I struggled for many years with fully accepting myself and living a fulfilling, peace-filled life on a sustained basis because of the battle raging in my mind. Thoughts of failure, lack and unworthiness would too often flood my mind and prevent me from really pursuing things I was passionate about or even simple goals like exercising. I tended to feel alone in this struggle but increasingly realised over the years that MANY people struggle with negative thoughts.
Having realised how damaging my thinking was, I was determined not to spend the rest of my life living in fear and bound by mental strongholds. I started to closely examine the ways in which my thoughts were affecting my actions or even causing inaction in areas such as my social interactions, friendships and creative endeavours.
As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7
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I firmly believe that every person has been uniquely blessed with a gift. As such, I am often saddened by the fact that so many of us live day by day with a sense of hopelessness, unconscious of the fact that we are living in the shadows of what our lives are really meant to be.
I don’t believe for a minute that we were meant for our existence and time on this earth to be characterized by a lack of purpose and a pervading sense of “is this really it?”
I’ve listened to lots of family members and friends speak of dreams and passions while resigning themselves to the belief that it will never really materialize. These are lies. I believe that once there’s breath in you, something can be done to bring you closer to purpose.
However, negative thoughts will strangle the life out of every hope and dream we have for ourselves and in turn make our worst fears a reality.
It can be the simplest thing.
In mid-2017, I signed up for a 3-month exercise programme with the aim of gaining some weight. I had major booty…I mean body goals 😉 and was super excited to begin. The programme was INTENSE but I started off thinking, “I’ve got this!”
However, as the weeks passed by I began to notice thoughts like…
This is taking way too much effort!
Will I ever achieve my goal?
Does it even make sense for me to exercise today? I’m not seeing a massive difference.
I don’t have the time.
I can’t do it.
Slowly but surely, I stopped making time for it and never completed the program. However, the entire process changed my life in several ways.
What registered fundamentally for me was that everything centres on your mind. And a decision to exercise is the perfect example of that. I felt like 70% of it is a mental commitment, 20% is what you eat and 10% is the actual exercise.
Any action comes from your thoughts about it. It seems so obvious I even feel kind of silly writing it but as human beings, we seem to forget the simplest things at times. I certainly did.
While I was going through the process, I began to take stock of what was happening – Why am I speaking to myself this way? Why am I sabotaging my own efforts? Why do I give up so easily? Who’s voice is that anyway?
More and more, I realised how often I was hearing that voice, and heeding to its baiting, in almost EVERY area of my life.
So I began to pay closer attention to the mental patterns and made a commitment to myself to become more intentional in my thinking and approach to life.
Around that time, I learned about Les Brown and started listening to him every day. You can read my thoughts about his book here.
I also started doing a lot of research on the topics and came across some really great tips for tackling negative self-talk and reframing your thinking.
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7 ways to stop negative thoughts in their tracks
Here are the 7 things I did that are still working for me (don’t forget… it’s a process, not an overnight fix). I hope it inspires you in some way as well.
1. Listen to Inspirational Messages…Daily
When I started listening to Les Brown, that, of course, led me to a whole online world of motivation and inspiration.
These took the form of sermons and motivational videos on youtube, audiobooks, podcasts…there’s so much out there to take advantage of. I started listening to messages every day while I was doing routine tasks, whether at work or at home and I was so much more productive. I also listened to messages while I exercised.
Some of the persons I listened to on repeat were TD Jakes, Les Brown and Lisa Nichols.
I also jumped on the Audible bandwagon and would listen to books while stuck in traffic (sometimes for a total of 3 hours a day to and from home).
You can find out more about Audible here.
I started looking at life so differently.
I realized that until you stop looking at life through the lens of being a victim of your circumstances and recognise you have far more control over your life than you think you do, things will never change.
I was tired of feeling stuck, and even more tired of being tired of feeling stuck!
So much inspiration came to me during those times and the feelings of being stuck, demotivated and purposeless began to melt away.
Related post: 5 Books that helped me pursue my purpose
2. Keep a Gratitude Journal
I decided to create a gratitude jar which allowed me to reflect on the positive things that happened throughout the day.
I am a recovering overthinker and I used to spend so much time ruminating over the upsetting or negative things that may have happened during the day and how I should/could/would have responded. What a time waster! And it did nothing for my sleep.
Once I realised negative thoughts were creeping in, I would pause and think of the many things there were to be grateful for.
You can read more about my daily habit of gratitude here.
3. Use Affirmations Daily
Affirmations are a major step in being mindful and reframing your thinking about yourself. Its benefits are cited everywhere. The Bible itself is full of them!
I was already familiar with affirmations but had never made a practice of saying them on a daily basis. So I began to surround myself with affirmations everywhere…
I wrote them on my mirror
I stuck notes up on the wall above my desk at home
I changed the wallpaper on my laptop and the screensaver to show positive messages on repeat (thanks Pinterest!)
I recorded myself repeating a list of affirmations that spoke to every area of my life and listened to the recordings in the morning and at night as I was going to sleep.
Let me tell you – this last one was a game changer for me. A lot of us aren’t actually used to the sound of our own voice. In fact, many don’t like their own voice. Com’on, raise your hand with me.
So recording it in my voice made it register for me in such a deep way. When I first started listening to them, my pores would actually raise. I recorded them slowly so I would repeat it out loud as I went along. And falling asleep to your own voice speaking positivity and God’s truth into your own life = best sleep evah!
4. Guard Your Peace
I became more mindful of the people and conversations surrounding me, what I was consuming on social media and in general how I was reacting to different external stimuli.
I think we take for granted how draining negative people can be. I certainly didn’t want to be one dishing out hefty portions of negativity. Likewise, I realise it’s important to protect yourself from people who only complain, find problems with everything and everyone, and who seem intent on pulling everyone into their pit of gloom.
Negativity breeds negativity.
As an introvert, I naturally need to withdraw at the end of the day to recharge. I decided to be more diligent about my “me time”. I stopped aimlessly scrolling through social media and started to be more productive about how I was spending my downtime. For example, I would journal and free write, read, stretch, listen to an inspirational message or bake something.
Another thing I started to do was screen calls and messages, which I initially felt so guilty about. But sometimes you do have to be unavailable to protect your own sanity.
5. Set SMART Goals
This isn’t new. Type “SMART goals” in google and the millions of results will show you. If for some reason you’ve never heard the term, SMART stands for “Specific”, “Measurable”, “Achievable”, “Relevant”, and “Time-Bound”.
Isn’t it funny though how we can KNOW about a lot of things but never actually DO them?
I had many plans but they were always general. They were far away and in the “one-day” category. They were idealistic, big ideas, with no breadcrumb trail of how I was going to get there.
So these thoughts and dreams remained abstracts – vague ideas and seemingly distant visions that I had. I hadn’t written my writing goals down, done research, looked up the process of achieving them. Nothing. And that was a problem.
What’s the direct link between SMART goal-setting and negative thinking?
If there’s nothing requiring your focused attention, no short to medium term goal that is driving you, then it’s essentially a free pass for negativity to have a seat at your table.
Saying “I am going to exercise more”, for example, without breaking down your why, how, when and where in as much detail as possible will land you nowhere. Am I guilty? Of course!
Initially, I made a list of some short-term goals I wanted to pursue. For example, I had given myself a deadline for writing three spoken word pieces in a four-month time frame and I had some exercise goals to sculpt my body.
I couldn’t help but laugh to myself some months later when I happened upon the list in my journal with not one single goal accomplished. Why?
Because they were still too abstract. I hadn’t broken them down into small, digestible, measurable nuggets that could be acted upon. I hadn’t internalised them and so they were not at the forefront of my consciousness, although I still very much wanted to achieve them.
So set those SMART goals!
6. Create a Vision Board
“Write down the vision and make it plain” – Habakkuk 2:2
I began randomly (well… we know it’s never random) seeing these videos on Youtube about vision boards popping up as recommendations.
As I had already started the process of reframing my thinking and taking hold of the reins of my life, I decided to create one for 2018.
Almost simultaneously, I was going through the process of setting goals for my life….instead of just calming drifting along.
Something ahmazing happens when you turn your goals into words and images you can look at and touch. I felt so much closer to those “one-day” goals and the vision became so clear it was no longer like a mirage that escaped my reach.
I am a tactile person so I would run my hands over the pictures on the board as I spoke affirmations over my life.
It’s also important to display the board where you will see it on a daily basis.
Try it! Trust me, a shift will take place.
Related: How to Create a Vision Board
7. Get an Accountability Partner(s)
Your accountability no doubt begins with you. However, it’s well established that having an accountability partner in either a family member or close friend can work wonders for helping us to achieve our goals… whatever they may be.
So, I started telling family and close friends about my transformation process and sharing with them what was helping me.
This also helps because we are usually our own worst critics. So bouncing our thoughts off of someone we trust can bring balance and perspective.
Whew! Well, this was a mouthful…or eyeful. Whatever term you’d use. lol
I hope this inspires you in some way.
Be sure to pin for future reference!
How do you deal with negative thinking? What are some additional strategies that might work?
I’d love to hear your ideas!