How to change negative messages into positive thinking
Have you heard that voice in your head today, the one that criticises and tells you off?
“I’m so stupid for making that mistake.”
“I’m such a klutz for dropping that.”
“What a fool I am for allowing them to let me down.”
Sometimes these negative messages in our heads are so subtle that we don’t even notice them, but they have incredible power because they can determine how you feel about yourself, as well as undermine your self-esteem and even invade your relationships.
These kinds of thoughts in Gestalt therapy theory are called introjects. They may sound simple and innocent or they may be harsh and accusatory, but either way they have the power to reinforce negative self-beliefs and make us feel rotten about ourselves.
When you were a kid…
Do you remember parents or teachers telling you that ‘you can do better’? An innocent and well-meaning comment like this can affect your belief system by giving you the idea that you are not good enough.
Comments like “you always want my attention” might prompt you to start believing you are selfish or too needy. Negative messages can become so ingrained in who you think you are that as adults they become fleeting thoughts that reinforce again and again what you have already come to believe about yourself.
Here are some common ones:
- ‘you’re so lame’ – you are unacceptable
- ‘you idiot’ – you are not good enough
- ‘you’re so boring’ – you are not important
- ‘you will only spoil it again so why bother’ – you are not capable
- ‘you provoked it’ – you are bad
Take note that this negative self-talk doesn’t refer to your actions, but instead uses your actions as evidence to reinforce the so-called ‘truth’. Their effect is to inhibit you from achieving your full potential and in enjoying life to the fullest.
Give yourself the benefit of the doubt
So what can you do to stop the voice? The first step is awareness – simply noticing the negative way you speak to yourself can open the door for change.
Next time you hear the voice in your head, take notice and question if the message really holds true for who you are or does it only apply to your actions at the time.
Allow yourself some compassion; sure you might have done something that was silly or clumsy but that doesn’t define who you are.
When you give yourself compassion an added bonus is that the more compassionate you are with yourself, the more likely you will be able to treat others with compassion, respect, kindness, and generosity.
The greater your self-compassion, the deeper, richer and more loving your relationships can be.
As the Dalai Lama says, “If you want others to be happy – focus on compassion; if you want to be happy yourself – focus on compassion.”
Being nicer to yourself is not about letting yourself off the hook, it’s about switching to the positive – learning to recognise a mistake for what it is and taking steps to amend it.
A positive outlook and a healthy dose of self-compassion brings with it a deep inner sense of what it means to be human and therefore to be fallible. In other words, it allows you to feel ok with who you are right now.
Self-compassion enhances a healthy approach to life and supports you toward growth and happiness. Here are the benefits:
- accepting, forgiving and fulfilling relationships
- emotional resilience
- greater motivation (we grow from acknowledging our mistakes).
- health improvements (you are more likely to be inclined to exercise and eat well).
As you let go of needing to be perfect and start to focus on positive thinking, your sense of personal peace is deeper and you are more likely to accept yourself for who and where you are in life’s journey.