This article is for anyone who is on a mission for self-change and/or life change. You have some definite goals and you are ready to see action. You are ready to see your mental health improve. You are ready for your life to look different and be more fulfilling. Maybe there are moments when you feel like you are making progress…but there are other moments when you feel like you should be much further along by now. Even though you have acknowledged some progress previously, in these moments, you start to question if you have made any progress at all.
If this sounds at all familiar..I have some suggestions to keep in mind in these moments..
Positive Self Talk
First, and foremost, is positive self talk.
These are the moments that are going to be really tempting to put yourself down.
Some negative things that might be tempting to say in this moment, are:
You are never going to get better.
You are silly for thinking things could ever change.
You will always struggle with the same things forever.
You might as well give up.
Do these sound familiar at all? If so, it is time to change these thoughts…and quick!!
Again, I know it is tempting to think the negative thoughts. And they may actually be automatic thoughts at this point. You may not purposely try to think these thoughts – they just pop into your mind in a way that feels out of your control.
Good news: You have control over your thoughts.
Now, if you haven’t had much practice in this area it will take some time before these thoughts stop being automatic. What I suggest is that you simply “hear” the thought and then shift to a different thought that is more encouraging or gives evidence for why your negative thought isn’t true, like giving yourself an example of a time you did succeed at something.
I have spent time practicing having “better thoughts.” With practice, the negative thoughts are not so automatic for me anymore. It feels like I have a moment to choose. Sometimes I imagine that I am at the kitchen cupboard and there is one shelf with a box of cookies and another shelf with a healthy snack. Maybe it feels tempting still to take the cookies, but I now feel like I have a choice with which one I will choose.
Sometimes, when I am feeling my worst, and don’t have time to fully analyze what is going on because I am at work or somewhere else- I just tell myself some simple positive statements:
You are doing a good job.
Things will get better.
You are doing your best and that is enough.
Maybe it’s hard to say those things to yourself because you don’t yet believe them? Say them more and you will believe them more.
If a child grows up with a verbally abusive parent, they will have a hard time believing anything positive about themselves, even if they eventually get out of the situation. But, if they hear that they are worth something and valuable over and over and over again…it will start to sink in. They will internalize it.
As strange as it sounds, you are a parent to yourself. Don’t be a verbally abusive parent – be a parent that is an encourager that shows love.
Build yourself up rather than tearing yourself down.
Also, just so you know, optimism and positive thoughts are more likely to breed the outcome that you want. When you put yourself down, not only do you make yourself feel bad, but you also make yourself less likely of actually reaching your goals. It is a form of self-sabotage.
Live Now, Worry Later
I know this sounds like really bad advice – but if you are a worrier and find yourself constantly obsessing about your problems – it is actually just the advice you need.
Sometimes we sabotage the moments we are in because we are filling them with obsessive thoughts, rumination, and worry. The actual moment you are in, may not be be a bad moment, but you are allowing your obsessive thoughts to take over.
I know the feeling. But if I’m not going to worry about it now, when am I going to worry about it?? I can’t just let it go…
Set aside a “worry time.” Really. I’m not joking.
Maybe it’s Saturday mornings? Find some space in your schedule when you have time to worry.
And whenever you find yourself worrying – just remind yourself that now is not the time, and commit to worry about it at your designated time. If you are afraid that you will forget what you were worrying about, write a quick note to yourself that you can access later at worry time.
And when worry time comes, let yourself worry. Put a time frame on it though. And once you are done worrying, commit that you are not allowed to worry again until next Saturday morning (or whatever day/time you picked).
Believe it or not, this actually works, as long as you don’t allow yourself to worry outside of designated times. It works, because, in those moments the thoughts feel really pressing and urgent. It doesn’t feel right just to let them go. But, if you know that they will be addressed later, you can relax a little, and let them go knowing you will address them at the set time. It allows your mind to be free of worry when you need to be concentrating on other things.
Also, what I have noticed in my “worry time,” is that this worry time is much more productive. Usually, worry is not a productive activity. You know the old saying “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”
In your “worry time” you have permission to simply take up time and worry. But, for me, I have made it a habit to take at least one action step during my worry time. Something that feels like I am addressing the worry and taking an action step toward the solution. Not only is this helping toward a solution, but it actually reduces my worry significantly. The worry feels addressed, and I can move on.
Now, of course, a new worry pops up next week. But I kindly inform the worry: “Not right now, we are scheduled for Saturday.” I free my mind for the rest of the week, and then on Saturday I take an action step during worry time.
When worry pops up while we are driving, at work, or in the middle of something else – it may seem really important that you think about it in that moment, BUT it is really unproductive too. There is actually nothing you can do about the worry in that moment. Save your worries for a time you can actually address them and take action.
Help Your (future) Past Self
Your future past self is…your current self. But your current self, will one day be your past self.
What am I talking about?
Can you think of a time in your life that you were in a similar situation as you are now? A situation where you weren’t sure how it was going to work out, but it did end up working out positively? A goal you were working toward that you actually reached? Something you thought you would struggle with forever that you actually overcame? Something you were worrying about that you actually didn’t need to be worrying about at all, and wish if only that past version of yourself could have known that it was all going to work out?
What advice would you have given your past self? How would you have encouraged her? What do you wish she would have known in those moments?
I’ll give you an example from my own life, so you have an idea what I am talking about.
After college, in the fall, I moved out of state to attend another school. I thought it was the right move for me at the time. Even though I liked the school, I became depressed while I was there. My boyfriend (who I thought was going to be my future husband) had just broken up with me. I was living away from my family and missed them. I felt lonely and had at least expected that my boyfriend would be visiting me to keep me company. I questioned why I was there and the degree I was getting, but felt too indecisive and embarrassed to leave. On top of that, I was not making enough money to pay my rent and buy groceries. I felt hopeless and believed I would be sad and lonely forever.
Flash forward to my life right now. I found my husband and we are very happily married.I now live near my family and see them very regularly. I left the school and have found fulfilling pursuits. I have a stable income and don’t worry about groceries or rent. I am not sad and I am not lonely.
Now, of course, my life is not perfect. But my point is, all the fears I had during that time did not actually come true. I would have saved myself a lot of despair if I could have just believed that things would get better, even if I did not yet know how.
So what advice would give my past self?
I would tell her:
I know this is hard, but things will get better. I know, because I have seen it. You will have such joy in the future. Dreams will be fulfilled. Things you imagined struggling with forever, you will no longer struggle with. Hold on to hope, because there is so much for you to hope for!
This letter would not have fixed everything, as it still may have been a difficult time for me. But what made it the hardest, was the lack of hope. The belief that things would not get better. It is much easier to move through difficulty if you truly believe things will get better. But because I lacked hope, I was stuck in a whirlwind of despair.
So, now, I encourage you to do this for yourself. Think about that time in your life. And write yourself a letter or a little note. Or if you don’t have time to write it at this moment, just think about what you would say.
Now read that advice for yourself now – in your current circumstance.
Because, one day, there will be a future self looking at you now, thinking: Oh, if only she could have known just how amazing things would be…
I have mentioned the idea of active patience before, because I believe it to be so important.
I know that I have been caught in the mind trap plenty of times of black and white thinking.
All or nothing.
Either I am changing everything right now or I am doing nothing about it at all.
Or, have you ever known anyone on either of these extremes before?
There are the people who use force. And there are the people that are passive.
Neither of these methods really work.
The people who use force try to exert their control over everything. But as much as maybe we would like to, we cannot control everything and everyone. You can’t force a flower to grow. It grows on its own time. You can tend it, care for it, and water it. But you must give it time.
On the flip side, the people who are passive simply hope everything will just happen naturally. Which is great, except that doesn’t always happen either. You must plant the seed, for it to grow. You must water the seed, for it to grow. You must weed, trim, and prune. It requires action.
Have patience that something beautiful is growing in your life right now. But also plant the seed and show up every morning to water it.
May the Force be with You
One day I was driving home from work. I was feeling particularly down that day – I had given into the thoughts that things were bad and not getting better. I was trying to exert force and problem solving on my drive home and it definitely wasn’t my worry time. How will I figure this all out? How will I make all the changes? How will I overcome all my challenges?
Just as I was thinking these things I looked up and saw a Star Wars bumper sticker:
May the Force be with You.
And all of the sudden, I felt okay. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, and realized I didn’t have to figure all this out on my own.
Okay – so I know you might be wondering how in the world a Star Wars quote made me feel encouraged. I know it sounds so silly, and I’ve never even seen Star Wars (I know, I’m weird), but a few months ago my pastor had done a sermon about Star Wars and the Force being the Holy Spirit.
But, regardless if you are Christian or not, the idea is that there is a Force that guides us.
There is something beyond us. There is a source where we can draw wisdom and peace and hope and guidance.
You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, you are not doing this alone. There is something else at play here.
And, it is not your job to figure everything out.
In that moment, I realized I could take a break from my consuming thoughts and simply trust.
Again, I still argue for active patience. Do your part. But once you have done your part, relax. You don’t have to “force” anything…because there is a different kind of Force already guiding you.
You will be given a Counselor.
This Counselor will guide you to truth,
and give you peace.
Will you have trouble in this world? Yes.
But the Counselor will always be with you.
for Good has already overcome.
(John 16, paraphrased)
- How will you switch to more positive self talk? What do you currently tell yourself in times of frustration, worry, or doubt? What are some phrases you would consider telling yourself instead?
- Are you willing to embrace the worry later technique? When could you commit to worry so that it does not consume your life? What action steps could you take during your worry time?
- Can you think of a time in the past when you thought something wouldn’t work out and it did? What advice would give your past self? Are you willing to take this same advice for yourself now? What would be different if you actually took this advice?
- How could you implement active patience into your own life? Do you tend to be passive or do you tend to try and force things? Or bounce back and forth from each extreme? What could you do differently?
- Are you willing to believe that there is a Force, beyond yourself, guiding you? What would it look like for you to trust in this Force more?
You will do amazing things. I hope you believe this too.