Barring psychological illness, we are all largely responsible for our own emotional health and well-being. What does that mean? That what we say to ourselves over and over for days, weeks, months, and sometimes years, has a dramatic effect on how we see ourselves. This also contributes to many of the mental health disorders we see rampant today: what we choose to have continually playing in our brains stays there, and there’s a real problem when we start buying into the negative thoughts we have about ourselves.
I discovered how powerful the effect of conditioning is firsthand when I was listening to some oldies the other day on the radio—I was amazed at how quickly I could belt out the words to songs I hadn’t heard in decades. How could I remember all those lyrics from so long ago? Because I was conditioned by them. I listened and sang those words day in and day out for what seemed like forever, until they were burned into my brain cells, and some of those old songs even provoked strong feelings in me as I took a quick trip down memory lane.
The mind is a powerful thing, and in a nanosecond, it can elevate or crush our mood because of the beliefs lurking behind our feelings.
If you think I’m kidding, try it yourself: think of an old song, or even the lyrics to one of your favorite television shows.
So, what does all this have to do with our emotional health? Everything!
Many of us have problems with negative thoughts playing on the channel of our minds, but if you’re engaging in it consistently, and you believe it, it could be eroding your sense of self-esteem. Here are a few beliefs that indicate you may need to switch the station:
Negative thoughts conjures up bad feelings and hooks you into believing that what those old tapes in your head are playing is actually true. In short, it brings your focus to your failures, and that gets you nowhere.
What can you do?
Here are some suggestions:
Notice when that same old song starts playing, and switch the channel
Self-talk is so subtle that we often don’t notice its effect on our mood and belief systems—as previously noted, one song can conjure up an entire series of thoughts and memories. Key things to notice are “if only or “what if” statements: the former keep you stuck in the past with regret, while the latter keep you fearful of the future. There is nothing you can do about the past, and the future isn’t here yet, so stay in the present moment.
Visualize the good things
Three scoops of ice cream: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. Fresh crushed pineapple and oranges, chicken and chips. Ripe sweet banana and groundnut. Hot pounded yam with egusi soup and a glass of chilled juice. Get the drift? By now, you’re not only thinking of the banana split, you can taste it. If we want to change the negative tapes playing in our heads, we have to visualize ourselves positively—that means seeing yourself non-judgmentally. Picture accepting yourself. How would that look? Draw a picture in your mind and expand on it.
Recognize that actions always follow beliefs
Whatever you believe, you’ll experience more of, and you’ll also find yourself behaving in ways that are congruent with your beliefs. So, start believing the best about yourself: act as if you believe that you’re a valuable and worthy person.
Pay attention to triggers
Triggers are anything that can start the old tapes playing. If a certain person is a trigger for you, set boundaries with them.
Develop positive counterstatements to refute negative self-talk
Instead of always putting yourself down in your head, think of some things you actually like about yourself. What are your strengths, what are you good at? Developing counterstatements requires you have some degree of belief in their veracity. Keep your counterstatements in the here-and-now, instead of saying “I’m not good enough” try saying, “I am capable. I’m good at ______. I accept myself the way I am.”
Thinking poorly about ourselves gets us nowhere and is extremely self-limiting. Decide today to turn off the negative self-talk channel in your mind and develop your true potential.
Back at you: If you’ve struggled with negative thoughts, how did you overcome it? you can share!
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