- Everything I do must be perfect.
- I must have the love, respect and admiration of my family, friends and co-workers all the time.
- If I botched a task last time, I’m bound to botch it again.
- I’m at the mercy of external events.
Do you agree with most of those statements? Stop and think about it. You might not put your beliefs into quite those words. In fact, you might not even be fully aware of them. And that’s precisely what gives a negative attitude its punch: Without realizing it, you may automatically expect the worst, overreact to situations and events and generally feel out of control. No wonder you’re stressed—and paying the physical and emotional price for it, too.
But there’s no need to let a bleak outlook hurt your health, sabotage your relationships and undermine your chance for happiness. With practice, persistence and a bit of reflection, you can give negativity the boot.
The first step is catching yourself in the middle of a self-critical, exaggerated or otherwise negative reaction. Let’s say you receive a message from the principal of your son’s school. Chances are your internal tape recorder will quickly kick in: “Oh, no. Johnny must be in trouble. What if he’s suspended? Who’ll watch him while I go to work?” Before you know it, a simple message has become cause for full-blown panic.
Or maybe you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work. In that case, the tape might go something like this: “My boss will be furious. Everyone is going to notice how late I am. I might even lose my job.” Instead, try to delay—or at least interrupt—knee-jerk reactions. Stop, take a deep breath and ask yourself a couple of questions. “Is something horrible really happening?” “Do I have good reason to be anxious or fearful?” “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” “Can I change or improve the situation?” More often than not, the answers will suggest that disaster is not about to strike.
Better yet, stop negative thinking before it starts:
- Avoid absolutes. Basing your actions on “shoulds,” “always” and “nevers” usually leads to disappointment and guilt.
- Cut yourself some slack. Accept mistakes as part of a learning process—not a sign of incompetence.
- Focus on the here and now. You may find yourself enjoying life’s little pleasures more and worrying about what might happen less.
- Stay true to yourself. Don’t reevaluate your actions and decisions just because others may disagree. Instead, do what feels comfortable for you.
- Take credit. Thank yourself for a job well done and accept praise from others. Your successes are not a fluke—you make them happen.
Breaking out of the negativity cycle takes work and time. But the rewards—confidence, inner peace and better health—are worth it.