“I failed the test again. I’m never going to get any better at this.”
“They cancelled plans – they must not like me.”
“Everything I say sounds so unintelligent. I’m such an idiot.”
Any of these statements sound familiar? These statements are examples of negative self-talk. Self-talk is your subconscious inner dialogue that you engage with everyday. The average person has about 6,000 thoughts per day (Murdock, 2020). What do you notice about how you talk to yourself? How do these thoughts make you feel? If the answer is sad, unmotivated, upset, angry, or anything similar to these feelings – chances are you are being mean to yourself.
Why are we mean to ourselves?
Our inner dialogue is shaped in childhood by the way we internalize how we are spoken to by people around us – caregivers, parents, peers, teachers, relatives. Maybe you had a teacher who said you just weren’t a good writer after failing one too many writing assignments. Maybe your parents dismissed your feelings a lot. All this to say – even though we may have internalized negative thoughts about ourselves for years, we can change these thoughts to positive self-talk statements:
1. Start with awareness.
As with any change we take on in our life – we first need to be aware that there is something that just isn’t working for us anymore. The purpose of explaining the “why” above is to create space to use curiosity (not judgement!) to discover where your inner critic comes from.
2. List evidence against your negative belief about yourself.
You may notice that you say, “I’m such a burden,” a lot. What is evidence in your life that shows that you are not a burden? Maybe you have friends that initiate plans with you. Maybe you have a partner that always asks and genuinely wants to hear about your day.
3. Create a new, positive self-talk statement based on the evidence you listed.
With the example above, the evidence shows that “I am loved”.
4. Review the list of evidence often.
Keep a running list of evidence against your negative belief on your phone so that you always have access to it. Look at the list even when you are not being mean to yourself.
5. Practice self-compassion.
It takes time for these evidences to replace your long standing negative self belief – it’s like teaching yourself an entirely new language! Be kind to yourself as you navigate this process by using positive self-talk statements: “I’m doing the best I can.” “I can do this.” “I believe in myself.”
Practice using curiosity to identify your self-talk and how the statements make you feel. Therapy can support this process by providing a safe space to explore where your inner critic comes from and work on creating positive self-talk statements to replace negative ones. Wishing you healing on your journey to self-kindness!
As I am sitting here writing this blog, it is hard to believe that we are already in 2021! I am sure many people will agree with me that 2020 has been quite a challenging year to remember. It was a year filled with sorrow, laughter, anger, hope, frustration, surprises, despair, love, just to name a few. Can you believe we have survived all that? We always hear people saying that life is full of ups and downs – to say that for year 2020 is just an understatement. For me, personally, I have learned how to accept the ups and downs, embrace emotions (both positive and negative), and adapt to the environment with intention and meaning. I have learned not to be afraid of challenges but instead acknowledge them, take care of them and ask ourselves how we can turn these experiences into valuable life lessons. I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned in 2020:
Accepting the Uncertainty
Life is uncertain. There is never a time, even before the pandemic, when we can have any certainty of what is going to happen in the next minute. The only thing certain is the present moment and our actual experience of the moment. As Eckhart Tolle puts it: “People don’t realize that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.” It is only natural to feel stress in the face of uncertainty. Staying in the moment and be present has helped me face and accept uncertainty, and manage the stress of uncertainty. Do not be afraid of uncertainty, learn to accept and face uncertainty with resilience and ease. Together, let’s find peace in uncertain times.
Power of Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness has helped me turn my attention to the present moment. We should not dwell on the past or worry about the future, instead, we should focus on the present moment. Practicing breathing exercises and meditation throughout the day have helped me tremendously in the past year, these practices truly taught me how to be present with a non-reactive mind. I am also discovering how to incorporate mindfulness in daily living – mindful eating, mindful parenting, and mindful exercising. If we practice focusing on the present moment, it empowers us to be with it, and we start to find ease of living. I invite you to try these practices, even for just 2-minutes a time, you will see a difference!
The Importance of Connection
Separation is definitely one of the most challenging things we had to face in year 2020. The pandemic has kept us all physically distanced from one another. Many of us felt isolated and frustrated in our social distancing, but many found new meaning and connection with each other. We have learned to make connection with each other in many different ways — saying hi to our neighbors from a distance underneath a mask, having “zoom” holiday meals with our friends and relatives, sending kisses to our elderly relatives at a nursing home through the windows, seeing clients via telehealth, etc. As human beings, we instinctively need to connect with others, but to be able to build solid human connection, you have to first connect with yourself. Doing mindful check-ins throughout the day to get in touch with my own feelings where I pause, take a deep breath, acknowledge how I am feeling right here and right now and how I would like to proceed with this moment have really helped. Make space for self-reflection each day, it can bring clarity to the moment.
Practice Positive Mindset
Every cloud has its silver lining, but whether you see it or not is a choice you make. Focus on what you control, do not stress over things you cannot control. The year 2020 can be a difficult year to love, but if we just look on the positive side of things, I promise you can find something you are grateful for. Just as importantly, whatever does not kill you makes you stronger.
It Is Okay to Reach Out for Help
Believe this, we are all in this together. You are not the only one suffering, you don’t have to do this alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you trust, or seek therapy if you need to. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Take care of your whole body, inside and out.
Create Your Own Happiness
Take responsibility of your own happiness, never count on someone or something to make you happy. You don’t find happiness, you create it. Many people think that only if the pandemic is over then things will get back to normal and they will be happy. No. If you think that way, you will never be happy. Happiness can be created, under any circumstances, by you. If you take charge, you will find your own happiness.
You are more resilient than you think. We went through a lot in 2020 – the pandemic, economic crisis, lockdowns, the politically polarized election, the racial justice movement, RBG death, just to name a few. We all have the strengths inside us to overcome life challenges. “It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty.” – Dalai Lama
Make Self-Care a Priority
We are always busy helping and taking care of others that we often forget to take care of ourselves. Get to know yourself, be truthful to yourself and find out what your true needs are. Only when you take care of yourself you can then have the capacity to take care of others and be able to get through tough times.
Thank you, 2020, for all you have taught me! Hello, 2021, I am ready to take on challenges that you are sending my way this year! I look forward to learning and growing to be a better person one moment at a time. “No one has ever lived in the past or the future, only the now.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Life can be challenging at times, but it can also be amazing!
“Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment.” – Deepak Chopra
What have you learned in 2020, and how you are going to move forward in 2021?
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – Proverb
One of my first jobs was as a waitress at a local seafood grill. There I learned the nuances of customer service and to not take things personally. Our motto was “the customer is always right”; however, sometimes the customer was quite grumpy, carrying in the weight of their day into the restaurant and our interaction. In those interactions, I could choose to internalize the customer’s frustrations or to offer kindness. I call this “choose your ‘tude.” I continue to use this as I strive to choose an attitude of gratitude by cherishing the good and seeing challenges as learning opportunities in my personal and professional life. Research shows that one key element to happiness is appreciating the good that we might be taking for granted, and there is science to support how gratitude supports happiness.
Gratitude; more than being thankful.
Gratitude is a multifaceted source of happiness and well-being. It goes beyond just listing things you are grateful for. The leading researchers on this topic created a definition of gratitude that is twofold; appreciating and attending to the good things in your life and recognizing that these things come from an external source (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Gratitude is described as an “empathetic emotion” whose practice can positively impact our social, physical, and emotional well-being.
Gratitude is powerful.
Gratitude helps fire neurons in your brain that contribute towards positive thinking and feelings of happiness. When we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for the “feel good” emotions and support a lift in mood (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). A study that incorporated fMRI scans found that the participants who wrote gratitude letters showed greater activation in the area of the brain associated with learning and decision making (Brown & Wong, 2016). This suggests that this activation of the brain has lasting effects and can alter the way the participants see the world. The benefits you get from activating gratitude include (but are not limited to!) reduction in stress, increase in empathy, better sleep, enhanced resilience, increase in motivation, and improved relationships.
Gratitude opens up more room for positivity.
The intent is to help steer the focus on what you have instead of what you feel you lack. When you are thinking about the things, people, and experiences you are grateful for, it becomes harder to ponder the negative (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011). While the idea of practicing gratitude sounds simple, it can be challenged by competing priorities, a flux of emotions, and feeling drained. Some days we just don’t feel that grateful. The cool thing about practicing gratitude is this practice can help shift your mindset, helping you feel more positive emotions, which has a ripple effect and supports resiliency.
“It is impossible to feel depressed and grateful at the same moment” – Naomi Williams
Gratitude can be unique.
There are various ways to express appreciation and incorporate this practice into your own life.
Take a moment to reflect on fond memories
Start a daily gratitude journal
Thank someone for their kindness; verbally, through a thank you note, call, or text
Incorporate saying what you are thankful for at mealtime or bedtime
Meditate; focus on what you can hear, smell, see, and touch
Pay it forward to someone else (coffee is on me!)
Take time to appreciate small moments
Make a vision board
Create a gratitude jar, fill it when you feel inspired
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377.