessive self-criticism tip number three:
Replace your thoughts
The first two methods shared are really just variations of this one method. I just wanted you to see those two examples before you saw the third method, so you'll have something to begin battling self-criticism, and negative thinking by the time you finish this piece. How's that for a sweeping statement?
The first two methods of doing what we're talking about, here in the third, are tools to help you through those "on-the-spot" moments in life. When you're facing a moment that might not allow, or accept, you taking a few minutes for a one-hour chant. But basically, with the first two methods, you're doing a "band-aid" version of this step.
Once a day (I recommend mornings because less drivers are out and you set your metabolism for the day) take the time to get some walking, jogging, yoga, or other form of exercise in. While you're out and about, pick a simple, catchy, and memorable phrase to repeat to yourself. I like "Every day in every way my life is getting better and better." Repeat this for the duration of your exercise.
Use your personal chant after each round of a breathing exercise I learned from Anthony Robbins that was once researched by MIT. While walking or exercising, inhale in four shorts gasps, and exhale in four similar, short bursts. "In-in-in-in, out-out-out-out. Every day in every way my life is getting better and better!" Don't listen to any music, have any coffee, or focus on anything other than your breathing, and your chant, until you're done.
This isn't just self-talk. It works because you picked up your negative thinking, and self-criticism in much the same way. Most people mope about in the morning, thinking of all they're worried over, and afraid of. Eventually, as they focus only on the negative and self-critical, that's exactly what they lead themselves to.
All thought patterns are habitual after they've been used long enough. Another way of saying it is you've grown comfortable in their usage. Replacing negative thinking requires the development of new habits. So...develop some new habits...on purpose! Be proactive. Pursue your happiness.
Giving yourself these chants are simply re-focusing, from the negative thought patterns normally shared, onto the new one. Even if all you have is as little as fifteen minutes in the morning, start this, and watch it grow into an entirely new perspective instead of the normal self destructive pattern. Daily practice is crucial...and this works.
Eventually, the new, happy thought pattern will replace the negative thoughts of self-criticism. It sticks because the breathing pattern combined with the chant helps it stick in the mind. You'll still be able to access the self-criticism skills as needed. But now you know how to put them back when done.
The key is consistency. Someone needs to be as consistent and as stubborn in giving themselves a break as they are in giving themselves a hard time with negative thinking and self criticism.
Originally published on Yahoo! Voices.

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