Remember the children’s story of the Little Engine That Could? That’s the one where the underpowered locomotive pulls his train over the big mountain on sheer willpower, constantly telling himself, “I think I can! I think I can!”
We all know the power of such positive thinking. Alas, for a variety of psychological and emotional reasons, many of us are more likely to tell ourselves, “I think I can’t! I think I can’t.” Such negative thoughts can keep us from achieving immediate goals – closing the sale or making that chip shot.
Worse, they are self-perpetuating. Thoughts create chemical circuits in the brain. Poormouth ourselves strengthens and expands those “I’m-a-loser” thought circuits making it harder for us to believe in ourselves. Fortunately, according to The Wall Street Journal, it is possible to create new, more positive circuitry in our minds and short-circuit some of that negative thinking.
Here’s the plan:
Awareness. Recognize when you are brooding, or beating yourself up. When you recognize such behavior, interrupt it by reminding yourself it’s a waste of time. Keep a journal of such thoughts and what triggered them. The act of writing about negative thoughts can clear your mind and help you better understand what prompts them. While you’re journaling, write some affirmations – reminders of your positive traits. “I am a good parent.” “I am talented.”
Demand Proof. If your mind is saying, “You’re a terrible salesman,” examine the record. Remind your brain that you’ve exceeded all your quarterly goals, been promoted twice, and receive a steady stream of job offers from competitors. Have you had some misfires? Sure. But the positive far, far outweighs those hiccups.
Take It All the Way. This is the flip side of demanding proof. If your mind is whispering “terrible golfer ‘’ take that and run with it. Imagine your name is the top result in Google searches for “Worst Golfer Ever.” Picture yourself carding a 289 at Pebble Beach while playing with three former PGA champions. Think about video of your swing being played for laughs on Jimmy Kimmel.
The idea here is to make yourself laugh and recognize the silliness of the negative thought.
Get an Imaginary Friend. If a friend said all these negative things about himself, you’d reassure him that he’s a great guy and offer proof that his self-criticism is baseless. So, create an imaginary friend who is exactly like you. Give him a name. When you engage in self-destructive thoughts, pretend your friend is saying those things about himself. Respond to yourself as you would to the friend.
Shift Gears. Be prepared to change topics when negative or self-limiting thoughts start flowing. Switch to thoughts of that challenge at work, or your upcoming vacation, or your still-in-progress list of the top five war movies.
Stick with it. Getting your mind in shape is much like boosting your physical fitness. It takes time and discipline. Practice the above every day, including writing about your negative thoughts, and you will see progress. According to a 2014 study, people who worked a similar plan on a daily basis reported a significant drop in negative thoughts in just 16 weeks.
You can do this.