Painless Positive Thinking

 

Positive thinking – what’s that all about?

You feel rubbish, and someone comes along telling you to think about three good things about your life.  Even better, they suggest, write them down in a nice shiny notebook.

Well you’ve got nothing to lose.  It might even help.  So you try it, and it’s not too difficult. You have food on the table, a roof over your head, clean water, a flush toilet, a few friends, and you can just about pay your bills.

It doesn’t stop you feeling rubbish though – now you feel guilty too.  What right have you got to feel like that when there are so many good things in your life?  You see news reports about children dying from starvation or disease in the Third World.  People closer to home are queuing at foodbanks.  Someone on Facebook tells you that you’re better off than 99% of the world’s population.

You must be selfish to still feel rubbish after all that.

But that’s not how it works.  You don’t feel bad because of what you don’t have your life.  You feel bad because of something that you do have in yourself.  And that’s not your fault – whatever it is, you didn’t choose to put it there.

Maybe you’re clinically depressed and there’s something wrong with the chemicals in your brain.  Perhaps your most vivid childhood memories are of arguments, anger and distress, so now you’re too scared of emotion to really feel anything.  Maybe someone  bullied you at school and now you’re stuck with low self-esteem and no confidence.

Whatever it is, the good things in your life won’t make it go away.  What they can do is make it feel a bit better, a bit more bearable.  In the darkness of despair those few positive thoughts can be like little flickering candle flames offering you light and hope.

So think about those good things in your life.  Collect them, keep them safe and use them to help you feel better.

Because that’s what positive thinking is supposed to do.  Not make you feel guilty.

What’s Your Mantra?

We all have a mantra.  It doesn’t have to be an arcane Sanskrit word that we’re not sure we’re pronouncing correctly.  It’s far more likely to be that repeated thought playing silently in our heads.  And all too often it’s negative.

I’m too fat.

Everyone else is better than me.

Nobody likes me.

But once you become aware of your personal mantra you can change it.  You can switch that negative message off and replace it with something more positive.  And when you do that it can have a huge impact on your life.

How to change your mantra

If you want to change your mantra, the first step is to identify the one you’re currently working with.  So take a bit of time to hear what your inner voice is saying to you.  Note that I said hear, not listen.  If there’s a negative message playing in your head you just want to identify it, not take it on board.

Once you’ve identified your negative mantra you’re in a better position to replace it with a more positive one.  Because once you’re aware of the negative thoughts you have about yourself you can identify the effect they’re having on you.  Then you can better identify the kind of positive thoughts you need in order to reverse them.

So if your mantra is I’m too fat you can replace it with I’m working to reach my ideal weight.  Or you might look at yourself coolly and realise you’re happy with your weight, in which case you could choose I’m fine just the way I am.

If your mantra is Everyone else is better than me you could perhaps identify something you’re good at and base your new mantra on that.  Or you could recognise that we all have good and bad qualities and simply opt out of competition – I’m as good as anyone else.

And if that little voice in your head is saying Nobody likes me you could think of someone who you know does like you and replace “nobody” with their name.  Or more helpfully, start by appreciating yourself – I love and accept myself – and start to notice how positively other people respond to you.

So just try it – change your mantra to change your mind.

Where Did Your Confidence Go?

No-one is born with low self-esteem.  No-one is born lacking confidence.  Have you ever seen a shy newborn baby?

You’re amazing

You spend nine months developing in a safe, warm environment where all of your needs are met.  You may not be aware of it at the time (I think the jury’s still out on that one) but you’re often talked to and told how much you’re loved by parents who haven’t even met you yet.

Then you’re born.  You come into the world and, at least for a short time, you’re the most important person in it.  Everybody wants to meet you.  Everybody wants to hold you.  You’re amazing!

And it gets better.  You smile.  Has anyone ever seen a more beautiful smile?  You learn to raise your head and look around.  “Wow – he’s looking at me.  Isn’t he a clever little boy?”  You clap your hands and splash around in the bath.  “Isn’t she cute?  Isn’t she the cutest little thing ever?”

And better still.  You take your first steps and you might as well be an Olympic athlete.  You say “mama” and it’s received like the world’s best TED talk.  Every tiny stage of your development is celebrated.  And so it should be – you really are amazing!

Maybe not quite so amazing

But it can’t last.  The crowd gets tougher.  You have to try harder to impress.  Suddenly you have to do more difficult stuff.  Like talk in full sentences.  Read and write.  Get your head around long division.  Not only that – you have to be good at things.  Who knew that was part of the deal?

Before you know it, you’re getting criticism.  Some of it’s delivered constructively by people who know how to bring out the best in you.  But far too much just has the effect of making you feel like you’re not good enough.  Your confidence and self-esteem start to slide.

It gets worse

And people stop being nice to you.  Not all people – lots of them still think you’re wonderful and make that crystal clear.  But some people don’t like you.  That’s not your fault – no-one can be universally popular – but it doesn’t half feel like it sometimes.  And don’t forget the people who go around be horrible to you just because they can.  They can really sap your confidence.

But you ARE amazing

Really you are.  When you think back to that tiny baby who couldn’t do anything, then look at who you are now – isn’t it incredible how far you’ve come?  We all deserve to be proud of ourselves.

You deserve to be proud of yourself.  Because you really are amazing.

Don’t Apologise For Being You

Too many of us go around constantly putting ourselves down.  We find it necessary to apologise for existing in a world full of people who are far more important.

Well I have news for you.  You are important.  Yes – you, sitting at your computer reading this.

How do you answer when someone asks you what you do for a living?  Do you say, “Oh – I’m just a cleaner” or “Nothing special – I’m a teacher”?  Do you look down at the floor and mutter something about working with computers?  Or look sheepish and apologise for being a stay-at-home mum?

The fact is, it doesn’t matter what you do – doctor, lawyer, Indian chief – you are not what you do.  You are so much more than that.  You are the product of all your experiences and everything you have learned from them.  You have a lot to offer the world, you just haven’t realised it yet.

A Message From The Movies

We are all important.  When I think about this, it reminds me of the film “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you take a couple of hours to sit down and watch it.  It’s generally thought of as a Christmas movie, because the action takes place around Christmas, but you can watch it any time.

It tells the story of George Bailey, one of the good guys in the small town of Bedford Falls, New York.  All his life, George has put other people first, ignoring his own needs.  We follow George’s life until one Christmas Eve he finds himself standing on a bridge contemplating suicide, believing he has ruined the lives of everyone around him.

At this point, Clarence Oddbody, George’s guardian angel, is despatched in an attempt to save him.  If he is successful, Clarence will be awarded his wings and become a fully-fledged angel.  Initially, he distracts George from his suicidal thoughts by throwing himself into the river and appearing to be in danger of drowning.  Good guy that he is, George jumps in and drags Clarence to safety.

But this is just a temporary fix – in order to change George’s view of himself, Clarence has to resort to more devious measures.  He shows George a vision of a timeline in which he never existed.  In this timeline, George’s brother Harry died in a childhood accidentvbecause George wasn’t around to save him.  In turn, Harry does not grow up to be a Navy pilot and shoot down a kamikaze plane headed for a troop transport.  And control of Bedford Falls comes into the hands of local miser Henry Potter.

Horrified by all this, George begs for things to be restored to the way they were.  His wish is granted, he abandons his suicidal plans and the story ends happily.  Oh – Clarence gets his wings!

So the point is – none of us knows how different the world would be without us.  We all matter and we all need to believe that.

So don’t apologise for being you.  Get out there and claim your place in the world.

Don’t Be Invisible

When you have low self-esteem it’s very tempting to try to be invisible.  You don’t feel as good as other people, or as worthy of attention, so you shrink back and try to hide.  You make yourself seem small and hope that people won’t notice you.

And, generally speaking, it works.  You’re waiting at a busy bar, shop or fast-food outlet.   There are lots of other people there, all of them more important than you.  So you shrink back, don’t make eye contact, smile patiently at the floor or pretend you haven’t decided what you want yet.  Nobody notices you until eventually it quietens down and you get served.

Does that sound familiar?

Does it feel good?

I’ve done it myself and it didn’t feel good.  It just made my already low self-esteem feel worse.

So one day I tried a different approach.  It was New Year’s Eve, I was out for a meal with a group of friends, and I went to get drinks from the restaurant bar.  There were several people clustered around waiting to order from the two harrassed-looking staff.  I felt myself starting to shrink, trying to be invisible, falling into the old familiar pattern of behaviour.

Then I stopped myself.  I wasn’t going to do this anymore.  I moved my feet a little bit apart to give myself a firmer grounding.  Stood up straight and tall.  Imagined my whole frame broadening and taking up more space.  And smiled at the busy bar staff as they flew backwards and forwards with drinks.  I was visible.  People could see me.

And sure enough, I got to place my order when it was my turn.  And I did a little happy dance inside.

Sometimes it feels hard to push yourself forward a little bit, to just make people notice you.  But you deserve to be seen.  You’re as important as anyone else and if you act is if that’s true you’ll start to believe it.

So stop being invisible.  Make people see you.

Learn To Accept A Compliment

A compliment is a gift, freely given, from one person to another.  With just a few well-chosen words it’s possible to brighten someone else’s day.

So why do so many of us feel the need to bat compliments away, to thoughtlessly reject a kind gesture?  Maybe we feel we don’t deserve a little bit of praise.  Perhaps we’ve been taught that it’s big-headed to be listen to positive comments about ourselves.  Or could it be that we suspect there’s an ulterior motive behind the compliment?

When my nephew was about four years old he had a lovely new coat.  He loved it, looked very smart in it, and attracted the kind of comments cute children in nice clothes tend to get.  You know the sort of thing I mean.  Elderly ladies would come  up to him saying, “Where did you get that lovely coat from?” or similar.  I thought it would be fun to teach him to respond with a self-deprecating laugh and the words, “This old thing – I’ve had it for years.”

And it was fun – at the time.  My nephew enjoyed saying it, the elderly ladies found it hilarious, and I felt that I’d had a tiny influence on the development of the next generation.

My nephew is now an adult, and fortunately has healthy self-esteem.  He has the fashion-sense and personal style of a typical modern 20-something.  Fortunately he also knows how to accept a compliment.

The trouble is, far too many of us haven’t learned this lesson.  Someone tells us how good we look in something we’re wearing and we grimace while tossing a “Had it ages” back at them.  Or we get excellent feedback on something we’ve done and work and just shrug it off with a “It was okay”.

When we do this, not only are we denying ourselves the pleasure of receiving praise, we’re also rejecting another person’s kindness.  When someone hands you a beautifully wrapped package, do you toss it aside with a few muttered words?  So why do that with the gift of a compliment?

Next time someone takes the trouble to say something nice to you, accept it graciously.  Smile, thank them, and see how much better it makes you feel.  And repay their kind gift by letting them feel good about brightening your day.

Did I mention how great you’re looking?

 

Be Kind To Your Mistakes

We all make mistakes. They’re part of what makes us human. So why do we have such an awful tendency to beat ourselves up about them?
One of the most effective things you can do to build your self-esteem right now is to be kinder to yourself when you make a mistake. Remember that the only way to guarantee you’ll never get it wrong is never to try. Where would the human race be if we all took that approach?

When you make a mistake, instead of jumping straight into self-critical mode, think about how your best friend would respond. Would he tell you what a useless waste of space you are and how you’ve just proved it? Would she make you feel bad about yourself? No – because that’s not what good friends do. So why not be a good friend to yourself?

Remind yourself that whatever you did or said that was wrong, it doesn’t mean that you’re stupid or a bad person – you just made a mistake. Think about all the mistakes that are made around the world every day – what makes yours so much more important? Give yourself a bit of praise for all the good things you do. Then give yourself a bit more.

Ask yourself what actual harm your mistake has caused. Most of the time, the answer is really very little. Maybe your dignity has been a tiny bit hurt, maybe you made yourself look a bit silly, but there’s been no lasting damage. If you’ve harmed or upset someone else then apologise sincerely and do what you can to put things right. Then give yourself a little reward for handling the situation so well.

Think about what you can learn from your mistake so you can take something positive away from the experience. Do this in an encouraging way rather than a critical one – “Maybe I could listen more” is better than “I talk too much”.

Of course mistakes can sometimes have serious consequences for other people’s reputation, their property or even their lives. In those situations it may be impossible to put things right, and feeling bad about your actions is perfectly reasonable. But remember – however awful the consequences of your mistake, it does not make you a bad person. The way you feel proves that.

But for most of us, our mistakes are not that serious. Accept them, do what you can to rectify them, try to learn from them, then move on.

You are not your mistakes.

Winning Isn’t Everything

I had the experience of attending a school morning assembly a few months ago. Things have changed since I was at secondary school – there were no hymns, no prayers, no reading and no litany of misdemeanours.
 
Instead, the head of the PE department gave the students a lesson on the importance of winning at sport.   There was a subtext that winning, even in individual disciplines, is actually a team effort.  However,  the over-riding message seemed to be that winning is all that matters.
 
Regular readers of my posts will not be surprised to learn that this did not go down well with me. How do we motivate people to try if we tell them that anything other than winning is a failure?
 
The teacher illustrated his message by asking who came second in a number of major sporting events and making a big deal of the fact that no-one remembered.
 
I neither know nor care enough about sport to accurately recall any of the examples given, so I’ll use one of my own to point out the flaw in this argument. When Jessica Ennis won the 2012 Olympic Heptathlon gold medal, Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany took the silver. Did you remember that? Probably not, but does that make Lilli Schwarzkopf a loser?
 
Not in my book. I’m guessing a large proportion of the population of Germany remembers her achievement. While she herself was probably devastated to miss out on a gold medal, I’m sure she managed to take pride in the silver she did manage to win. And when she shows her silver medal to her grandchildren, I don’t suppose they’ll say, “Only a silver, Oma? You’re such a loser.”
 
It’s great to win. It’s something to aspire to and to be proud of. I’ll even accept that it’s important.  But it isn’t the only thing that matters.  When we focus on winning above all else we negate the achievements of all but a tiny minority of the population.
That cannot be conducive to healthy self-esteem.

Don’t Try To Be Perfect

Why do so many of us beat ourselves up over the fact that we’re not perfect? And allied to that, why are we so hung up on winning?

Books, magazines and TV advertising all sell us the dream of the perfect body, the perfect home, the perfect life.  But no-one actually has those things.  Or if they do, they don’t believe it.

No-one is perfect.  Not you, not me, not (insert the name of the most beautiful, talented gifted person you can think of here).  That supermodel you admire so much probably has all sorts of secret hang-ups about her looks.  The multi-billionaire investor with the private jet and homes around the world worries about smelly feet and an outbreak of middle-age acne.  Rock stars who fill huge arenas with screaming fans are obsessed with their weight.

The quest for perfection is paralysing.  We’re so desperate to get everything right that either we don’t bother starting or we unconsciously sabotage our own efforts.  How often has it been so important for you to do something well that nerves took over and you messed it up?

Just relax.  Do your best, be your best and accept that it’s good enough.  When you stop looking for perfection you start to see what you really want to change and how you can achieve it.

If you need to be two stones lighter to achieve a healthy weight, make a plan for how to get those two stones off.  Don’t decide you’re going to slim down until you’re stick thin – you’re asking too much of yourself and setting yourself up to fail.

If you think you need to get fitter, start off with a leisurely jog, and congratulate yourself for achieving it.  Don’t go straight into training for a marathon.

And remember, in any field of endeavour, you don’t have to be the best.  Put in the effort that you think something deserves, then congratulate yourself, whatever the result.

You are good enough.  You will always be good enough.  Say no to perfection and start to value yourself.

Choose How To React To Feedback

People love to give us their opinion on things.  Some call it feedback, others are more honest and call it criticism.  It doesn’t matter what they call it, if it’s about you and it’s negative, it can hurt.

But here’s the thing.  You don’t have to take any notice.  Whatever someone else says about you, it’s their opinion, not a fact.

Your Aunt Eileen doesn’t like what you’re wearing – so what?  When did she become the arbiter of all that is good in the world of fashion?  You’re wearing it because you like it, because it makes you feel good.  Isn’t that what really matters?

A couple of years ago, I cooked a lamb tagine for my partner and my mother.  The following day, my mother asked me to sit down, and in her most serious voice said, “I need to tell you something, and I don’t want you to get upset.”  I started to worry.  I started to really worry.  “What’s the matter?” I asked her.  She gave me a very sorrowful look, before saying, “That tagine you made.  It was very nice … but … I don’t think you should serve it to anyone else.”

I have my mother to thank for my cast iron self-esteem!

But seriously, I could have been deeply upset by her veiled insult towards my culinary abilities but I chose not to be.  I thought about what she’d said, and considered whether there was any truth in it.  My conclusion – I liked my tagine, and if she felt it wasn’t good enough to be served to other people that was fine.  It was her opinion and I didn’t have to take it on board.

But sometimes, other people have a higher opinion of us than we do of ourselves.  We think that something we’ve done is not very good, then someone comes along and tells us how brilliant it is.  Should we ignore them then?

No we should not.  If someone tells you they like your hair, or you did a great job, or your garden looks lovely – smile and thank them.  You’re better than you think you are, and someone just took the trouble to tell you so.

You don’t have to take any feedback as truth.  Don’t automatically disregard it either – just take a moment to consider whether it’s justified.  If it is, go ahead and learn from it, if not just let it go.

But if someone says something good about you, why not accept it?  It can only make you feel better about yourself.