Despite the occasional temporary setback, my life is good, and I’m grateful. However, it wasn’t always that way. At eighteen, just after I left for college, I was essentially orphaned. I’ve had to go from no education or support, to finding a purpose, supporting myself through a PhD, and developing four businesses. I also recovered from an abusive marriage. Now, I have been happily married for twenty-eight years, and I’ve been in a successful private practice since 1978. But before I could succeed, I needed to learn to support myself emotionally, as well as financially. Having come from a difficult time, I appreciate my blessings. I find that even the problems have become blessings. Today, I am privileged to use my experiences to work with clients every day to help them become more independent, self-actualizing, fulfilled, and successful.
One of the most powerful tools we have in turning the negative to positive is self-talk. We all have a running dialogue in our heads, which often is negative, or self-defeating. The good news is, we can choose to replace this negative monologue with something more positive. The brain tends to repeat familiar things over and over, going again and again over established neuronal pathways. Repeating a mantra, an affirmation, or a choice creates new pathways, which eventually become automatic. The new thoughts will run through your head like the old thoughts did, or like a popular song you’ve heard.
If your self-talk feels naturally negative, you may be creating a self-fulfilling identity. One thing you can do is to monitor your self-talk. What do you say to yourself about the upcoming day, about mistakes, or about your luck? If these messages are negative, changing them can indeed lift your spirits, and your optimism. Also, know yourself. If you love silence, tend to be quiet, like quiet conversations, and don’t like big parties, this may be a genetic trait—your hearing and nervous systems may be more sensitive than others. This trait will not go away. You can, however, make the most of it, and learn that creating plenty of quiet in your life will make you a happier person. If, on the other hand, you’re a party animal—social, enjoying noise, and enjoying excitement—you can also use that as an asset. Positive, happy people do have an easier time in life, and they bounce back from problems faster. There are things you can do in every case to increase your level of optimism, even if you can’t change who you are.
Your thoughts affect your mood, and how you relate to yourself can either lift or dampen your spirits. Neuronal activity in the brain activates hormones, which are synonymous with feelings. Constant self-criticism results in a “what’s the use” attitude, which leads to depression. Continuous free-floating thoughts of impending doom lead to anxiety attacks. Negative self-talk creates stress. What I do to help clients become aware of self-inflicted stress is first, ask them to become aware of what they’re saying to themselves. If there is a constant stream of negativity, it will create stress—just as being followed around by someone who’s constantly carping on you would be stressful. Also, if they’re fighting within themselves—not able to come to a solid idea of what they want—that will make it difficult to make decisions, and increase the stress. Dysfunctional relationship patterns also are stress-building. For example, if you are constantly guilt-tripped by someone else, or you and your spouse fight, or you are too worried about others’ opinions of who you are and what you’re doing, you’ll be a lot more stressed than if you know how to get along with others, when to listen, and when to trust yourself. Most of my clients don’t realize that they are responsible for their own feelings, and no one else is responsible for making them feel better.
To move from negativity to gratitude, try the following suggestions:
Make a Note
Write positive comments on your daily calendar to yourself, for jobs well done, or any achievements you want to celebrate. Or you can paste stickers on your daily calendar as you accomplish goals. Daily, frequent, and positive commentary is a very effective way to reward yourself, and remind yourself of your success.
Look to Your Childhood
Use activities that felt like a celebration in your childhood. Did your family toast a celebration with champagne or sparkling cider, a gathering of friends, or a thankful prayer? Create a celebration environment; use balloons, music, flowers, candles, or set your table with the best china.
Surround yourself with visible evidence of your successes. Plant a commemorative rosebush, get a new houseplant to mark a job well done, or display photos of fun events, sports, or hobby trophies. It’s a constant reminder that you appreciate yourself, and when you see them daily, you’ll feel the appreciation.
A new trashy romance novel or detective thriller can be a great reward/celebration for reading your required technical books.
Celebrate a cherished friendship with an impromptu lunchtime, picnic, a balloon, or with tickets to a ball game.
(adapted from It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction)