Everyone has negative thoughts: “My boss hates me.” “They don’t value me.” “Man, I screwed that up.” Negative thoughts like these can not only make us doubt ourselves, but they can dampen our enthusiasm for life, disrupt our sleep and harm our health.
Yet most of our negative thoughts are false—they’re stories we tell ourselves when we’re feeling upset, insecure or angry. The following tips can help you learn to identify and eliminate a host of negative thoughts.
1. Try to “catch” your negative thoughts as they occur—without putting yourself down for having them. Remember that 99.9 percent of these thoughts are untrue. Tell yourself: “I’m thinking that I’m awful at my job. Not only is this a negative thought, it’s just a lie I’m telling myself because I made a mistake today.”
2. Think about what caused this thought. Did the boss criticize you for turning in a report late? When that happened, perhaps you felt like a child being reprimanded by a parent. Remind yourself that first, you’re an adult; second, you happened to get behind on the report; and third, you’ll do better in the future.
3. Replace your negative thoughts with productive, encouraging ones. Instead of “I made a horrible blunder,” tell yourself: “I mixed up the sales figures because I was in a hurry. Next time, I’ll slow down and take the time to get it right.”
4. Make a gratitude list.Think of five things in life for which you feel grateful, and five positive attributes and accomplishments. The list could include things like enjoying a sunset or your success in landing your current job. Review your list often—it should give you the lift you need to become more optimistic.
5. Focus on the present moment. Be aware of whatever is happening to you right this minute. When we do that, we don’t have time to entertain negative thoughts.
6. Don’t catastrophize—that is, don’t continually worry things that might go wrong. Yes, bad things can happen, but there’s no reason to believe that they will.
7. Remember, no one is either all good or bad, always right, always wrong, or always perfect. And no one screws up every time––even if a boss, coworker, friend or family member tells us so.
You are not your negative thoughts. Life is hard, but disparaging works against you. Give yourself some grace! You can commit to doing better next time, so as you refocus on your work, think about how you will do so and put mistakes behind you. You’re too busy to spend time on them anyway, right?