Positive Inner Voice

Positive Inner Voice

After a recent bout of Insomnia, my eyes are open to a lot of unhealthy practices in my life. Most are stress related, but stress can be generated by our thoughts and attitudes. A small problem can easily become a large one, a string of ill luck can easily turn into a bad day, and all it takes is the wrong thought at the right time.

Positive inner voice is something I struggle with. I can be positive in my interactions with others and even positive about my goals and how to achieve them. Yet I’m still hard on myself, impossibly hard, berating myself for mistakes and working myself into a frenzy whenever I make one, no matter how small. It took a string of self-induced anxiety attacks to open my eyes to how damaging negative inner voice can be.

The best way to fight negativity is to look for the positive instead. It sounds easy, but it can be terribly difficult, especially when you’ve spent a lifetime silently berating yourself. There are a few staples to start with, of course, and if you catch yourself saying any of these things in a dark moment, you might want to try to reverse it.

“I can’t!” or “It’s too hard!” or “That’s impossible!”
When faced with something daunting, or even something we don’t want to do, our first reaction is to recoil. Sometimes ‘I can’t’ is an excuse not to act. Difficulty can be a reason for procrastination. Worse, if something seems impossible we might abandon the idea before we ever try. I certainly wouldn’t have published a novel if I’d given in to this impulse. The fact is ‘I can’t’ can be the most damaging thing you tell yourself. Because as long as you believe you’re incapable, you won’t succeed.

The voice of doubt is hard to overcome. It shouts louder than any other voice and it can be difficult to drown it out. I recall fighting through the most difficult moments in my life with “I can’t” repeating in the back of my mind, all the while telling myself “you have to.” But ‘you have to’ isn’t a very good motivator.

Replace “I can’t” with “I can.” or “I’ll try my best.”

Chances are, you can accomplish most things that seem impossible or daunting, you just need the determination to get through. “I can,” is a great mantra, especially if you repeat it internally from the moment you wake up in the morning. But I find sometimes, the voice of doubt breaks the mantra. In those moments I go for “I’ll try my hardest as long as I can.” That way, I feel I can stop or take a break if I need to. But I find that trying my hardest is enough to get me through most days.

Try the hardest you can every day. Some days you’ll do a lot and some days only a little, but every day will get you closer to your goal.

“I’m not good/skilled/pretty enough.” or “I wish I was as skilled/pretty/good as such and such.”
From the time we’re young we carry this dread with us, the dread that we aren’t good enough to do the things we really want to. And it’s worse if you know someone who seems able to achieve all the things you’d like to with an effortlessness ease. The trouble is, we tend to compare our everyday with other people’s highlights; this is a major problem with social media like Facebook. Some people filter their social postings so that they only reflect the positive outcomes in their lives. Their vacations, their date nights, their accomplishments. No one really wants to take a picture of themselves crying at the end of a shitty day so that they remember it five years later.

So we forget that everyone struggles, that no one does anything as effortlessly as they seem to. That successful person you envy works hard to be successful. And the only difference between the two of you is probably that they don’t spend their days looking at others longingly (or maybe they do but they don’t let it get in the way of their efforts).

Replace “I’m not skilled enough.” with “I am still learning.”

You might not be able to do everything on the first try, the second try or even the tenth. But as long as you never stop trying, you haven’t failed. There’s nothing wrong with honing your skills. Everyone has to start somewhere. And don’t forget to be happy with the things you have. Chances are, your life is just as good as the person you envy (perhaps it’s even better).

“Today is going to be a shitty day.” or “I never get to have good days.” or “Bad things always happen to me.”
Never do we doom ourselves more than when we let the first negative invasion set the tone for the entire day. Didn’t sleep well? Don’t let that set the tone for the day. Burnt your breakfast? Don’t let it set the tone for the whole day. As soon as you tell yourself you’re going to have a shitty day, you’ll start looking for negative things. Granted, those things were probably going to be there anyway, but because you’re on the lookout for them, because you’re accumulating a list of all the things that went wrong, they’re going to stack up pretty quick. It doesn’t take long to dig yourself a hole you can’t get out of and you don’t really want to have to wait for a good night’s sleep to hit the cosmic reset button (especially if you’re an insomniac like me).

Replace “Today is going to be a shitty day.” with “Oh well, shit happens.”

I remember one particularly bad day shortly after I started working at my first IT job. I can’t remember anymore what went wrong, but I know I was having a rough time. One of the graduates from my school sat right behind me. When I confided in her she smiled and made me a post-it note. That note said “Shit happens :)” I put that note on my monitor so that I’d see it every day. Eventually I folded it into the notebook I kept beside my desk. That post it stayed with me the entire time I worked for that company (I may have even taken it with me when I left).

The fact is, bad things happen to everyone. When we have a bad day it’s easy to believe the universe has singled us out, that we’ve become the victim of a cosmic conspiracy. Nothing ever goes according to plan, things break, setbacks occur. It isn’t that we run into these things that defines us, but how we deal with them. Jumping the hurdle makes it a lot easier to deal with than tripping over it. Try to let the negativity roll off your shoulders and move forward with a positive attitude. You’ll probably still have bad days (we’re all only human), but you may find you have fewer of them.

“I messed that up.” or “Well, I failed.”
We all make mistakes. Some people are very good at moving on when something goes wrong. I have never been one of those people. Without realizing it, I have spent many years berating myself for my mistakes, as if I should be some perfect being who does everything right all the time. A few weeks ago, I inadvertently burnt a bowl of mashed potatoes to a cookie sheet. It was plastic of the kind that can go in the oven. But somehow one of the stove burners got turned on without my realizing and the direct heat caused the plastic to melt, ruining the sheet. I got very angry with myself, though to this day I can’t tell you why. It was silly.

But it was a mistake, a failure, and sometimes those things haunt me. During my recent bout of insomnia, I would berate myself if I couldn’t fall asleep in an hour or two. I worked myself into a frenzy over my failure to solve my problem. I told myself it should be simple and made myself feel foolish for not being able to solve a simple puzzle. I set a failure state and, of course, constantly fulfilled it. My every effort to fix the problem made matters worse.

Replace “I messed up.” with “I tried my best.” Replace “I failed” with “What did I learn?”

The truth is, no failure is a failure if you learn from it. My attitude made my problems worse and it was an eternal spiral. Until I broke the cycle by choosing a positive inner voice. Instead of journaling my turmoil, I started writing down all the lessons I’d learned from my sleepless nights. They were many. In the end, all the lessons I took away from those two weeks were so uplifting, it took the negative edge off the entire experience. Awareness is the first step to change. It’s one of the lessons I learned from my ‘failures.’

Tomorrow is another day.
I’ll end with this double-edged sword. When a day isn’t going your way, it’s natural to want it to end. Tomorrow is another day, a fresh day, a new day, not tainted by the day that came before. And that’s a good thing. But you shouldn’t start telling yourself that at 9AM, it’s only going to make the day harder.

Any day can turn around. Instead of looking for the negatives, make a list of the positive things you encountered, even if they’re only small silly things. If a person smiles at you on the sidewalk, that can be an uplifting experience. If they played your favourite song on the radio, if the afternoon seemed to pass quickly, if you read a chapter of your favourite book, any of these things can turn a day around. The more you look for something, the more you find it. Changing your focus can change your outlook, can take the sting out of a string of bad luck, can help you find the bastion of relaxation in the midst of a stressful day.

These are the lessons I’m working on bringing to my life every day. There are good days and bad days; there always will be. But the more I think positively, the fewer bad days I think I’ll encounter.

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