We started the year with a series of posts on how to set amazing goals for yourself. However, setting goals is always easier than accomplishing them, so next, I thought I’d address some of the common issues that cause people to stumble along the way. Today, we will tackle the super common obstacle of negative beliefs or negative thoughts.
What is a negative belief? Any thought you have that undermines your belief in yourself, others, and the world. It’s that little voice in the back of your head that acts as a naysayer to your hopes and dreams. We will focus on one’s beliefs about themselves rather than others/the world, as that is what primarily impacts your goals. As anyone’s perception of themselves is truly their reality, isn’t it better to create a reality you love instead of a negative one? Research from Cleveland Clinic found that we have about 50,000 spontaneous thoughts per day and the negative thoughts tend to be “stickier,” meaning they stay with you longer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change how you think; and those researchers found that your brain does, in fact, change when you learn to think more positively.
What are some common negative thoughts? Some very common negative thoughts that I hear from my career coaching and life coaching clients are: I’m not experienced enough; I’m not lovable; I’m not smart enough; I’m not worthy; I’m not as good at “something” as others; etc. There are also extreme examples of this, such as when people say things to themselves, like: I’m stupid or I’m ugly.
How do negative thoughts impact my goals? Big goals aren’t easy to reach; otherwise, everyone around the world would be hugely successful and happy. Yet the difference between people who reach their goals and those who don’t isn’t typically incredible luck, skill, or lack of any obstacles. It’s perseverance and resilience. Talk to any so-called “overnight success” and they will tell you the hours of hard work and challenges they overcame to become successful.
Challenges are inevitable. They are a part of life. Plenty of people give up when they hit an obstacle due to negative thoughts, such as, I’ll never be able to do this or I’ll never be good enough. Learn to see challenges as opportunities in disguise and your life will change.
One of the greatest (if not the greatest) basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, who didn’t make the Varsity team in high school (he made JV) and interpreted that as being cut from the team, said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” He used his “failures” to drive him and motivate him to get even better. Everyone falls at times; the successful people are the ones who get up again.
How do I change my negative thoughts? Here are a few ways to tackle your negative thoughts.
- Identify them. Half the battle with anything in life is identifying the problem. Pick a day and catch yourself anytime you have a negative thought and stop and write that thought down (either on paper or in your phone). Do this for the entire day (or several days if you can). You will notice your patterns of typical thoughts and will likely be surprised at how often you have those thoughts. Don’t be hard on yourself. Negative thoughts are common and normal but if they’re keeping you from living your best life, you can address them.
- Challenge them. This is often hard to do at first which is why I have people do it on paper first. Look at your list of negative thoughts from the day and then write down a positive challenge to each thought. People who really believe their negative thoughts may have a hard time coming up with something positive they can believe. That’s okay. Start by pretending you’ve just told your best friend, a therapist, or a loved one the negative thought. How would they respond to you to challenge that thought? Write that challenge statement down even if you don’t believe it at first.
- Be consistent. Once you’ve written down the challenges to your negative thoughts, you are going to start catching yourself in the moment. As soon as the negative thought enters your head, immediately counter that thought with the challenge. You can do this anywhere since it’s a mental challenge, so your co-workers won’t wonder why you’re yelling “Yes, I am smart enough” at the office meeting.
Negative thought: I don’t have what it takes to get this promotion.
Challenge thought: I’m qualified for the job and have as good a chance as anyone.
Now what? After you consistently challenge those negative thoughts, you actually create new neural pathways in the brain. Eventually, instead of following the negative thoughts with a positive challenge, you will think the positive thought instead. Or you will have the negative thought and immediately dismiss it and not give attention to it. Then return to the positive statements that will help power you through to the next step. Next week, we will address the “lack” obstacle that can impact your goals (lack of time, money, resources, etc). Until then, challenge those thoughts!
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