Step 1: Notice your thoughts. Notice that you are not your thoughts..
Step 2: Write down your thoughts.
Step 3: Evaluate how those thoughts make you feel.
Step 4: Challenge and replace painful thoughts with empowering thoughts.
This fourth and final step to changing your thoughts is where the pay-off happens (cue happy hamster, thumbs up!) The more you practice noticing, writing down, and challenging your thoughts, the more you will see how your behavior and feelings can change for the better.
Let’s take an example: “I can’t do anything right.”
That thought makes me feel beaten down, depressed and I want to curl-up in a fetal position under my desk holding my stuffed elephant. Not very empowering, to say the least. To challenge this thought, I consider the opposite statement: “I can do anything right.” Hum… Can I recall any examples from my past where that was actually true? Actually, yes. I can think of a number of times where I did get something “right,” and got the proverbial gold star. As I continue to ponder this reality, I realize that this self-critical thought, “I can’t do anything right,” is not true.
What thoughts might encourage and support me instead? Here are a few examples: “I can figure this out. I have done this before and can do it again. I can ask for help, if I need it.” Those thoughts feel much better. I take a deep breath, and dive into whatever it was that was in front of me.
These negative thoughts will seep back into my mind. It is just how our brains work. But I will be ready to notice it and not get hijacked emotionally. This takes practice, so be patient with yourself.
What about those thoughts judging someone other than yourself? Well, the same process holds but there is an additional bit of information you may want to consider. What triggers you about someone else is usually because it triggers you about yourself. Ouch. This happens because we come to understand ourselves best through our relationships with other people. The traits we dislike in others are usually the traits we do not like about ourselves. We then judge and criticize these characteristics. Consider the analogy of pointing a blaming finger at someone. One finger is pointing at another person, and three are pointing back to ourselves.
As you get better at recognizing your thoughts, you will catch on when they are beginning to influence your behavior. Did you all of a sudden shut down emotionally? Get quiet? Push away a loved one? Lash out at a friend? Try to think of the situations that triggered your negative thoughts and how these thoughts, in turn, affected your actions. Begin to identify patterns and recognize self-limiting behaviors you engage in based on these thoughts.
Your thoughts create your feelings, beliefs and actions. They are all connected and you can shift your self-defeating judgments into powerful and motivating thoughts which can fuel your actions to live the life you want.
CALL TO ACTION: Grab my free gift, “The Inner Critic Worksheet” here: Karen Darrin Coaching Blog when you sign-up for my weekly “tips & tools” email.