Accentuate the positive
Many of us we can get stuck with negative habits that are hard to shake off. When you open a bottle of wine, you eat bread and cheese — I speak from experience! ; when you arrive home from work you crash on the couch instead of a walk.
Similarly, many of us have negative mental habits. Do you spend too much time pleasing others and neglecting your dreams? Do you feel confident or are full of self-doubt? To make a shift towards contentment and happiness, it’s time for you to become aware of the automatic mental and emotional habits that hold you back.
By focusing on changing negative habits, you will create opportunities for change and positivity. It’s time to flex you cognitive ‘muscles’ to ditch your negative emotions.
Forge your own contentment
Too often we compare ourselves with others and then make judgments about how successful we are based on these comparisons. When we compare downwards we can feel better and when we compare upwards we can feel bad about ourselves.
In truth, the reality is that we do not really know what is going on for anyone. In effect, when you compare, you are comparing your insides to everybody else’s outsides.
Become aware of this habit and seek to keep it in check. Don’t judge your happiness on the basis of others. Forge your own contentment. Don’t live to the label others have given you.
Are you your own biggest critic? Can you ever hit that standard? Perfectionism can result from a rigid mindset in which you don’t change your expectations based on the situation. Because things are not perceived as good enough, procrastinating and feeling constantly overwhelmed, or giving up and not trying is common to those who are perfectionists.
The perennial Phd student who has never handed up work because it’s not good enough comes to mind. Unsurprisingly, perfectionists are more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety. Perfectionists’ self-esteem is conditional, as they can only like themselves when they do well. Yet the reality is that we cannot do well all of the time. Perfectionists fear being exposed.
Swap perfectionistic thinking for realistic thinking by crowding out the negative self-talk. “Nobody is perfect!” “All I can do is my best!” “Making a mistake does not mean I’m stupid or a failure. It only means that I am like everyone else — human. Everyone makes mistakes!”
Look at the bigger picture. View situations as other people might see them can help you to change some of these unhelpful beliefs.
Don’t get bogged down in details. Ask yourself ; Does it really matter? What is the worst that could happen? Will this still matter tomorrow? How about next week? Next year?
Living with Regret
I cannot think of anything sadder than living a life with regret. Regret is a negative thinking/feeling state that involves blaming yourself for a bad outcome, feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what might have been, or wishing you could undo a previous choice that you made.
If you have the opportunity to change the situation, regret can be a motivator, eg, in addiction, giving up alcohol. However, if you have less opportunity to change the situation, regret can turn into chronic rumination and mentally beating yourself up. This is effectively a chronically toxic stressful situation that will takes its toll on your body and emotions.
Learning and practicing mindfulness — being present in the moment — will help shift regret. Check out for MBSR or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programmes in your area.
Shame & Guilt
Ask any therapist and they will tell you that guilt and shame are the most challenging emotions to shift. Guilt acts like a vacuum and sucks the joy out of life. When it comes to unhelpful guilt, Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS) play a central role, eg, guilt about not pulling your weight, when you’ve already done a lot, or the other person is not taking responsibility.
Be compassionate towards yourself, and if your life is dominated by guilty emotions go and get some professional help from a psychologist/counsellor. Check out www.psihq.ie or www.iacp.ie.
Many people they look at themselves and their achievements through a lens of failure. Wearing such a lens one can emphasise the negatives and filter out your successes. Such a mindset doesn’t take into account a full understanding of the challenges you have faced in life. For some this failure mindset can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading you to get in your own way.
Becoming aware of this allows for change. Each new opportunity can be seen as a fresh start, so that you can reorientate yourself towards a success mindset.