How to Turn Negative Thoughts into Positive Affirmations
“Look at how much your thighs rub together, gross!”
“You ate way more dessert than everyone else, don’t you have any control?!”
“She has a baby the same age and lost the weight. Why can’t you?.”
“Why are you running so slow? That’s not going to do anything!”
Would you tell your friend any of these things? Would you be friends with someone who said any of these things to you? I hope not! But, how many statements like these do you say to yourself? How many times a day do you bully yourself for something you feel you should have done differently?
So many people – especially women when it comes to body image – have a near constant loop of negative self-talk every day. You may be fooled into thinking these thoughts are somehow constructive, that they will help you “be better”, while the reality is these negative thoughts become so routine you don’t even hear what you’re saying and they become ingrained in how you view yourself.
You may have seen the quote, “If you believe you can or can’t, you’re right.” When you constantly talk down to yourself, beat yourself up and tell yourself “I can’t”, you start to believe it. And when you believe you can’t/you never will/you aren’t capable, why would you even try?
There are 10 “cognitive irrational distortions”, or, common types of negative thinking:
All-or-nothing thinking – Seeing things as black-and-white, as absolute. “I missed one session at the gym this week, I am a failure.”
Overgeneralization – Viewing a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. “I missed my morning run, I always screw up.”
Mental filter – Dwelling on negatives and ignoring positives. “I ate dessert (despite healthy choices in all other meals), so I had an unhealthy day.”
Discounting the positives – Insisting that accomplishments or positive qualities “don’t count”. “I ate a healthy breakfast and worked out , but I’m going out to dinner which will ruin all of that.”
Jumping to conclusions – Assuming others are thinking negative things of you and/or that things will turn out badly. “I won’t be able to stick to this workout plan.” Or, “The other people in my run club must think I’m so slow.”
Magnification or minimization – Blowing things way out of proportion or shrinking their importance inappropriately. “I missed one training run, I won’t be able to finish the race!” Or, “I ran my first 5K, but anyone can do that.”
Emotional Reasoning – Reasoning based on how you feel. “I feel stupid for not knowing how to do a proper squat, I must be stupid.”
“Should” statements – Criticizing yourself or others with “shoulds”, “shouldn’ts”, “musts” or “have-to’s”. “It shouldn’t be this hard to get my workouts in”. Or, “I have to stop eating so much sugar”.
Labeling – Identifying with your perceived shortcomings. “I’m lazy”.
Personalization and blame – Believing what others do or say is your fault. “My friend didn’t want to join me for a walk today, I must be too slow for her.”
Understanding different types of negative thinking patterns is one thing, but stoping them is quite another.
Here are 4 steps to turning negative thoughts into positive affirmations.
First, recognize these thoughts and thought patterns. For a full day, pay attention to your reactionary negative thoughts. Physically write them down (ok, ok, type them into your phone).
Second, at the end of the day read them back to yourself. Once you are removed from the heat of the moment that brought on these thoughts, read them aloud to yourself.
Third, imagine someone you love is hearing these things. How would they respond? Would they agree with these statements? Argue against them? If they said this about themselves, what would you tell them?
Fourth, tomorrow, challenge each thought. You’ve probably recognized some patterns about these thoughts. Whether it’s what they revolve around (food choices, exercise habits, interactions with others, etc) or what type of negative thinking you do, and you’re aware of these thoughts as they occur.
Now it’s time to challenge them as they cross your mind. When a negative thought enters your mind, say (or think) “stop!”. Ask yourself what proof you have that it’s true, what evidence fully supports it, and combat it with positivity. “I didn’t get to the gym this morning, I’m a failure” can be combated with, “I went 3 mornings last week and getting the extra hour of sleep was more beneficial for me today.”
Just as any behavior change, this isn’t a one-time exercise. The more you challenge these negative thoughts with positive affirmations, the easier they will be to ignore and, eventually, the less they will happen. Focus on what you are doing and what you can do in the present moment to bring you closer to your goal actions and forget about what happened yesterday and what could happen tomorrow.