We all have a little voice in our head that talks to us continuously. This voice interprets, judges, comments on and gives meaning to the external world and the events we encounter. Start this new year by taking control of that voice. Change the way you think and you can actually change the way you feel. You can't always choose what happens, but you can always choose how to look at what happens. Here are 10 ways to reprogram that voice so it becomes a friend instead of an adversary.
1. "I can't believe I called the client Mark instead of Mike at the meeting this morning."
How many times has your internal voice told you that you're a jerk? Would you let anyone else talk to you that way? Think about it: nobody seemed to notice or care about your minor slipup at the meeting, so why did you beat up on yourself for it all afternoon?
Start paying more attention to that inner voice and monitor how often it makes judgmental comments. Then start being nicer to yourself: substitute all those put-downs with kinder messages. How about: "My presentation this morning couldn't have gone more smoothly. I only made one minor flub in getting Mike's name wrong, but he seemed more interested in the information I was discussing than on the name mix-up."
2. "I had my heart set on getting that job. Now I have to start my job search all over again."
OK, not getting that job was a setback, but you can get something positive out of it. Focus on the upside. How about: "I was their second choice. Obviously I've got a lot going for me. That interview process was great practice; it really built up my confidence. Also, I've taken it easy these last few weeks and really needed that break. Now I can go back to the job search with renewed energy. I'm going to be OK."
3. "Oh, great, another traffic jam. I hate this drive -- why do we live in the suburbs anyway?"
Does this whining and complaining sound like you? Are you really going to be late for something important? Probably not, and even so, is it going to help anyone by getting upset? Is there any advantage at all in looking at the negatives?
You can turn things around. Try making the situation a little more neutral with something like: "OK, commuting isn't my favourite activity, but it goes with the territory. This is my trade-off for living in a safe, quiet neighbourhood that's ideal for raising a family. It's not the end of the world not to arrive on time. This traffic is out of my control. I'll get there when I get there."
4. "I had 10 things on my to-do list and only accomplished two of them. What a wasted day."
Take another look at the situation. Talk to yourself differently. Review all the things you did get done in a day instead of focusing on all the things you couldn't finish. Then you can say to yourself: "That was a really productive day. I got a lot accomplished." That way, every day will feel more satisfying.
5. "Look what happened to that little girl I read about in the paper. What if someone follows my daughter home?"
Do you get caught up in all the tragedies you hear about on the news? Do you replay situations or conversations and get upset all over again? If a friend harped on the way you harp on yourself, you'd think nothing of putting a stop to it. You'd say something like: "That's enough" or "Give it a rest!" It's a challenge to stop that broken record being played in your head, but it is possible. You can block upsetting thoughts from taking over your mind. You can learn to shut that voice off.
Here's how: yell at yourself when you hear those unwanted thoughts. That's right, shout something like: "Stop it," "Enough" or "Cut it out!" It needs to be sharp and jarring to catch your attention, so you might want to do it when you're alone. You can gradually give yourself these instructions in a quieter tone -- or even silently -- as long as it interrupts those unwanted thoughts.
6. "Why on earth did I invite Bob and Barb along on our holiday? This is going to be a terrible two weeks."
This is not a good sign. You just signed up for a two-week Mediterranean cruise next fall and you're already having second thoughts. Why get ahead of yourself by worrying about things so far down the road? If things don't work out on the cruise, you can deal with it then. Don't start worrying ahead of time.
Look at it another way: You're going on vacation to somewhere you've never been before. Why spoil the anticipation and preparation? Change your inner voice to repeat: "I've always wanted to visit Greece with all its exotic beauty. Bob and Barb have always been friendly to me. They seemed eager to come along. And we don't have to spend all our time together. There'll be other people on the cruise to hang out with."
7. "I was looking forward to seeing Marnie at this year's conference, but she hasn't even had time for coffee. I guess I'm not as important as these other people."
Is this a conclusion you'd jump to? Maybe you doubt yourself. Perhaps you need to start looking beyond yourself for explanations of other people's behaviour. With everyone so busy in this hectic world, it's easy to overlook other people's motives sometimes and not see their true intentions.
You can avoid jumping to conclusions by changing your mind-set. The situation described above can be viewed in a totally different context. For example: "Marnie looks pretty frazzled. I guess she's got a lot on the go right now. Maybe she didn't see me as she whizzed by." Or, "She knew we'd have a chance to catch up later so she just kept going. I've had that happen, where I'm late to get somewhere, and I run into someone I know and really like but just don't have the time to stop. I'll catch up with Marnie when she's got time to visit."
8. "I can't relax with a cup of tea and the paper until I've done the supper dishes."
Who wrote that one anyway? What's wrong with a little rest and relaxation before doing the chores? Restrictions can be tiring. In some cases, "Work should come before pleasure" becomes "Work instead of pleasure." No wonder you have no balance in your life.
Now, maybe it's time to stand up to those "shoulds" and "musts." People who do that seem to enjoy more freedom. It's not too late to start playing by a different set of rules; your old beliefs might not be "the truth" after all.
Let's hear that inner voice say something like: "I should be able to do something for myself every day. I should start taking better care of myself. It's healthy to make sure my needs get met, too. I work hard -- I deserve some leisure, recreation and fun." Those can be your new beliefs for the new year.
9. "Jennie was 20 minutes late for lunch -- again. No matter how mad I get, she never learns."
There you go again, expecting Jennie to change -- even getting your hopes up by talking to her -- only to end up disappointed and angry once again. There's something wrong with the picture of Jennie breezing in late for lunch calm as a cucumber while you're the one who's stressed out and a mess. If you can't fix her, maybe you should fix yourself. Start by changing your response to events that you can't actually change. It's not great that Jennie's never on time, but if that's the way she operates, it's better to change your expectations to match that reality.
So your new inner voice would say something like: "Oh, Jennie's late again. That's just Jennie being Jennie. I knew she'd be late so I brought a book and didn't schedule any early appointments this afternoon."
10. "What's the point of dieting if I eat something that's not allowed. That's blowing the whole thing. I might as well start pigging out on junk food then."
Do you live in an all-or-nothing world? Is a movie either a wow or a dud? Do you put people on a pedestal and then, if they disappoint you, put them in the gutter? Don't worry, you can pull yourself away from such a rigid, polarized world. Life will be a lot easier with some flexible thinking.
Here's how to start a new way of thinking: "Most things are not black and white but fall pretty much in a grey zone. Everybody has weak moments. One cookie or a missed day at the gym doesn't mean the whole thing's a failure. In fact, a little flexibility is probably healthier than being rigid as a robot. Loosen up a little. You're still on track."
So there it is: 10 ways you can reprogram the little voice in your head to create a new mind-set for the new year. Start working with these ideas now, implementing them gradually. See how they help lift your spirits and reduce your stress. They'll also allow you to become what all of us need to be: our own best friend.