Stop Critical Thinking: Live Without Beating Yourself Up

how to stop the negative thinking

Saying goodbye to critical thinking                            

Summer is on its way and for San Diego, that means it’s time for beaches, barbeques, and fun in the sun! Body image is important to most everybody – a fact that is felt even more so in a city known for having beautiful people.

As a result, many of us find ourselves making healthy decisions like switching to water instead of drinking soda, exercising a couple more times a week, or resisting the urge to eat that second sliver of cake.

Others, however, sometimes rush to make unhealthy – and potentially dangerous – choices in an effort to shed those lingering holiday pounds: skipping meals, crash dieting, or running on the treadmill until being on the verge of collapse. In those cases, body image has become a priority and an unhealthy one.

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Images in magazines of people who either have professional trainers or been surgically sculpted can inadvertently create a sense of anxiety which spurs critical and harmful thoughts.

Some examples of critical thoughts include the following:

  • “I am fat. I HAVE to lose weight.”
  • “How come everyone else can lose weight, but I can’t?”
  • “I will only be happy if I lose weight.  I NEED to go on a diet.”

Absolute phrases and words such as have to, only if, must, and need, are key signs that critical thinking is plaguing our minds. Critical thoughts can also manifest themselves in the form of seemingly innocuous little phrases that we automatically tell ourselves every day. For example, “I should have …” or “Why didn’t I …?” or “I needed to …”

These are all  ways we criticize our past decisions (or lack thereof) in an effort to take control of them today.

In some cases, critical thoughts can do the exact opposite of the action they’re meant to reinforce, causing us to give up on our goals when the self-imposed “need to” and “have to” extremist goals aren’t met. This outcome is aided by the fact that most of us use critical thoughts in attempt to drive ourselves up the ladder of achievement with relentless, often self-depreciating talk, laden with rigid goals and unrealistic parameters: one can’t expect to burn five pounds a week simply by chanting critical thoughts in their head – action must be taken.

To avoid setting yourself up for failure, we should focus on learning to nurture and care for ourselves and our goals, appreciating the process of achievement instead of setting our sights solely on the outcome. Finding a way to validate our frustrations without the use of critical thoughts and being able to recognize the critical thinking when it hits us in tandem with the ability to decrease both their frequency and impact is key to removing mental roadblocks that prevent us from being where we want to be.

Steps to Stop the Critical Thoughts:

  • Recognize them: Critical thoughts can rear their ugly heads up to 15 times within half an hour. Note the absolutes and directives your say to yourself, such as must, have to, need, and always. Being able to see something that is engrained in our psyche can be difficult at first, but with practice you will eventually be able to see the negative critical thoughts so you can block them out altogether!
  • Neutralize them: You’ve identified the thought as being critical, now understand that is self-depreciating, negative, and unrealistic. By seeing these traits within the statement, you will be assisted in seeing the critical thought’s value for what it’s worth—absolutely nothing.
  • Counter-act them: Nurture and validate yourself with phrases such as “There is nothing wrong with me,” or “I am doing a good job.” Saying simple things like, “I did my best,” and “I’m getting there.” Are ways of telling yourself that you are enduring and even enjoying the experience the road to achievement is putting you through. Self-talk that reflects back on what you’ve accomplished, as opposed to dwelling too much on what you’ve yet to gain, helps keep you in the moment and prevent you from being overwhelmed by a goal that may yet be a long way off.
  • Replace critical thoughts with positive behavior: Critical thoughts will always reside somewhere in your brain, but once you have a grasp on positive reinforcement, gradually the negative self-talk will be replaced with inspiring, success-oriented thinking. Eventually your mind will automatically conjure up thoughts of positive reinforcement in lieu of those damaging thoughts.

Remember, it is perfectly acceptable to admit defeat (“Yes, it does hurt” or “I keep beating myself up”). Honestly recognizing why you are not satisfied with where you are at helps you naturally transition into a more well-adjusted state, instead of trying the miracle method of instantly feeling better.

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Quick tips for whipping your thinking into shape:

  1. Don’t set unrealistic goals
  2. Avoid negative influences that can spur critical thoughts (magazines, celebrity news shows, etc.)
  3. Become aware of what the words you tell yourself really mean: know that “shoulda, coulda, woulda” was yesterday and “I will” is a promise.
  4. Don’t invest your expectations too much into the end result of anything you plan to do — this leads to anxiety and automatic failure — instead, enjoy the ride getting there.
  5. Pay attention to your critical thoughts and counter them with nurturing ones.
  6. Yesterday is gone; tomorrow isn’t here yet; focus on The Now.


About Jennine Estes, MFT

Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653