Think back to something you’ve tried to do in the past year. Maybe you tried a new diet and found yourself saying, “I’ll never lose the weight.” Or maybe you tried riding a road bike and your first thought was, “I hope I don’t fall.”
If you found your thoughts shifting toward the negative — the very thing you don’t want to happen — you’re not alone.
As humans, we’re actually predisposed to think negatively. In one study, researchers asked participants to spontaneously name emotions. Those emotions were then categorized as positive, negative or neutral.
Not surprisingly, 50 percent of the words were negative, 30 percent positive and 20 percent neutral. We have a bias toward the negative. It’s where our minds tend to go. We also spend the most time ruminating on the negative things that happen to us.
Positive emotions tell us that everything is OK so we can move on. It’s the reason why we can recall the worst criticisms we’ve ever received, yet we struggle to remember the compliments. It’s as if the positives wash over us, while the negatives get absorbed.
When we focus on the negative, we give it life. It becomes harder to get out of your own way. Over time, those negative thoughts start to accumulate, taking a serious toll on your mental health.
What can you do to stop them?
Follow these three steps to get out of your own way — and live the life you truly want.
- Recognize negative thoughts. Let’s say that you want to start eating a cleaner diet and exercising more. Naturally, one of your coworkers brings in donut holes that same week and you cave and have a few. All of a sudden, you start replaying the “greatest hits” of all the negative things people have ever said about your weight in your head. They might then become the things you say to yourself, such as “I’ll always be fat.”
- Practice self-compassion. Take a second and reframe the negative thought in your head. Instead of shaming yourself about a past decision, focus on the next opportunity. Tell yourself, “It’s OK; I’ll have another chance to make healthy choices at lunch.” The new statement allows you to practice self-compassion. We all make mistakes. When we offer ourselves forgiveness, it allows us to move on — toward the next choice that’s within our control.
- Take action. The best way to tackle your fears is to take a single step toward them. When you do, your fears lose their strength. Maybe your inner critic has been saying, “You’re not fit enough to take a group exercise class.” Go online right now and sign up for one. Better still, invite a friend. That will push you to show up — for your friend and for yourself. Leading up to the class, your inner critic will inevitably get louder, trying to talk you out of the very thing you know you need to do. Stick with the plan. It won’t completely silence the critics — internally or externally. But it will take away their power — and return it back to you.
Each time you get out of your own way, you’ll move toward a more authentic version of yourself. You might be surprised to find how much you enjoy that person’s company.