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I think I can't, I think I can't: overcoming negative thoughts that stop your full potential

Updated on July 17, 2016

Does your life ever feel like you are mired in the mud with no escape? If so, keep reading to see what you can do to pull yourself out of that mind trap.

It was a day not unlike any other day, and that was part of the problem!

Have you ever had one of THOSE days, for seemingly every day of the past year or more? You have great plans for your life. You go to school, get a degree, find a job, get laid off, quit in righteous indignation or get fired even though you worked harder and accomplished more than any of your coworkers. You struggle to survive, find another job where you work odd hours and can neither afford to get off work to go out with friends or when you do have time, all you want to do is sleep and lay around the house or catch up on everything you let go while you were working.

You dream of taking a vacation somewhere luxurious on a beach or an adventure kayaking with orcas or climbing to the top of the highest peak, but with your luck, even if you could find the time and the money to do something like that, a hurricane would cancel your kayak trip with no refunds or you'd paddle in rough waters, get seasick and not even see a dolphin fin in the water. You'd climb the toughest ridge for hours with only rocks and debris in view and reach the tallest peak only to encounter the worst fog ever in 200 years that blocked your view of anything five feet in front of you and then it rains on the way back. An oil spill would send giant chunks of putrid oil up on the pristine beach you saw in the brochures you'd dreamed about forever and you end up spending your entire vacation volunteering to clean up the beach because it wouldn't feel right to let down the natives who welcomed you so kindly on their shores to begin with.

Psychologists like to refer to that as negative thinking. They encourage you to be like "successful" people who visualize where they want to be, set a goal to get there and let nothing stand in their way. Unfortunately past experiences tend to shape our lives so if we have tried and failed at great expense to our psyche.

If you have ever starved yourself and worked out three times a day to get in shape and lose weight only to have a stressful schedule make it impossible to stick to your goals, so that you gain back all the fat that took you 2 months to trim off in about the next two weeks and then end up gaining another two or three the week later, then you know that it can seem like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down just before he reached the top and have to repeat the task all over again. Where is the lesson to be learned in that, where is the meaning? To most of us the lesson becomes, "why bother when i know I am just going to fail."

The hardest part is not just getting started, it is following through on the plan

It seems I make too many plans and that is part of the problem. I will start one project, get bored with it and switch to another. I will do well on one goal for a week, but slowly start slipping back into old habits. By day three of dieting I am ready to call it quits and do the sneaky diet thing, where you eat three healthy meals a day, but eat "little" snacks of two to three hundred calories, three to five times a day or eat a small meal and feel like you need more energy so eat two tablespoons of peanut butter telling yourself that you need the protein and the fat to keep yourself from binging on a bag of cookies, which ironically have less calories, but of course fewer nutrients.

When there is a major project to be done, I will do my best to do everything but the project itself. If clothes need washing, I will collect the recycling. If the recycling needs to be taken to the center, I will fold clothes instead. If clothes need to be folded I will start the dishes, but since there are still dishes drying (for ten days now), there is no place to put the newly washed dishes and so I give up on that project and go clean the bathroom sink which is easier to clean than the toilet or tub.

Most disorganized people are not simply "scatter brained", they are exhibiting avoidance or substitution behaviors: when they do not want to do something, they try to look busy doing something else or turn their focus on anything that will take their mind off the more daunting task. A part of the avoidance comes from past experience. We may have learned at work or at home that if we look like we are busy doing homework or repairs, people will leave us alone and not make us do something else we prefer not to do! Ironically, even if you live alone you will try to convince your own self that you are busy "working" on the computer or sorting buttons, so you do not have time to vacuum and anyway, it has waited this long, it can wait a little longer.

Have you ever cleaned the bathroom and made it spotless, only to walk outside in bare feet or get caught in the rain and go in the bathroom to change clothes and have it look like you never cleaned the bathroom in the first place? It is the same with cooking and washing dishes. You wash dishes, you clean them. You eat four hours later and the dishes are back in the sink again. It is not like once you wash them, they are clean for life or even for a day. They just get dirty all over again, so washing them seems pointless until you have nothing else to eat with and then are forced to at least wash the top level of dishes. It is hard to stay motivated to clean when things end up getting dirty just minutes after you cleaned them. It can also deter you from eating healthier meals made at home as it is not just the eating part, but the preparing, cooking and cleaning parts that seem a daunting chore when you are already too tired to do anything.

The experts say to break monumental tasks into doable tasks. If you have baked on goo on a pot, don't sit it in a dry sink or counter to clean later. Pour some water in the pot or pan and reheat it, then stir the now loosened goo and pour it outside or down the toilet, wipe the pot clean, put some soapy water in it and dunk in your utensils to soak as well. Then it will make the whole thing easier to clean. if you want to fix healthy meals, buy already cut up foods that can be easily stir fried or tossed in the microwave or crockpot so one dish and you are done.

With a daunting task it helps to attack it like a term paper. Start out with doing research, then set up an outline on how you will accomplish it. Find out what tools you will need to get the job done and organize them so they are easy to reach. If you want to take up painting again, but your paint brushes are in one unknown area and you haven't seen your paints in over a year and your easel is buried under a pile of clothes needing to be ironed and you really have no idea what you want to paint or who you want to paint it for, then you are going to be less likely to paint than if you had every thing laid out and ready to go. The same is true of preparing healthy lunches or going to the gym. You will have greater success if you layout your gym clothes and tuck them in a bag by the door with your running shoes hanging off the doorknob to remind you of your plan than if your running shoes are buried in the back of your closet and you can't find any comfortable workout clothes that fit you.

Writing out a plan, researching what you need and preparing what you need to get the job done puts you that much closer to actually DOING the job, but it still may be hard to stick with it to the finish and that is when being held accountable by someone other than yourself can help. Nothing will make you clean house more than knowing an old friend is stopping by. Nothing will make you get in shape like attending your first ten year reunion from high school!

It's not all water under the bridge, it's about harnessing the water for the purpose we have intended!

It's easy to say that we can never do something when in reality we really, really can!

There have been so many times when I said to myself that I did not have the talent or skills to accomplish what I wanted to do in life. I was not as good as... and this is like labeling yourself as a failure. I have had friends tell me that they have tried to diet and fail. "I just can't lose weight!" they say and this is a lie.

You can gain knowledge and skills. You can get fitter. You can reduce the fat content of your body and it really is not that hard to do. It is okay to be realistic. If you have always been fat, the chances of you becoming a supermodel in six weeks is not happening, but there is no reason you cannot drop ten pounds and whittle a few inches off your waist over a two month time period.

Many people turn to diet books and protein powders and special diets to lose weight, but the truth of the matter is that overeating is largely psychological. We overeat because food brings us pleasure. It makes us feel good when nothing else does so it has a strong power to control us even though we feel sometimes, that eating what we want is our way of "gaining" control over our lives when everyone else seems to want to control us and make us fit into their standard. We turn to food as a great comforter the same way an alcoholic or drug abuser turns to the poison of their choice, but if we are honest, we know we are doing more harm than good. Saying we cannot control ourselves is like giving ourselves an excuse to continue to do harm to our bodies and our families and friends. We can control it, we just don't want to go through that mental and physical anguish at having to give up something that brings us pleasure. It seems too much like self-punishment than self-reward.

If you keep a food journal of what you eat, when you eat it, how much you ate and what mood you were in while you ate it, you can learn a lot about why you overeat and start to make some progress in a healthier lifestyle, but ridding yourself of bad habits takes a lot of conscious effort and can wear you down to the point where you just don't care about anything anymore, so having a friend who can help you or a personal trainer/counselor who can cheer you on and give you good advice and help you find support is not a sign of weakness but of strength.

If you can go one day without drinking coffee or caffeinated beverages, you can give them up for life. If you can wake up early one morning and work out, you can do it another morning and another until it becomes habit. Taking a walk after dinner and making it habit, especially meeting up with friends to walk and chat may not help you lose a lot of weight, but it will teach you healthier alternatives that can motivate you to do more.

If you bite your nails or chew your hair or rock back and forth or tap your foot or fingers when you are bored, you can develop cues to remind you to stop. I found out that when I can't sleep at night and have dreams of being at work with people constantly coming up to me asking me to solve problems for them, that I can stop it by physically holding my hands out and flicking the imaginary people away, while exhaling a great breath as I figuratively send them tumbling out of my head and my life. I also got rid of the television set and limited my news watching to thirty minutes a day and my stress and worry dropped considerably. If you can get rid of the stressors or limit their impact on you, it can lead to positive changes, though it is hard to avoid all stressors, especially when you are married to one of them! That's another story, but there is always a way to make things better even if you just change your attitude towards the things that bother you the most or become bold and confront the people that irritate you and let them know there is a better path to make life easier for everyone. Don't poke the bear so-to-speak.

If I find myself wanting to complain and be negative, I try to look at all the good things around me or picture a garden on a beautiful spring day and try to cheer up the grumpy people around me as if they are wilted flowers that need watering, rather than allow them to make me grumpy and wilted as well!!! It is not always easy to do, but it is NOT impossible and the rewards far outweigh the effort mostly.

Whenever you are faced with a daunting task, make a plan, visualize yourself following up on the plan. Look at the positives that will come out of taking on the task and try to stick with the plan over the long haul. That is probably the hardest thing to do.

If you feel like you cannot do the task on your own, try to find a way to get someone to share the burden with you or find someone who can give you good advice on where to start and what to do to make the task easier, even if you still have to do it by yourself.

You can do it even if you think you can't and if you fail once, keep on trying, just switch tactics a bit

There are millions of people faced with daunting challenges. You may have lost a loved one, lost a job, have poor health or feel torn between too many projects. There is always something that will pop out in front of you to try to dissuade you from your intended goal, but you don't have to chug up that hill all at once or all on your own.

If you feel like your own personal boulder is going to flatten you any time you try to make inroads to a better life, then look at alternatives to getting there. Ask yourself what is really important and what really isn't and narrow down your burdens and boulders to more manageable rocks and pebbles!

One of the best tricks for tackling a problem which has plagued you is to look at it with new eyes. Have you ever gone into someone else's house and seen the dust or the disorganization and asked yourself how they could live like that, but then come home to your own clutter and ignore it? We tell ourselves it is no big deal, that we will get to it eventually, but then it becomes such an overwhelming task that we don't know where to begin.

Create challenges with friends who might have similar problems, If you spend too much money on things you don't need, challenge yourself to live a month without buying anything new. If that is too much, try to go one week. Remind yourself that you didn't really need that Robovac you just had to have that you used for all of three days before it wedged itself under the bed and still sits there three years later . Ask yourself if you could survive without five new pairs of shoes when you have ten more pair that look almost just like them that you have not worn in over six months. Be realistic and honest with yourself, but don't beat yourself up. Everyone has something in their life that they have let go of and almost everyone wishes they could change something about who they are and become better. You don't have to be the best, but you do have to be honest about what needs improving and make some effort in that direction.

Give yourself a gold star!!!


Reward yourself for a job well done. If it works for kids, it will work for you!

If you want to change something in your life or tackle unpleasant tasks in order to improve an area of your life that you have let slide for too long, it is going to take work and for most of us, work is unpleasant.

These ten steps will help you refocus your goals into something more positive.

1. Write down what you would like to change;

Your list might look something like this: Keep the house neat and organized. Spend more time with friends and family. Get fit. Run a 5k. Get a first or second degree in something you always wanted to do. Learn how to knit. Take a vacation. Prepare healthier tasty meals.... STOP!!! Do you see the problem here? The list is too long and it is too easy to get distracted. You will need to focus on the biggest goal; the one that is causing the most stress in your life. It is okay to write down all the things you want to change, but then pick the top two to work on: organize the house and work on a healthier lifestyle, or go back to school and get a new job that pays better so you can then afford to remodel the house and go on vacation!

2. Write an organizational chart on how you would improve upon the thing you want to change. Layout a step by step guide on how to do this. This may seem like too much work or procrastination, but you really need a guide list so you can check things off as you go.

3. Create a checklist or job board. Go to an office or school supply store and purchase a task board with lines and days where you can check off your tasks and give yourself a smiley face or gold star for each step you do successfully. Then you will have a visual of what you have accomplished. If you are trying to lose weight, check off the pounds or keep charts of measurements. If you are trying to clean house, give yourself a check for putting up the groceries, folding the clothes, cleaning the toilet. Little rewards can be motivating. You can even keep a jar and put a dollar in it for every job you do and treat yourself at the end of the week or put the money toward some elusive goal that seems unattainable financially as well as mentally or physically.

4. Gather the tools you need to do the job. If you want to do something, it helps to have the tools to do the job, whether you are baking a cake, repairing a leaky drain or knitting a sweater, you need to know how to do it and have the materials in place to get it done.

5. Set aside ten minutes or more a day to work on your project. Each day devote at least ten minutes. The idea is to make it a habit that you will miss if you do not continue with it. You will be surprised what you can do in ten minutes!

6. Focus on the positives not the negatives. When I set out to do a 20 mile bike ride recently, I kept looking at how long it was to the finish. At the ten mile mark, my thoughts were... agghhh, I have to do what I just did ALL OVER again!!! It was daunting. At 13 miles though, I looked and saw I only had seven miles left. That did not seem so bad. By mile 15 I was three quarters through and things were looking up! My butt was on fire and my knees ached and i wanted to give up, but I was ALMOST there! That is how you have to see things; in terms of positives not negatives, then it will help motivate you to continue rather than give up.

7. If you fail, don't give up entirely, just reboot and start again. Have you ever worked on an important paper or project only to have the computer crash, the disk/drive to become corrupt or the dog to literally eat your finished project? Did you give up or did you start over? Sometimes when we reboot and start over we actually end up doing things better so try to see set-backs as blessings not curses.

8. Never give up or excuse away a dream! You may not ever become a Hollywood actor but that doesn't have to stop you from dreaming. You can do local plays, you can read books in an animated voice to children or dress in a fancy outfit and go the mall and pretend you are someone you are not to see if people treat you differently! Have fun with it.
Maybe you might not ever get to Ireland to kiss the Blarney stone, but you can have an Irish themed party or purchase your passport and keep a jar for spare change and open a savings account for travel or invest in a high yielding interest plan and keep reinvesting until you have enough to actually follow through on your dream no matter how long it takes.

9. Take some classes. There are a lot of free classes you can take that will teach you how to do something new. Try to encourage your work, religious or social groups to offer education classes on all subjects. You can learn a new language, learn how to cook healthier meals, learn how to lift weights using household objects like bleach bottles and food cans, or clip coupons and save money on your energy bill by insulating the house better. Use social media to find people and places who will train you for free or at an affordable rate so you can pursue those dreams one step at a time.

10. Don't let the negative attitudes of others or yourself stop you. When you start to succeed there will be people who will try to undermine you. One of those people might be yourself. There is a real fear that if you change and become what you desire, that you will be so different that the old you will be no more. If you stop drinking or start dieting and your friends and family do not join you on this journey, they may feel left behind and try to pull you back down. Lift them up instead.

Putting one foot in front of the other often means choosing what shoe to wear first...

Each journey begins with the first step

It may sound corny, but it's true. You have to take that leap of faith, that first step to start your journey. From where you are standing it may seem impossible to reach your goal and truthfully, maybe you might have to refine your goals. Maybe you can't sail around the world, but you can take sailing lessons and explore the world around you in a day trip or maybe even an overnight voyage along the coast.

I once dreamed of working at a big show barn with warmblood horses that cost more than my entire life savings. After one month on the job I realized it was not as glamorous as I imagined and I got so tired of working with horses that I didn't even want to look at my two when I got home!!

Sometimes we picture things unrealistically. We get married and think we will live happily ever after. We buy a new car and think we will never have to worry about repairs again, but with both there is maintenance and problems and we need to have a plan in action so that if not so good things do happen, we will be ready to take action to get things running smoothly again.

Don't be a Sad Sack and make others miserable around you. Instead keep dreaming, planning, keeping charts, learning new skills and growing as a person in both wisdom and kindness towards others and try your best not to deter others of their dreams, although a little dose of reality for someone who dreams and schemes without ever doing any real work in life, might not be too bad of thing to do!

Researchers have discovered that planning for something you want to do can be almost as much fun as actually doing it. Have you ever looked at new cars, knowing full well you couldn't afford one, but still studied the statistics and even test drove one, thinking someday you might consider getting it? Maybe you have gotten a catalog and picked out the new furniture you wanted to get or a new course catalog and circled the classes you wanted to take? I have brought home dozens of paint sample charts and wood floor and tile samples thinking i would renovate and even though I never have, it is still fun to lay the paint samples out next to the tiles and picture the place in a new color. It may seem counter productive to plan and never act on it, but it helps keep hope alive that someday you WILL act on it and makes you feel like you have a shot at this better life thing so many people talk about.

Approach unpleasant tasks in the same way you would plan for something better than what you have. Wouldn't it be nice to have a sparkling clean bathroom? Imagine the light shining off the bathroom fixtures and how about a new throw rug or replacing the old rickety towel rack with a new one? That's a lot easier and more affordable than replacing everything.

That space in your kitchen you called the 'everything drawer' which is now the everything counter can be cleared off and replaced with a new food preparation center where you will produce healthy alternatives to the junk you have been eating and you will then have greater energy to pursue other interests and things will be so convenient that you will save time and be able to sit and actually have conversations with friends and family again!

That's the ticket!!! See the endless possibilities. Dream and make it reality. You can transform your life and do greater things! Okay, now I want to go clean the house!!! Let's see how far this takes us.

Remember you can do all things within reason if you just make an effort and keep on making efforts and never give up on getting where you want to be. At least if you never get there, you will have known you were getting closer to it and like planning a vacation you might never take, you will find pleasure from knowing you had a plan and were working toward a goal and not wallowing in self pity reasoning that this is as good as it will ever get, so why bother trying anymore.

Never give up, never give in. Don't say "I can't" because you can within the limits of your ability and if you keep saying, "I can", you may discover that you can go a lot further than you thought you would. Sure, you might never fly, but you can sure get a good running start in the right direction!

How do you tackle daunting projects?

When faced with chores you do not want to do, how do you usually react?

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