Read on to find out how I managed to change a life time of negative thought patterns into positive ones to increase my confidence and improve mental health. Of course, I am not a trained professional, I am just someone who has learned through lived experience and read a lot about these topics.
Negative thought patterns
We all have a little voice in our minds that tells us things, our thoughts. You may be getting ready and you catch yourself thinking that everyone will think you look terrible in that dress or that you shouldn’t make too much effort as people will think you are desperate. Alternatively, that voice could be telling you that you look great in that red skirt or that you need to hurry as everyone will be waiting for you.
All of this is pretty much normal life but the problem is that some of us only ever hear negative thoughts all of the time. It happens so often that you probably are not even aware of what is happening. Imagine a partner or parent that constantly belittled you, made you doubt yourself and insulted you multiply times a day. If this was someone else doing this to you, it is likely you would be appalled by them and want to get as far away from them as possible.
When it is your brain telling you these things and making you feel terrible it is not so easy as you can not leave yourself. The good news is, that with practice, patience and a bit of hard work, you can change this.
Changing those thought patterns
Start by writing a quick list of things that you are good at or proud of about yourself and then another list of things that you are bad at and need to improve. The key is to not overthink this, just write whatever first comes to mind. The chances are that you will have a much longer list of bad things and only one or two things on the positive list. You may have really struggled to put anything on the positive list at all.
If you found it easy to list your faults and came up with lots of them then I would suspect that you are definitely living life with negative thought patterns ingrained into your mind. Look at the items on your negative list. For each item you have, you need to really think hard about how true the statement is.
Examining the statements
For example; you may have written that you are stupid. Why are you stupid, what evidence is there to support this statement? Is there evidence that proves this statement is actually wrong? This was on my list when I did this and when I thought about it I realised that it was wrong. I had been back to college and passed exams and been accepted onto a social work degree where I received a ‘first’ for my social work dissertation. A stupid person would not be able to do that so my brain is lying to me.
Once you disprove one statement, it becomes easier as you start to see how wrong these statements are. Some statements may actually be true, but you need to think about what it means. I had ‘fat’ on my list and this is actually a factual statement as I am largely overweight. The key here is to think about why it is negative.
I thought about other people I meet. If I meet someone and they were my size or bigger it would not repulse me or make me not want to be friends with them. I know that weight has nothing to do with who a person is so why I am being so hard on myself.
Changing the narrative.
Once you have fully analyzed each of those statements from your original list you can then make yourself a guide to changing those negative thought patterns.
In two columns, the first will be the statement that you tell yourself such as ‘I am stupid’, the second column will be your answer which invalidates the statement. ‘I am not stupid, I have been successful at university and I know that I am clever’.
I have included an example list to help give you some clarity but remember that everyone’s lists will be unique to them so there is no right or wrong in the items you list. You do not have to show this list to anyone else, this is for you so make sure that you are as open and honest as possible with yourself.
What to do with your finished list
This is where the practice and patience really comes into action. You now have to start monitoring your thoughts and when you catch your brain telling you something negative, you argue back with yourself. You tell yourself, ‘no! that is not true’. You can refer to your list for a clear sensible answer to why the thought is wrong.
It is strange to start with, to in essence be arguing with yourself but the more you tell your brain it is wrong and replace the thought with the true positive statement the easier it gets and the less often you have to do it.
You can keep a copy of your list in your phone so that it is always to hand but I also have a copy by my bed and for the first month after writing I would read out loud to myself every morning and every evening the positive statement list.
How easy is this to do?
I am not going to lie and tell you it is easy. This is something that you need to make a conscious effort to do every day. As the months passed I noticed that I felt so much better about myself and I was not as scared of the world in general as I was before. After about six months I realised that I have more confidence now than I have ever had before and I do not very often have to argue with myself anymore!
If you have found this useful then I would be very grateful if you could share on social media so that more people can find it and as always, if you have any comments then I would love to hear from you.