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 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.
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.
Quick tips for whipping your thinking into shape:
- Don’t set unrealistic goals
- Avoid negative influences that can spur critical thoughts (magazines, celebrity news shows, etc.)
- Become aware of what the words you tell yourself really mean: know that “shoulda, coulda, woulda” was yesterday and “I will” is a promise.
- 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.
- Pay attention to your critical thoughts and counter them with nurturing ones.
- Yesterday is gone; tomorrow isn’t here yet; focus on The Now.
You can improve self-esteem by:
- Retraining your brain: Our brains can get used to negative thinking, questioning our own capabilities, doubting the possibilities, and worry. Your brain may be accustomed to doubtful and worrisome thinking as well. Retrain your brain by thinking positively and accepting who you are with positive affirmations. When you first start, it will probably seem strange, but that’s the point: you will be doing something new! Even if it feels awkward, say things to yourself like: “I know what I am doing,” “Nothing is wrong with me,” “I will be fine,” and “I have a lot to offer.” Tweak these to meet your own needs and focus on the areas where you have difficulties. Positive affirmations are probably the most important aspect of interrupting a negative status quo and building a stronger sense of self. Work on this daily. Accepting who you are will help develop a healthier sense of self and build your self-esteem.
- Taking a Personal History Inventory: Review your personal history and take a deep look at the messages you got growing up. Did you get the message that you can accomplish anything you put your heart into? Or were you given the message that you have to be extremely careful at what you do and that you might mess up? Were you often compared to your siblings or friends? Negative messages we received growing up can severely impact our core self. Be more aware of the past messages and take a step to erase your opinion of them. Slap an expiration date on those messages: yesterday. Time’s up!
- Building a New Inventory: Prove your negative thoughts wrong by accomplishing the tasks that you doubt. Take a risk. If you think that you won’t ever be able to get organized, make a small, actionable goal and build on that. Prove those negative voices wrong. The more you disprove your fears, the more it will eliminate negative thoughts and doubts because you are laying down a track record of capability as you improve self-esteem.
- Don’t Lose Momentum. When you hit a rough patch or make a mistake, call it what it is: effort! Remind yourself that you are doing something new and it takes time to adapt. It may feel like nothing is changing, but take a step back: your efforts are the first change you can see. The results will follow.
- Noticing what you have: Avoid comparing yourself to other people. Comparing will only point out what you “don’t have,” rather than noticing what you “do have.” Begin training your brain to notice what you have, what you do well, and avoid comparing yourself to others. You will never be the other person so start accepting who you are.
This kind of “re-programming” to improve self-esteem can take a lot of time, especially if they go as far back as our childhood. Our deeply set patterns can be almost impossible to change alone so if you are struggling with unhealthy self-worth and want to make some changes, book an appointment for individual counseling today.