Everything you see in the world began as a thought in someone’s head. Whether it’s good or bad, everything begins with a thought.
People have a tendency to dream big and set high goals for themselves. So many of us spend hours fantasizing what life would be like if we could get the big promotion, lose the weight, or learn a new skill.
Unfortunately, people also have a tendency to let negative thinking get in the way of working toward big goals. Have you ever talked yourself out of making some major life changes or trying to meet a goal because you thought it would be “too hard” to achieve? If so, you’re likely allowing negative thoughts to get in your way!
If your thoughts tend to be negative, never fear–with some practice, you can work toward changing your thoughts to be more positive, healthy and supportive. Remember, it takes time. This is not a quick-fix and you likely won’t see overnight success.
It takes work and consistency!
1. Strive for improvement – not perfection.
A common negative thought that gets in the way of making change and progress is the (quite untrue) belief that we must seek perfection if we’re going to chase after a goal. Perfection is great, but it isn’t realistic! Striving toward absolute perfection isn’t needed to improve your life or work toward new skills.
Verywell Mind suggests working toward accepting improvement over absolute perfection. Challenge yourself to work a little harder each day. Even giving an extra 10% of effort while working toward a goal will help you move closer to your desired results. Continually seeking perfection will lead to big disappointment, but working toward improvement will encourage you to continue, even when things get hard.
2. Look into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) methods to restructure your negative thinking habits.
CBT sounds intimidating, but it simply refers to a toolkit of strategies you can use to replace bad or negative thoughts with better, more positive ones.
For example, one method of doing this is called cognitive restructuring. Again, this isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Cognitive restructuring takes some time, practice, and patience to master, but it will achieve what its name suggests–you will learn to restructure your thinking patterns to be more positive, motivational, and forward thinking.
To do this, you simply identify a negative thought, identify it, and then replace it with a less distorted version that gives you a clear mental picture of reality. Often, our bad or negative thoughts are fueled by fear or worry–this means those bad thoughts cloud our minds with “what ifs” that can stop us from taking a chance to make change or try something new. Learning to identify, label, and change thoughts takes quite a bit of practice. Below is an example of what this might look like:
- You have a negative thought: “I don’t know why I even bother trying to learn this….I know I’m going to fail my test no matter what.”
- You identify the negative thought: “Talking to myself like this isn’t helping my situation. It makes me feel even more worried about my upcoming test.”
- You replace the negative thought with a more truthful one: “My teacher told me what I need to review in order to do well on the test, so I am going to spend time studying it tonight so I feel prepared tomorrow.”
3. Practice basic mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of putting yourself “in the moment.” This means you take a moment to mentally assess your current situation, feelings, and environment. It can be used as a tool to quiet a busy mind and bring yourself back to reality, particularly if you struggle with stress management and anxious thinking.
For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to close your eyes, draw in deep breaths, and focus on the “here and now.” You can take a few minutes to run through these questions to bring yourself back into the current moment:
- What does the temperature of the room feel like?
- What can I smell in the room right now?
- What does the floor feel like under my feet (if standing) or bottom (if sitting)?
- What sounds can I hear?
- How do my clothes feel against my skin?
By focusing on these “right now” questions, you can bring your mind back to focus on the present.
Journaling is also a great way to work on your thoughts. You can write down the negative thoughts you’re having and then write out better, more helpful thoughts to replace those with. You can even write down how you feel about everything that’s going on and the changes you want to make.
All the best,