I was searching for inspiration this past week and came across a great image illustrating how to take negative thoughts and turn them into positive, constructive actions (I love the idea that the image portrays, minus the fact that they write “n” backwards — just look past that!). I think each of us can read these thoughts, and reflect on times when we have been our own worst critic, or just have not felt that we could achieve something. We so often look at others for comparison, and are just far too hard on ourselves. I am absolutely guilty of this. We don’t step outside of our own critical minds. We may feel insecure or that we’re not good at something. When, in truth, others feel the exact same way about themselves. I think too often, we believe that we are unique and that no one else has experienced what we are going through…. When in fact, if we just opened up more about our thoughts and feelings, we would find we are experiencing the same thoughts, emotions, and tough times that our peers are going through (just maybe at different points in time). It kind of takes some undue pressure off yourself when you know you’re not alone in what you feel, doesn’t it?
A few years ago I learned a great lesson from a friend who is a counselor. She explained to me that people have these knee-jerk reactions called Automatic Negative Thoughts (or ANTs for short) that pop into our heads, without much effort at all (very much like the image illustrated above). These are subconscious thoughts such as, “I’m not pretty enough,” “I’m not smart enough,” “I can never achieve what I dream of,” or “Why would people like me.” The way they pop into your head and guide your beliefs is so subtle, yet so debilitating. What I feel that this image shows is how we need to consciously be aware of how our brains limit us and actually create hurdles. This is a perfect example of how we can be our own worst enemies. What my friend encouraged me to do was visualize these ANTs and write them out on a piece of paper. She then told me to wad that paper up, throw it on the ground, and stomp on it. She told me to take a new piece of paper out, write something positive to replace that negative thought, and then hang onto the paper — continuing to refer back to it for positive reinforcement. She shared that if we made a conscious effort to “stomp out” these immediate, life-limiting negative thoughts, and then immediately replaced them with positive thoughts, we could over time retrain our thinking and improve our lives. Just imagine if you were to retrain your more cynical thoughts as they come out of your head, how different your experiences would be!
I’ve never forgotten her analogy and visualization activity. One of my ANTs would be that I’ll never be good enough. I have found that in the past several years I have made a conscious effort to give myself some credit. Trust me, it’s not always easy to be the bigger person, and sometimes it’s just easier to complain, whine, and act a little victimized. I have to say though that my experiences and achievements have improved by retraining my thinking (like my friend taught me). What I’d like is to challenge you to do the same. Take about 5 minutes to write down some negative thoughts that creep in subtly to your everyday life. Now find new positive thoughts to replace them, and try to live by that. I promise that these small changes, will become mighty shifts in your life. Just remember that we truly are the masters of our own making and we are in charge of shifting things in our lives that we don’t like.