By Candace Schoner
I’m sitting on my sofa with my cat Tali by my side and it has just started to rain heavily. I just came back from walking with my neighbor and discussing a myriad of topics from religion to relationships. I admit I’m not an expert on either, but our talk made me feel better and lighter.
The truth is, I had not planned to meet up with anyone but as chance would have it, my neighbor saw me near tears and asked if I wanted to talk. So, we did and I unloaded what was bothering me.
I feel fortunate to live in a great neighborhood and have a nice home, a car, and enough money to live comfortably. So why was I near tears?
Well, I failed at assembling a spice cabinet for my kitchen. Sure, it came in fifty pieces and the directions were a bit confusing. But a full-blown meltdown was certainly an overreaction to the situation.
Of course, my therapist would say that assembling the spice cabinet wasn’t the real reason for my emotional outburst. I needed to dig deeper. Was she right?
For the past seven years, I have struggled with a decline in my mental and physical health due to Parkinson’s. The disorder affects every person differently and those living with it, like me, have good days and bad days.
Today started off well. I felt energized and ready to tackle assembling my newly purchased spice cabinet. After taking all 50 pieces out of the box, I was still confident I could pull it off. After all, I’m a fairly smart and resourceful woman.
Well, let’s just say – I overestimated my “handymam” skills…
One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s can be dyslexia. Even before my diagnosis, reading instructions has never been a strength of mine. To make a long story short, I misread the directions and assembled the cabinet upside down. Rather than be proud of myself for trying, I kept telling myself I was an idiot. You know that negative self-talk – If you think it enough times, you begin to believe it. So, I put the project aside and decided to go for a run and let my frustration out. Thank goodness I ran into my neighbor.
I’m sharing this story to make a point. That we all make mistakes and nobody is perfect. Furthermore, it’s okay not to be. Most of us put way too much pressure on ourselves. This can and often does lead to a lack of self-esteem, negative habits such as drinking or overeating, and can even lead to self-harm.
I’ve struggled with negative thoughts my whole life. According to my therapist, this is quite common. Some people are just better at managing their negative inner voice.
Negative thoughts can stunt personal growth, lead to making bad decisions, and drive us to become the worst versions of ourselves. So how do we change negative thoughts into positive actions?
Turning Negative Thoughts Positive:
There’s a simple exercise developed to aid children in reframing cognitive distortions, teaching them to recognize “BLUE” thoughts (Mindtools.com) –
Blaming myself. Looking for the bad news, Unhappy guessing, and being Exaggeratedly negative.
It also works for adults. Turn those BLUE thoughts into true thoughts by imagining that your friend has this problem. You’d probably reassure them and let them know that the negative thoughts are false.
Self-help author and motivational speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “When we change the way we look at things, things change.”
Identify which areas of your life you most often think negatively about. Perhaps, its work, a relationship, your downtime. Start by focusing on one small area and on how you can approach that in a more positive way.
It may be easier said than done but be patient with yourself and practice self-compassion. It’s taken me years, but it’s never too late to begin. In Tara Cousineau’s 2017 book, The Kindness Cure, she says, “Replacing disapproval and self-judgment with self-compassion allows you to accept in a gentle way that you are flawed – strengthening your mental wellness.”
Changing the way we think takes time. After all, our thoughts are created over a lifetime. Yet scientists and mental health experts agree that if we try hard enough to recognize negative thoughts, we can stop them in their tracks and live a more positive and productive life.