HOW TO DITCH NEGATIVE THINKING: MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR JOURNAL

Something occurred to me today.

I typically think of the worst case scenario.

I’m pretty much (or was) a cup-half-empty instead of half-full person.

I’ve dealt with some pretty intense stuff in my life- pervasive depression, low self esteem, lost my father to cancer, viciously bullied in high school. These experiences may seem minor, or basic.

They might be.

Everyone has something in their past that, at one point or another, has haunted them.

But imagine being haunted every single day by not feeling good enough, not feeling worthy, that nothing will ever change or get better, by thinking “what the fuck is the point?”

That’s legit how I lived my life for YEARS.

 
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I used to live in a perpetual state of self doubt, gloom and despair. That was even years after high school, but I was still tortured by the belief that everything I was telling myself, and everything anyone ever said about me, was true.

After spending years with this super negative mindset, my internal environment was basically nothing but chaotic and, honestly, broken.

Even though I had a great support system, I didn’t want to reach out. What the assholes in high school said to me, how they acted, and everything about it MUST have been true, so why would I think any differently?

I realized that I was actually internalizing all of that bullshit, and because of that, it stuck with me… for a really, really long time. And because it stuck with me, I tended to repeat it to myself, and that contributed to the downward spiral- whether I realized it or not was an entirely different story.

This the kind of shit that I used to hear:

  • You’re a loser.

  • Your butt is too big.

  • You look like pinocchio with your big nose.

  • You’re a fucking dyke, and a freak, and a nerd...

  • No guy will ever want to date you, because you’re gross.

  • Good luck with that speech, because nobody is listening to you anyway.

And the list goes on, and on, and on….. That’s what I experienced for YEARS.  

I also experienced physical abuse of certain kinds- having milk cartons thrown at my head in the cafeteria, being pulled down the stairs by my backpack, getting purposely tripped while walking down the aisle of the school bus.

It happened so frequently, and so intensely, but I felt like I was living my truth, and because of that my feeling of self-worth plummeted, and so did my spirits.

It was until I was in college that I realized how affected I had actually been by those shitty things my peers used to say to me.  I started studying psychology, and BAM- it became clear to me that shit wasn’t true, that it showed much more about them than it did me, and that the best thing to do was to try and separate myself from those thoughts, those supposed “inner truths” and regain my sense of self.

While it's true that your thoughts can change your reality (we've all heard that saying, or something like it!), adjusting the negative thoughts can be the hardest part. It’s NOT easy, especially because those thoughts become so ingrained and so automatic that we often times aren't even aware of them. It's life.

If you’re prone to negative thinking, or pessimism, or dwelling, or really… whatever you want to call it, this can seem daunting. We can be super blind to those negative thoughts,  and ultimately (and sadly) they become a part of who we are- whether or not we realize that is an entirely different story.

But the truth is- YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS. And in turn, YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR REALITY.

You thoughts create your feelings and emotions. Your feelings can then determine your actions and shape your behavior. Your behavior then can reinforce your thoughts, leading to a vicious cycle of negativity.

Unfortunately, people often get so stuck in this cycle that they begin believing that things can’t change.

But they fucking can.

It’s all about learning to transform those negative thoughts into positive ones, learning to recognize the negativity as a construct instead of your truth, and instead of internalizing those thoughts, you begin noticing them, confronting them, and letting them go.

UNLOCK THE POWER OF JOURNALING

This is where you will discover the PURE magic of journaling. I'm serious... journaling literally saved my life.

My journal is what allowed me to recognize my thought patterns, identify self destructive behaviors, and it helped me figure out how to tackle them. I was FINALLY able to really dive deep and get to the bottom of my negative self talk- where it originated, how to recognize it and ultimately, if not how to silence it, it helped me tremendously by learning to work with it. 

Keeping a journal has so many benefits, but for now I'll just focus on its use for adjusting your thought processes and learning to discover, accept and restructure your negative self talk. 

I HIGHLY encourage you to get a journal if you don't already have one! 

TYPES OF NEGATIVE SELF TALK

There are four main types of negative self talk (or cognitive distortions), and understanding which ones you’re prone to will help you deal with them. Trust me- even though this is typically the hardest part, it just takes a little commitment and self awareness.

Make a note of these in your journal! 

  • Catastrophizing

I’ll admit it- this is my biggest struggle, by far. Remember when I said I’m typically a cup-half-empty person? Well, I’m famous for focusing on the worst case scenario. When someone asks, “Well, Sam, what’s the worst that could happen?” Yeah….. About that. That’s when my mind starts spinning with all the “what ifs” and the “oh shit, that COULD happen, and it probably will…. So, screw it.”

This also goes for the “everything is a disaster” mode. When one thing goes wrong or didn’t go as expected, that’s it. Whenever my car would break down (or something like it) I would go into all out PANIC mode, imagining the worst, thinking everything else will fall apart as well….

  • Filtering

So, something shitty happened at work today? Or maybe you’re struggling in a personal relationship? Feeling too tired?

What about the good things that have happened? Do those matter?

Because, THEY SHOULD. Filtering is falling into a pattern of dwelling on the negative instead of trying to find the silver lining.

  • All-or-nothing

Think back to when you were in school- college, high school, whatever. Were you the type of person to get super frustrated when you didn’t get the grade you wanted? Did you think that because of that grade, you failed (even if it was a good grade)?

I used to that all the freaking time. Seriously- especially when I was in college. If I didn’t get A’s on literally everything I did, I’d feel defeated and sometime worthless.

All-or-nothing thinking is just that. It’s also called black and white thinking. The whole “Either I get an A on this paper, or I won’t succeed in anything else.”

  • Self-labeling

Let’s say something DOES go incredibly wrong. You turn in the paper, get it back with a D grade. It might go something like this:

“I got a D. I’m a failure.” or “I wasn’t able to pay off my credit card this month. I’m irresponsible.” The list goes on and on, and I’m sure you’re no stranger to the idea that saying “I didn’t do so well on this test” rather than “I’m a failure” leads to a more positive response.

These four types of negative self talk are the most common, so for now we’ll stick with those.

RECOGNIZE NEGATIVE SELF TALK

Start writing down (and sorry- spoiler alert- this part is the worst) pretty much every thought you have.  This is where your journal becomes your new bestie.  I would say to write down every negative thought, but let's be real, you won't notice them right away because they are part of you.

After doing this for even a day, review the thoughts. Take a look at what a day in the world of YOU looks like. You can then become more fully aware and begin to recognize patterns and are able to analyze your reactions.

Carry a notebook with you, or use your phone. Whatever.

Thoughts are related to your mood, so if you’re having trouble recognizing the shitty thoughts (I still have a hard time with it!), just take notice of your current mood. Are you happy? Are you frustrated? Are you content? Stressed out? In a great mood? Moods are triggered by thoughts!

You can also try a quick meditation (psssssst…. You can even use apps on your phone to get in the meditating groove. I’ve personally used Calm and Headspace, and they’re both great- especially when you’re just starting out ).

Meditation can be SUPER helpful when it comes to recognizing your thoughts, because when you’re trying to quiet your mind, you’ll begin to notice the thoughts that come and go. In doing so, you’ll become even more self aware.

You can TOTALLY do this, and it might seem super daunting. I’m not going to lie here- it will be a challenge, for sure.

LEARN TO SEPARATE

You don’t have to be your negative thoughts. You don’t have to succumb to those self-destructive inner voices.

The self talk will be there, whether you like it or not. It’s present in everyone. But the key thing to remember is this: You can have thoughts, but they don’t have you.

You can totally separate your true self from your thoughts, and I’ve found that a really easy way to do this is to give your inner critic, or negative nancy, or whatever the heck you want to call it a name.

In all honesty, I’d probably call it “fuckface.” I think that’s an appropriate term, don’t you? =)

START A DIALOGUE BY JOURNALING

As soon as you’re able to separate yourself from your distortions, starting a dialogue with your negative self talk- as though it’s someone else entirely. It’s NOT you, so you can now confront it.

For example, whenever I begin to have a negative thought, I instantly talk back to it… literally. This is actually something I learned in Gestalt psychology (which emphasizes that the whole is always greater than its parts… but more on that later!).

Your negative internal dialogue might say stuff like:

  • You can’t do this.

  • There’s no point- you’ll just fail

  • Nobody is going to read this blog post, and if they do, they won’t like it.

  • You’re stuck in this rut, and nothing is ever going to change.

  • You’re not good enough

Do you know what I say back to those unwanted voices?

Things like…. STOP. That’s not helpful. That’s not true. That may be true at this moment, but nothing lasts forever.

Sometimes I even say it outloud, and other times I might even write down the dialogue.

Sometimes it helps me to literally write out a conversation between myself and my negative self talk. 

If something inside of you is saying "meh, you totally can't do this," WRITE BACK TO IT. Tell it WHY you, in fact, CAN do it. Ask it why it's being such a dick. Honestly, the negative self talk is a monster, and until you confront it, it'll get the better of you! 

EXAMINE

Typically, there’s a theme when it comes to your inner voice. It’s great to recognize which cognitive distortion you deal with the most.

I know I often deal with the all-or-nothing distortion. Either I fully complete everything on my to do list, or I feel lazy and unmotivated. Let’s say I had 10 things on my to do list, and I completed 9 of them. That’s progress, right?

When you stop to examine your thinking patterns, you’ll begin to realize what you’re struggling with internally.

REPLACE/ RESTRUCTURE

This is the MOST important part of dealing with negative self talk.

So, you’ve recognized your thoughts, you learned to take a step back and separate yourself from the “fuckface,” you’ve made it a point to keep that inner dialogue going, you’ve examined the thoughts, and now it’s time to REPLACE those negative thoughts.

This where the magic happens.

After you’ve finished with the previous steps, take some time to think about whether or not any of these negative statements are actually true… often times, they are totally and completely false. If they do have some truth to them, think about how you can reframe them.

For example:

  • Inner critic: You will never be able to do this.

        Restructured: I might not be able to do it right now, but I’ll be able to            do it at some point.

  • Inner critic:  Nobody is going to like you.

         Restructured: Not everyone is going to like me, but others will. It’s               impossible to please or appeal to everyone.

Once you get into the rhythm of recognizing and responding to your negative self talk, it’ll start to become much easier. It’ll become a habit rather than a burden, and the more aware you are of the self talk, the more you’ll be able to recognize the fallacies behind them.

So, determine where these thoughts are actually coming from. Allow yourself to fully experience these thoughts, for a certain amount of time, rather than try to bury them.

Talk back to them, call them out on their lies, and most importantly, give yourself some credit! Everyone experiences negative thoughts at one point or another, and some people have a harder time dealing with them than others.

That’s perfectly fine. Do NOT fall into the “I’m not going to be able to do this. I can’t think of any way to restructure this thought….” etc.

Because, guess what? That IS negative self talk, and it’s not doing anybody any good, especially you!

Your thoughts create your reality, so let’s try to make your reality the best it can be! =)