A lot of times, our inner turmoil comes from the language and words we choose to use on ourselves, and how we twist the narratives of a specific event in our minds so that it becomes a negative. A little self-criticism isn’t always a bad thing — after all, it can be the main underlying motivator to finally inspire you to commit to that project you’ve been neglecting or follow-through on a personal goal. But there’s a stark difference between “I want to exercise on a regular basis because I like how it makes me feel” and “I’m so lazy and unfit, no wonder I’m useless and can’t get anything done.” So how can we rewire our brains to be kinder to ourselves? If you catch yourself spiralling down the rabbit hole with these common toxic thought patterns, consider the healthier narratives you can apply to the situation.
Stop personalizing the situation
It’s easy to play the blame game, especially if you’re heaping all that criticism on the nearest target: yourself. Casting yourself in the role of the villain is a dangerous road to go down, especially if you’re jumping to conclusions before you’ve got all the facts. Instead of assuming you’re a dirty rotten scoundrel right out of the gate, take a step back from the situation to reassess. Chances are, the situation isn’t nearly as dire as it first appears — nor will it necessarily have anything to do with you in the first place.
Try this instead:“My friend seems really down today. I know how overwhelming that can be. How can I help?”
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Stop magnifying the situation
Avoid aiming a zoom lens on an already tense situation. It only serves to exacerbate the circumstances and leaves you feeling lower and more insecure than you already do. Sometimes work projects or everyday tasks or events fall apart and call for our immediate attention. But letting your mind jump from point A to F can escalate your inner turmoil and make the situation worse for everyone involved.
Try this instead:“I’m late for work, but I know I’m a valued employee and will make up for any time lost.”
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Stop assuming everything is all-or-nothing
Life is more than just a series of highs and lows. It’s made up of plenty of situations where we can look back and realize we’ve learned something new with a little hindsight. Just because a job interview or a first date didn’t go well, it doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the road for you. One failure doesn’t equal a lifetime of struggle, yet it’s so easy for our minds to wander down that forbidden path. Be kinder to yourself and your ability to rise above any occasion. Life isn't all or nothing.
Try this instead:“This was a good practice run and next time I’ll be sure to highlight that key point.”
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Stop blaming yourself
Many psychologists consider self-blame to be one of the most toxic forms of emotional self-abuse — and it's not hard to see why. The need to be right or the desire to be perfect is prevalent in this social media-obsessed society and our inability to recognize that we are all human and prone to mistakes can result in a paralyzing spiral of low self-esteem and shame. But we're not perfect — and that's OK. We can take what we've learned and use it to improve a certain situation the next time it arises down the road.
Try this instead:"Our sales team did the best we could in the time frame we were given. We'll improve together."
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Stop thinking the grass is greener on the other side
We've all been guilty of this many times in our lives, especially while scrolling through social media. But just because you think someone else has it better than you, it doesn’t mean they actually do. No one leads a perfect life, despite what Instagram tries to tell you. Set aside the gloss of those perfectly filtered images and recognize that the person you're so envious of also has a myriad of issues of their own that they're trying to work through. So embrace your own grass because it's a beautiful shade of green.
Try this instead:Turn off social media or only follow accounts that inspire and motivate you.
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Stop discounting the positives
Receiving compliments is difficult for most of us. We tend to wave them off or deflect by responding with a compliment in kind. We blush, we look away, we laugh it off. But what’s wrong with embracing our successes and enjoying the accolades? Don’t look for the one teeny-tiny negative in the situation or zero in on the one naysayer — it only serves to hurt you in the end.
Try this instead:“I’m so proud of myself. My dinner party was a success!”
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Stop mind reading
You are not a mind reader. That may sound obvious, but sometimes it needs to be said. The only thoughts you are actually privy to are your own. One of the easiest ways to build a toxic narrative in our minds is to concoct a story based on what we think another person is feeling. Situations like this rarely end well. A friend always used to say, “It’s not an issue until it’s an issue.” So don’t jump to conclusions based on perceptions. More often than not, they're wrong.
Try this instead:“I’m looking forward to my partner coming over tonight. We can work through any problem together.”
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Stop saying “should”
In short, there's no place for should in your vocabulary, especially if you're feeling particularly vulnerable or emotionally raw. This toxic narrative will only reinforce any lingering feelings of guilt or doubt you may be feeling about any given situation. As Margaret Atwood once wrote: “Should is a futile word. It’s about what didn’t happen. It belongs in a parallel universe. It belongs in another dimension of space.”
Try this instead:“I'm so grateful for the time we've spent together and I will cherish all the memories.”
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