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Published February 19, 2014, 04:41 PM

Positively Beautiful: Change the way you talk to yourself

We have 60,000 thoughts per day, and most of them are a running commentary on our perceived performance. We all do it. It’s part of how we’re wired.

By: Dr. Susan Mathison, INFORUM

We have 60,000 thoughts per day, and most of them are a running commentary on our perceived performance. We all do it. It’s part of how we’re wired.

Whether your thoughts are predominantly positive or negative, a good portion of them are learned behaviors that seem to run on autopilot.

This autopilot is set when we are young. As impressionable children with growing brains, we soaked up the world’s messages like a sponge. And for most of us, corrective language and the word “no” were prominent themes. We lacked the filter and maturity to decide what was best to think or feel, and so these messages became part of our brain.

As parents, we want to protect and guide our kids, and with programs like Nurtured Heart, we have more guidance about positive messaging.

Regardless, some negative self-talk is ingrained.

But we shouldn’t blame our upbringing for sending us the messages we received, nor should we feel unending guilt about our kids.

We have to come to grips with the fact that it’s part of the human condition. The good news is that with effort we can take manage our thoughts.

So how does one challenge negative self-talk?

1. Awareness

If you catch yourself saying bad things about yourself, you may feel more stress but not consciously making the connection.

When we have negative thoughts, they spike the level of stress we feel. Over time, these spikes can serve to weaken the immune system, which can lead to a number of different health issues.

This is often why people can feel in a funk a lot of the time without realizing what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s those pesky self-critical jabs that are gnawing away at us.

One of the greatest quotes on this is perfectly summed up by Dr. Dwayne Dyer: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Here’s another gem by Brian Tracy: “The person we believe ourselves to be will always act in a manner consistent with our self-image.”

Author Louise Hay says the very first thing we should do when learning to love ourselves is to banish self-criticism. This takes awareness and an open mind. Understand that you can make a conscious decision in every moment on whether or not to think positively or negatively and criticize yourself.

2. Intention

Changing your thoughts starts with intention. I have friend who would say “Cancel, cancel,” if she caught herself thinking or saying something in a negative manner. She would then reframe the thought in a more positive light. “Even though ‘this’ happened, I am still ‘this.’ ”

Others intentionally take the time to practice affirmations, positive phrases that Stuart Smalley made famous on “Saturday Night Live.” But they don’t have to be cheesey like his.

Make your own list of phrases like these: “I make great choices to eat food that nourishes my body and spirit.” And “I enjoy moving my body every day by walking or dancing because it gives me energy and makes my muscles feel great.”

Author Noah St. John has a slightly different take on affirmations called “afformations.” The brain loves to answer questions, so he would ask “Why do I make such great choices to eat food that nourishes my body?”

The brain answers the question and anchors positive behavior more substantially. Run a search for affirmations and afformations and see what phrases and questions make sense for you.

3. Coping

Research has shown that many health benefits can be gained by reframing a situation with more positive self-talk.

One of the most important things besides better self-esteem is the ability to better cope with life stressors. You could put two people in exactly the same stressful situation and each one would react differently.

If your reaction is to immediately go to negative thoughts, it will actually prolong your “bad” experience and could possibly set you up for ongoing issues with anxiety and depression.

If you reach for a more positive thought – even if it feels uncomfortable at first – the outcome will be better for you, even if the situation doesn’t resolve the way you want it to.

Remember, it’s not what happens to you but how you choose to react that influences how you feel.

4. Empowered action

As we think, we act. Your thoughts will set you up to act as a healthy person, in relationship to others and yourself, or not.

If you constantly think negatively about yourself, you might be enmeshed in victim-thinking, which can set you up for problems relating to people, whether family, friends, spouse or co-workers.

If someone criticizes you, you might inwardly shame yourself and feel less than others. If someone is mad at you, you take all the blame yourself and probably tell yourself you deserve everything nasty thing they said to you.

Try reframing that assessment of yourself by saying something like, “OK, I screwed up, but that doesn’t make me an inherently bad person. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m still OK.”

Feeling better is literally just a thought away. Challenging your inner monologue about yourself is difficult but worth the effort.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at info@catalystmedicalcenter.com.