Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Choosing Your Life

Life is a great teacher. Often it puts obstacles in our path in order to redirect us to where we need to be. I believe that anxiety can be a sign that something in your life needs to change. If you are experiencing anxiety there may be something out of balance about the way that you are living your life. Most likely, this is something so simply complicated as the way you view and react to the world around you. But sometimes there can be external factors as well. You will probably find that these situations you find yourself wanting to change are symptoms of some patterns of flawed or negative thinking, which is why it is important that you address these things first. It is crucial to carefully examine yourself before seeking to change the things around you. So first we will address what these flawed thinking patterns may be and how to overcome them, then we will get into where you can go from there to choose a more positive and happy life.

Self-defeating beliefs and flawed thinking patterns-

Our beliefs are with us all the time. They are our core values that have developed and grown with us through our entire lives and influence every decision that we make. Most of your beliefs are probably very positive, but most people hold onto and develop some harmful ones throughout life. If you believe that your value as a person depends primarily by who you are as a person and how you treat those around you, those are beliefs worth holding onto. But if you believe that your self-worth relies on wealth or popularity, these might be beliefs that warrant some examination.

There are two types of self-defeating beliefs: Intrapersonal and interpersonal. Intrapersonal beliefs have to do with how you view yourself and interpersonal beliefs deal with how you perceive relationships with others. Intrapersonal beliefs deal with expectations you have for yourself and deal with things like perfectionism or drive for success. Self-defeating interpersonal beliefs deal largely with fear of how others perceive you and striving to meet their expectations.

It's important to identify what your beliefs are. I would encourage you to actually write them down. This exercise won't do you any good if you are not able to be completely introspective and honest with yourself. Then identify which beliefs are healthy ones that you wish to keep, which are unhealthy ones that need to go, and which have potential to be healthy but need a little healing. Work daily to embrace the positive beliefs that you hold. Do something each day that directly enforces one of these beliefs. Put forth effort daily as well to resist the negative ones. Embracing the positive ones will often help with combating the negative as many times they conflict directly with each other. The ones in the "potential" categories require you to actually "split them up". Identify what are the aspects that are worth keeping and rewrite these as their own separate positive beliefs. Identify what needs to go and put that part in the "trash pile". Changing these beliefs will require some persistence. They have been, after all, developing unchecked for some time so it will take some time to effectively replace them.

EX: A belief that I hold very dear to my heart is that it's important, above all else, to be good to those around me. Daily I make an effort to do something to do something good for someone else.

A negative belief that I have been trying to get rid of, is a desire to "keep up with the Jones'", and achieve superficially to show that I am a successful person. I try and replace this everyday with another positive belief: The best kind of success one can have is to live a life that makes them happy. I'd rather be a poor man with a smile than a rich man with a scowl. 

An in between belief for me was a drive for perfection and achievement. I see both good and bad in this. It is important to me to be productive and achieve good things in life. I choose to hold on to this and discard the part of that belief that calls for perfection. Total perfection is a myth, and very self-defeating. So to the trash it goes.

Negative thinking patterns are different in that they are not with us at all times. They simply surface from time to time when called upon by certain situations. For example, if you hold a self-defeating belief of striving to over-achieve, you may be happy as a clam when you are achieving the success you crave, but when set-backs occur you may blow them out of proportion and get overly discouraged my them. Being aware of the situations which trigger these negative thought patterns is a good step toward overcoming them. If you can identify when these negative thinking patterns are taking hold, you can simply turn them around and send them back where they came from. Examine your negative thoughts and ask yourself if they are legitimate. Do people really see you as a failure? Probably not.


"All-or-nothing" thinking- 

This type of thinking can be harmful as it causes us to see things in purely black and white terms, ignoring the grey areas that exist in life. It causes us to see only perfection or failure, with no in between. Nobody is perfect, so we are doomed to see primarily failure if we continue this way of thinking. Words like always, never, or impossible don't allow much flexibility. We'll say things like "I always mess that up!" "I never do anything right!" or "that's impossible, so I won't even try!"  The truth of it probably lies somewhere in the middle. I'm sure you do lots of things right, just not this one thing at this time that you're honed in on. While many things are difficult and require immense sacrifice, few things are impossible.

Some more positive alternatives might go something like:
I can be a strong person even if I have some moments of weakness.
Just because I forgot to pick up Charlie up from school doesn't mean that I don't love him!
I can love my wife and still have disagreements.
I'm a smart person even if I do make some mistakes.
Even though I had a panic attack today, I am still making great progress.

There is always a grey area. Allowing yourself to think in more flexible terms will allow you to acknowledge the good as well as the bad in your life.

Words to beware of-


Should. Should puts a lot of negative judgments upon ourselves. We tell ourselves that we should have a better career, should make better grades in school, should be a better friend. This focuses on where we see ourselves as not good enough. If we seek to improve these situations, we should replace should with could, followed with a positive outcome: "I could apply myself more at work to get that promotion." "I could spend a little more time studying to ace that chemistry exam." By adding this possible outcome to the end of the statement, we push our focus onto the positive aspect of the situation.

But. Many times we tack a "but" on the end of a positive statement to take it for a turn to a negative.  "I beat my personal best time, but it still wasn't as good as Jenny's." "I would go and ask this girl out, but she might say no." "I would go to the gym today, but (insert excuse here)." Leave those buts alone! By putting those "but..." statements on the end of your sentences you just give yourself a negative to focus because you may fear the positive statement standing alone. Just take them out of your vocabulary, turn around and face that original positive statement. Embrace it! Celebrate your personal victories! Ask that girl out! She could be the love of your life or a complete troll, but it's like the lottery; you can't win if you don't play!

Can't. Can't is an extremely harmful word. We tell ourselves that we can't do something. The best way to ensure that you can't achieve your dreams is to sit at home and tell yourself that you can't do it. Remind yourself that you can do anything you put your mind to. You want to become an oceanographer, what's stopping you? Many of us look around our everyday lives and see a lot of mediocrity or even failure, or we see successful people as inherently having something that we do not. While sometimes it may be true that the well-to-do people of the world seem to have been handed the world on a silver platter, wealth and fame are not synonymous with success. If your dream is to become a high-school teacher and you achieve that dream, you are arguably no less successful than someone who achieves their dream of becoming an Olympic athlete. By achieving your dreams, you are doing you think will make you most happy in life, whatever that may be. People all over the world have come from complete poverty to become successful in life. Aside from leaping tall buildings in a single bound, there isn't much in this world that is out of your reach if you choose to go out and get it.

I am going to leave off here for now. I feel this stuff needs a little time for digestion. I hope you will take some time to examine your beliefs and thought patterns. I think you will begin to see positive changes in your life if you implement the more positive ways of thinking into your everyday routine. I will continue later this evening with a part II as promised discussing how to implement positive change and choose the life you want.

Thanks for reading,



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