Make the negative positive, one step at a time
Do you dwell on mistakes you’ve made throughout the day? Alternatively, maybe you forgive yourself quickly. Both of those tendencies are learned and trained behaviors, according to our guest this week.
This week on "Take Care," we spoke to Linnea Duvall. Duvall is a marriage and family therapist based in Santa Monica, California. She works to shift her patients' destructive self-talk from negative to positive.
Click "Read More" to hear our interview with Linnea Duvall.
This learned behavior becomes the ground you walk on in adulthood, according to Duval. You may accept the negative thoughts you have – criticizing yourself or your actions – as just part of you.
It helps to know the source of the negative thoughts, but it isn’t necessary. Changing your behaviors, regardless of the source of the problem, also helps to break these bad habits. The first step to change is giving yourself a positive voice and practicing self-affirmation.
Self-affirmation vs. self-talk
Self-affirmation directly impacts the brain. It’s like a computer. Both brains and computers are programmed to do certain things. If something is wrong with the way a computer (or brain) is working, you have to change the code. You need the right code to get the right results. Self-affirmation is delving down, getting the code and changing it.
Self-talk is what happens constantly throughout the day, in a way that you often don’t pay attention to or control – like the background processes of the computer.
Making a change
Sometimes the most simple things are difficult. There are simple steps to change negative thoughts, but the consistency in which you have to practice these simple steps makes change difficult.
Exercise can often help. Calming exercises like yoga and tai chi will calm the mind in a way that allows these negative thoughts to come screaming to the front, because there’s nothing else to distract you. The change you have to make is to bring these thoughts back to the center, back to positive.
Start with something simple, like an affirmation in the present tense: “I am strong. I am secure. I am powerful.” Find and pick a really empowering phrase. “I love myself,” for example. You can even add to these. “I love myself therefore I exercise,” or “I love myself therefore I eat well.” These statements have to be in the present tense, even if they’re untrue.
“It may be a bald-faced untruth -- that that’s not at all true about yourself and your life. But that’s the only way you change a program is to completely rewrite the code,” Duvall says.
It takes at least 21 days to change a habit. Your ability to change from negative to positive will depend on how deeply held these beliefs are, your ability for self-love and many other factors. At first you will have to remind yourself numerous times throughout the day. But as time goes on, you will have to do a little less to remain positive.
Start with 21 days, Duvall says. For at least 21 days, say your positive affirmation (“I love myself”) at least three times a day, and as many other times that you remember to. Almost everyone sees some small, nearly imperceptible shift in thought.
At your highest points of stress, the negative thoughts may still come up. Ultimately it may take a lifetime.
“It never completely goes away, because it got laid down as a blueprint when we were children,” Duvall says, “But you certainly can manage and minimize that negative talk, and minimize how often it raises it’s head, and minimize dramatically how much it runs your life.”