My New Year’s resolutions have evolved since the 1980s when I vowed to take excellent care of my Christmas present: a new Cabbage Patch Kid, Ramona. I taped her birth certificate to my Strawberry Shortcake bedroom wall, and I pledged—aloud—to be “the best mother.” At seven years old, I diligently cared for her. I then promptly lost interest and began filling a gigantic book with puffy, glittery stickers. My aspirations for Ramona remain true for my present-day, real-life children. However, I have added a caveat in 2020: appreciate the mother and the person I am. I want to improve my inner voice, which is just as powerful as the one I use to speak aloud. And, I want that for you, too.
I think being kind to ourselves—and reframing negative thoughts—applies to several facets of our lives. For example, my son is six months old, and I have yet to lose my pregnancy weight. I feel discouraged about the extra pounds. When I look in the mirror, I make an effort to tell myself, “I’m not where I want to be, but I know I can get there.” And then I remind myself that my body worked hard to give me a gift.
I also try to reframe negative self-talk in my professional life. One of my duties is to teach a university-level public speaking course. Last year, a bright student was performing exceptionally well, and then he missed a significant assignment. What was my immediate reaction? I thought: “Maybe my instructions were unclear.” If a colleague had described this same scenario to me, I would have told her the student was most likely preoccupied. But why didn’t I say that to myself?
Dr. Loretta Breuning, founder of the Inner Mammal Institute, researches our ability to change how our minds process stressful events. If you dread public speaking, your brain associates the podium with fear. You tell yourself you are incapable, and your heart races. Those negative thoughts and physical reactions train the brain’s neural pathways to associate presentations with panic. Remind yourself of your expertise, and after you finish speaking, focus on what you did well. Breuning writes, “All it takes is dwelling on the good. Every time you linger on the thought of something good in your life, you strengthen the neural pathways that conduct electricity to your happy-chemical faucets.”
Here are four ways to combat a negative inner voice:
1. If you fail—yes, fail—recognize it and keep moving. Maybe you missed a deadline, or you did not meet a client’s expectations. Instead of berating yourself, ask, “Would I speak like this to a friend?” You wouldn’t; you would offer your friend compassion. Treat yourself with the same kindness and try to view the mistake as an opportunity to grow.
2. Surround yourself with a reliable support system. If you aren’t feeling confident about an upcoming work presentation, or you are feeling unworthy of a promotion, call a friend. She will remind you of your strengths, and it’s invaluable to hear her positive thoughts when you flood your brain with the opposite.
3. Try—and this is difficult—to stop worrying about what others think of you. Women are socialized, from a very young age, to be caretakers. So if a co-worker is in a bad mood, and you happen to be in her path, remember it likely has nothing to do with you. And, it is not your job to diffuse the situation. When I was a young reporter, our publisher slammed a book on her desk and walked briskly by me. My 21-year-old brain immediately began scanning for any errors I may have made to make her upset. I assumed her anger was about me, which it wasn’t.
4. Let go of the guilt. If a friendship flickers and eventually fades, it’s ok. If you want to change careers, but you feel guilty about leaving your co-workers behind, tell yourself they would want you to be happy. I didn’t feel guilty about turning my attention away from Ramona because, at that age, it never occurred to me to regret a new challenge. Now, I never allowed my dolls to be stuffed in a toy chest (to avoid suffocation), but that’s a different story.
I wish you all a happy new year—one filled with positive experiences and positive thoughts.