Do you have a bunch of nattering voices in your head that are generally a pain to listen to? Do those voices tend to say "You suck!" instead of "You rock!"?
If self-criticism has become your auto-response, you have created a bad habit. The good news is - you can form another habit! The concept of neuroplasticity says your brain is capable of changing in the way it functions. Neuroscientist Michael M. Merzenich, PhD, at the University of California said, "The brain is not like a computer that has fixed wiring and connections. Every aspect of you is created by the brain revising itself in response to your interactions in the world... How you define yourself - the person you are - is a product of plastic changes in your brain."¹
Transforming negative thinking doesn't occur instantly but is possible. Self-directed neuroplasticity² says that our minds are responsible for controlling our brain.
With focused effort, practice, time and commitment, it is possible for us to make profound, fundamental changes in how our brains operate. We have the power!
All change starts with awareness. We must adopt the objective eye of a scientist doing research and "assess" ourselves instead of "judge". Are your thoughts often self-critical? Do you routinely beat yourself up? After having a negative thought, do you continue to place attention on that thought or let it pass and refocus? Not sure?
Run your self-talk thoughts through the 3 question Awareness Self-Talk TUG Test below.
If the answer to all 3 questions in the TUG TEST is YES, then continue putting attention on those True, Useful, Generative thoughts - they are building a positive neural pathway that will help move you forward.
If the answer to any of the questions in the TUG Test is NO, then you will want to shift those thoughts to positive ones that serve you. Choose some of the steps below to get you started.
7 TIPS TO HELP SHIFT YOUR NEGATIVE THINKING
1/ THOUGHT REPLACEMENT
When the negative thought comes into your head, notice it, and before you say aloud one of your usual self put-downs, insert a positive thought in your head about the same general subject that is TRUE. e.g. / "The sauce is runny, I'm a lousy cook" thought might turn to "What wonderful conversation we have had at this dinner party"; the "I screwed up the Introduction to the report" thought might switch to "I really was thorough on the body of the report." The "I missed another choreo move - I'm a klutz" might shift to "I am learning and getting better bit by bit". Better thoughts lead to better feelings, which lead to better action. Where thought goes, energy flows.
If you focus on the belief that you are exactly where you ought to be at this very moment (no matter how messy or incomplete), you will be freed from the pressure of having to be "something else". Writer and researcher, Brené Brown³, describes it as the journey from "What will people think" to "I am enough". You are more than enough - just the way you are. Take away the "shoulds", the musts, the comparisons, and the focus on lack or scarcity. You are enough. That is your new paradigm.
3/ FLIP YOUR FOCUS
Focus your energy on where you want to go or who you want to be instead of focusing on what you don't want /or don't want to be. FLIP IT! Flip your mental focus to a forward-thinking positive one. Flip your thinking from the lack, or scarcity, into the abundant possibilities of what you want.
4/ FEED YOURSELF
Make a practice of consistently nurturing a positive mental state to strengthen your new neural pathways. Remind
yourself of your gifts and just how fabulous you are. Surround yourself with visual reminders of "Who you be". Write some positive reminders on sticky-notes and read them daily. "I am honest, I am loyal, I am creative, I have beautiful eyes" etc. Create a PEP Phrase (Personal Empowerment Phrase) that inspires you like "I can do this", or "I am confident and prepared" and recite it daily.
5/ ADOPT A GRATITUDE ATTITUDE
Gratitude expands - the more you have, the more you have to be grateful for. Gratitude positivizes your focus and instantly takes your focus from a place of scarcity to abundance. When you are having negative thoughts about yourself, intentionally shift your thoughts and become "other-focused". Look outward and put your focus onto what you are grateful for.
6/ GET SUPPORT
Enroll trusted friends or colleagues to help you make your personal paradigm shift. Have them remind you to "Flip Your Focus" when you start going down the mental rabbit-hole. Consider getting the support of a professional coach to help you begin your mindset shift. Join a group (or create one) of people trying to create something new and positive in their lives.
Celebrate each time you catch yourself in a negative thought and are able to reframe it. Even a small celebration or reward releases a shot of congratulatory dopamine, which reinforces the new behaviour and continues to strengthen your new positive neural pathways.
¹ Michael Merzenich interview, Oprah Magazine, August 2008, p. 220
² A concept from researcher Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz in his book, The Mind and the Brain
³ Brené Brown, Book:"The Gifts of Imperfection"