Sometimes, turning around negative thinking asks us to dig deeper than an affirmation.
We all have self-talk affirmations that help us stay uplifted and positive. From “I am beautiful” to “I am good at what I do” to “I matter to the people in my life,” these mantra-like phrases are a helpful part of the routine of positive emotional hygiene.
However, positive self-talk isn’t always enough to sustain an upbeat outlook, particularly during a challenging time in life. Particularly for people who suffer from low self-esteem, depression or anxiety, telling yourself everything is going to be ok can feel hollow and inadequate.
According to Melody Wilding, a social worker who has researched happiness and human behavior, positive affirmations work at the level of your consciousness that’s closest to the surface. As she writes in Forbes, these statements “do nothing to contend with the subconscious mind where limiting beliefs really live.”
In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn’t a good candidate for chemo. I took tamoxifen instead and gave my trouble to God—just as Dr. Peale suggested in his book, "Thought Conditioners". Since then I’ve remained cancer free. -Guideposts Magazine reader
The first step toward sustainable positivity, Wilding says, is to give yourself permission to feel your feelings—all of them. That includes acknowledging that a stressful interaction at work left you feeling angry, a medical test triggered feelings of worry or a calendar slip-up has you feeling disappointed in yourself.
Wilding recommends a technique called “re-framing” to shift how your mind reacts to those negative feelings. She writes, “You might re-work your self-talk to sound more like, ‘I am a work in progress, and that’s okay.’ It’s pointing you in the direction of positive growth and is both realistic and achievable.”
This advice came to me at just the right time. I am having one of those days where I feel like I am doing too many things—and doing too few of them well. So I put Wilding’s technique to the test, first acknowledging, “I am feeling overwhelmed and unfocused.” Then I created a re-frame: “I am proud that I have accomplished some things today. I am doing my best, and my best is enough.”
Can you re-frame negative self-talk to have a more positive outlook today?