Remember the old Saturday Night Live skit “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley?”
He would look into the mirror and remark, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And, doggone-it, people like me!”
He was all about giving yourself a “check-up from the neck up.”
Doctor Kristen Abraham -- Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Detroit Mercy – says if negative thoughts are weighing you down, she recommends three steps to train your brain out of that pattern.
“What we’re looking for is balanced thinking,” she said.
1. THINK REALISTICALLY
“The research suggests that for people with low self-esteem when they repeat to themselves, ‘I am a loveable person,’ that they actually feel worse, and it makes them feel less like doing things they enjoy,” explained Dr. Abraham. “We think that the reason is because they simply don’t believe it. And thinking more realistically is something most people can actually relate to.”
Dr. Abraham said in order to think realistically, it’s helpful to ask yourself three questions: What’s the best thing that can happen? What’s the worst thing that can happen? And what would I do to deal with it?
Working through your options will help you feel prepared.
2. TAKE ACTION
When wrestling with negative thoughts in your head, don’t let those voices hold you back. Dr. Abraham said you should take action!
“Those [negative] thoughts are there, but I’m not going to let them get in the way of doing things with people I care about, getting to work, volunteering in my community or picking up a hobby I love,” she said.
3. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
Dr. Abraham said the third way to train your brain away from negative thinking is to practice gratitude. She said one easy way for people to do this is to keep a gratitude journal.
“They sit down every night, and they list 5 or 10 things that they’re grateful for. And the research consistently shows that this helps us to feel better, improves our well-being, and it improves our overall life satisfaction,” said Dr. Abraham.
So maybe you’re thankful for the person who helped you with project at work…or held the door for you at the coffee shop.
Or maybe you’re thankful for a good night’s sleep…or quality time with the kids.
Whatever it might be, wrapping your mind around what’s going well in your life and realistically tackling what’s not…will help you boost your mood and find balance.
Of course, if negative thoughts get in the way of your ability to do your job or relate to other people, Dr. Abraham said you might be dealing with depression.
If that’s the case, you should seek help from a psychologist or mental health professional.
Your primary care doctor can give you a referral.
The good news is depression is treatable. But most everybody can benefit from these three steps to re-train how you think.