Change Your Story - Change Your Life: Three Ways to Keep Negative Thoughts From Having the Last Word
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
You may not be old enough to remember “the Fonz” but suffice it to say that Henry Winkler, who played this character on Happy Days, was once an idol to all teenaged girls. I recently heard him talk about his own struggle with negative thinking. Although famous and wealthy, he shared that he could be immobilized by a single negative thought.
“Don’t put a period on the end of a negative thought. Don’t finish a negative thought; put it out of your mind. Let a positive thought come in.” —Henry Winkler
Winkler learned to manage his negative thinking by never putting a period at the end of a negative thought. He said that he followed the negative thought with the image of his wife’s bundt cake and put the period after that. Great advice! It's almost impossible to keep automatic thoughts from popping up, but you don't have to let the thought have the last word. Have an image, memory, person, pet or something highly pleasant for you in mind so that YOU can always CHOOSE how to end a thought.
Don't let a negative thought have the last word.
Here are a couple more strategies that I use to help people deal with negative thoughts.
Step Away From That Thought!
First, stand up! Yes, you literally need to be standing up to do this exercise. Come on, you’re worth the effort! Consider a negative, non-authentic thought that runs through your mind and do the following exercise.
(image licensed through shutterstock)
As you're thinking the thought, notice any physical sensations that accompany this thought.
Take a step to the right and turn and look back at the thought.
Consider the history of the thought and any distortions embedded in it.
What would you like, now, to say to that thought from your new narrative?
What would it feel like to turn your back to the thought?
Imagine that a friend just stepped into the thought you were having and were thinking it now.
How would you feel about that?
How would you help your friend?
Now step back into the thought and help yourself in the same way you imagined helping your friend.
Can you now walk away from the thought?
Act As If
Often times we don’t engage in positive behaviors because of things we are telling ourselves such as “I’ll fail” or “No one will care what I say.” These thoughts then obviously will control how we act. When you’re initially trying to make changes, they might feel very awkward. The wonderful thing about the act as if technique is that it can enable change even if you are still 100% convinced of the dysfunctional thoughts. A thought can be considered dysfunctional if it keeps you from engaging in positive behaviors and irrational if it isn’t based on truth. Of course it can be both dysfunctional and irrational. Sometimes it is best to ignore the problem of truth temporarily and notice if the thought is keeping you from acting in a way that would be good for you or that would enable you to have a more satisfying life.
Step 1. Identify a dysfunctional thought that is getting in your way such as “people won’t be interested in me at the party.”
Step 2. Notice how this thought will make you act at the party. You might be quiet, make very little eye contact or stand alone.
Step 3. Identify a thought that is the exact opposite of the thought you were having and imagine what you would do if you believed this. You might walk up to people, smile and introduce yourself.
Step 4. Rehearse. You could rehearse those behaviors by scripting how you would introduce yourself, what topics to bring up and by imagining how you would stand or shake hands.
Step 5. Now do it!
Would you like to learn more about changing the story that you've been believing about yourself? I have just completed a new workbook which can take you through a step by step process of increasing awareness of your old story, reevaluating the usefulness of it, and then rewriting the parts that need rewriting. I'm Not Good Enough: How the Stories You Tell Yourself are Ruining Your Life.There are over 30 handouts to take you through the whole process . To read more and order click here.
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