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Each of us has a set of messages that play over and over in our minds. This internal dialogue, or personal running commentary, determines how we feel about ourselves, our reactions to life and the things it throws at us. One of the ways to, promote, and sustain you feelings of optimism, hope, and joy is to intentionally fill our thoughts with positive self-talk.
Too often, the pattern of self-talk we’ve developed is negative. We remember the negative things we were told as children by our parent’s siblings, or teachers. We remember the negative reactions from other children that diminished how we felt about ourselves. Throughout the years, these messages have played over and over in our minds, fuelling our feelings of anger fear guilt, and hopelessness. All to often when people come to see me the first words the say to me are I’m stupid, worthless, ugly, unlovable. If you constantly have this internal dialog running through your mind it will start to profoundly affect how you feel about yourself. And ultimately if you truly believe the negative feelings and dialog you are having with yourself then that is what you will project out into the world often with disatrous consequences.
One of the first things I do in therapy with those suffering from depression, anxiety and anger issues is to identify the source of these messages and then work with the person to intentionally “overwrite” them. If a person learned as a child he was worthless, showing them how truly unique and special they are as an individual can have a huge effect on how they feel about themselves and subsequently on how they behave. If while growing up a person learned to expect crises and destructive events, showing them a better way to anticipate the future will open the doors to the possibility and idea that things can and do get better.
Try the following exercise. Write down some of the negative messages being played in your mind that are causing you issues. Be specific, whenever possible, and include anyone you remember who contributed to that message.
Now, take a moment to intentionally counteract those negative messages with positive truths in your life actively challenge them. Don’t give up if you don’t find them quickly. For every negative message there is a positive truth that will override the weight of despair. These truths always exist; keep looking until you find them.
You may have a negative message that replays in your head every time you make a mistake. As a child you have been told, “You’ll never amount to anything” or “You can’t do anything right.” When you make a mistake—and you will because we all do—you can choose to overwrite that message with a positive one, such as “I choose to accept and grow from my mistake” or “As I learn from my mistakes, I am becoming a better person.” During this exercise, mistakes become opportunities to replace negative views of who you are with positive options for personal enhancement.
Positive self-talk is not a case of deluding yourself. It is not mentally looking at circumstances with eyes that see only what you want to see. Rather, positive self-talk is about recognizing the truth and reality of situations and within yourself. One of the fundamental truths is that you will make mistakes. To expect perfection in yourself or anyone else is unrealistic. To expect no difficulties in life, whether through your own actions or sheer circumstances, is also unrealistic.
When negative events or mistakes happen, positive self-talk seeks to bring the positive out of the negative to help you do better, go further, or just keep moving forward. The practice of positive self-talk is often the process that allows you to discover the obscured optimism, hope, and joy in any given situation.
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