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Change Negative Thinking and Boost Self Esteem

Updated on November 4, 2013
Positive thinking gives us the power to experience joy more fully in our lives.
Positive thinking gives us the power to experience joy more fully in our lives. | Source

Positive Thinking Tips

It's a fact of life: We'll all have tough times in our lives. Another fact of life is that people with positive mental attitudes emerge faster and find success from the trials that come their way, while negative thinkers are prone to more frequent problems and unhappiness.

Anxiety, depression, and frequent conflict with loved ones are signals of negative mental thinking. Other people notice that we don't smile much, rarely laugh, aren't friendly, or that we focus on the negatives, and withdraw quietly from our lives. Our own experience is one of feeling victimized, powerless, or unsuccessful.

Changing negative thinking is no simple task!

Therapists can help patients reframe thinking, but old habits die hard. Optimism and pessimism are deeply ingrained ways of seeing the world. It's hard to "unsee" the world we know! Negativity can crop up anytime - including long after a therapeutic relationship has ended. So keep reading to learn how to make your own life more positive - both for yourself and for the people around you.

I should tell you - I'm a natural pessimist. I don't want to be caught unaware and find myself hurt by something I "should have" noticed. Finding a balance that lets me feel good about my life while ensuring that I'm not vulnerable to unscrupulous people was a challenge for me for many years. (Sometimes it still is!) However, I've discovered that having a positive mental attitude is the single most important tool in my arsenal for having a great life.

Here are four incredible, powerful methods for making positive thinking a daily part of your life when it doesn't come naturally to you.

Do YOU struggle with negative thinking?

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Stop Talking about Your Problems!

"I need to vent!"

No, you don't! At least, not as often as you think you do.

Talking over our problems is overrated. In fact, it can actually hurt us.

By talking about things that make us unhappy, or once did, we are reliving it, in a sense. We're reinforcing the neural pathways in our brains that interpreted the event in a negative light.

In The Meaning of Emotional Pain, Dr. Steven Stosny explains how we may try to find a place to lay blame in an effort to regain a feeling of being in control of our lives, but that our attempts usually backfire because what we exercise tends to become stronger. He tells readers that in order to overcome pain, they must rewrite what that pain means to them.

As a child, I'd endured extensive sexual abuse - during an era in which sexual abuse was still a topic that was untouched by the psychiatric community. (The first therapist I saw announced that years of molestation hadn't harmed me at all!) During my teen and young adult years, my anger and rage were channeled into destructive behaviors. When I was questioned about why I'd been abusing drugs, failing school, and stealing, I would happily go on and on about all the wrongs that had been done to me. Each repetition reinforced my feelings that I'd been victimized, mistreated, and alone in an unsafe world. The more I repeated it, the more it became my reality.

I didn't change my views easily, either! It took decades before I came to understand that if I just kept my mouth shut and my heart open to other possibilities, I could find much more happiness.

I had to stop thinking that I had been victimized. I had to stop feeling ashamed that I loved the man who molested me - he was my father, after all. I had to rewrite that part of my life and learn to see that he was a sick man who made a horrible choice, and that I was damaged by his illness but strong enough to recover.

There aren't too many guides that explain how talking about problems keeps those problems alive, so instead, I've chosen some that can help bring positive thoughts into our today's so we have something else to talk about instead.


Affirmations are a powerful way to move from negativity and low self-esteem to positive self-image.
Affirmations are a powerful way to move from negativity and low self-esteem to positive self-image. | Source

Affirmations & Self Esteem

One of the simplest things that helped was also the most difficult to do. Positive affirmations provide a way to make positive thinking a powerful tool quickly, but starting them might feel silly.

The first step to using positive affirmations to enhance our mental outlook involves finding positive things to say on topics we might feel negative about. For instance, if we have low self-esteem, we can remind ourselves of the things that are likeable and admirable about us. (I had to ask someone else to describe what made me a "good person" before I could get started, and I used his observations even though I had doubts.)

We can also use affirmations for changing negative thoughts about other things, like work, another person, or a situation. The key to being successful is to find things that are believable, even if we don't personally believe them yet. Some examples:

  • I am a capable person.
  • Many people like me.
  • Although my boss is difficult for me to work with, I am a valuable employee.
  • Although I dislike conflict, I have an obligation to speak up for myself.
  • I am loyal and dedicated.
  • I'm strong enough to get through anything that comes my way.

Creating affirmations that recast our negative thoughts into positive, hopeful ones is a challenge, but the part that may be even more difficult comes next. We have to face ourselves in the mirror and say them aloud to ourselves!

I felt absurd the first few times I did this. After all, who talks out loud to themselves while putting on makeup? You can bet I waited until nobody else was home to complete them! Within a few days, though, I noticed myself feeling more upbeat and optimistic. My mental attitude started focusing more on positives throughout the day - not just in the morning.

During especially difficult times, I've used positive affirmations several times a day. I usually focus on two or three statements each time. I may need more or fewer statements, and repeat them more or less often, depending on what is happening in my life.

The conscious practice of forcing myself to do them in front of a mirror made it easier to think positive thoughts and create positive power in my life automatically when difficulties arose. The same problems no longer made me feel defeated or angry. I don't have to use affirmations all the time now, because my thought process has become more positive in the first place. Yet when I stop, I sabotage myself!

When I have lapsed on the practice, I eventually revert to negative thinking. I can't say whether optimism and pessimism are results of nature or nurture, but I can attest to the benefits of being more optimistic, and when I find myself getting back into negativity, I keep coming back to positive affirmations. They're simply the fastest shortcut to feeling better about myself and life.

This selection of books above are provided here because they can help a person find a place to start, and give them reminders about why they're valuable, worthy people who deserve happiness.

Relationships and the Power of One

Have you ever noticed that when you attend a meeting of some sort - a workplace meeting, a political rally, a seminar, or even a family discussion - just one negative person can affect everybody's perspective? If we don't leave a destructive environment, we become part of it and become destructive ourselves.

That's the effect of negative thinking. By voicing negativity, we bring down the people around us. We automatically affect their happiness level.

On the other hand, we can make a conscious choice to stop engaging with negativity. Positive people elevate the moods of people around them. We feel better around people who laugh often, who take great joy in small pleasures, and who show gratitude and appreciation to others.

This is true for others, too. When we're happy and upbeat, so are the people who we interact with. We smile, and they respond with a smile. We laugh, talk about our exciting plans, or celebrate our pleasures and they find themselves smiling alongside us. When we're around others who are positive, it makes it easy for us to feel good.

I craved this kind of joy in my life. Even though I secretly believed that many of them wore a hiding deeper feelings, there was no mistaking the results. They had more admirers, gained support in the office, and seemed to have happier relationships with their families.

I sought to learn their secrets by finding excuses to spend more time around people who seemed to enjoy their lives more than I was. I discovered that when they spoke about their loved ones, they spoke with pleasure, not criticism. They found solace in the face of adversity by reframing their negative thoughts and focusing on something positive instead. For all I know, they may have been using affirmations, too, but a bigger truth stuck out: Simply by being around them, I began to develop the same habits they had.

Today, I avoid toxic people whose lives are filled with complaints and misery. I minimize contact with them if I am forced to have ongoing interactions with them. The people I call friends today have optimistic outlooks that I recognize as wonderfully contagious. They unknowingly help me create positive power in my life by influencing me to have a positive mental attitude.

It took me years to figure out how to use this information in my life, but I didn't have books like these available. Understanding how to honor and celebrate myself and others would have been much easier if I'd had some guides!

Gratitude journals help us stay focused on what really matters.
Gratitude journals help us stay focused on what really matters. | Source

Attitude, Gratitude, and Positive Thinking

The fourth powerful way to shift toward positive thinking is to feel gratitude for all things big and small that make our lives worth living. Expressing our gratitude to others isn't a bad idea, either!

If gratitude doesn't come naturally to you, try one of these techniques to bring it into your life:

  • Make a list of the Top 100 things you're grateful for. Review it at least once a week.
  • Find three things to appreciate each day. Review them before you go to sleep.
  • Tell at least two people each day about something you appreciate.
  • Spend time each day doing something you are good at doing.
  • At least once a week, do something kind for somebody else.

An "attitude of gratitude" is a central concept in the quest to feel good about ourselves and our lives, and there is good reason for it. It works. By taking the focus off of unmet desires, we discover how full of love and joy our lives already are.

Conclusion

I've presented some books that can help you focus on each of these steps, but I don't recommend trying them all at once!

By improving on just one of these tips at a time, you'll find yourself feeling better, faster.You'll find your motivation coming back. You remember what it's like to feel joy and pleasure again.

Would it be worth a few minutes each day to feel better? Only you can decide, but I can tell you one thing for certain - since using these techniques, my life has consistently improved. In fact, the last three years have been better than all my previous 40-something years. I'm a believer!

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