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Easy Ways Proven By Science (And Neglected By Magic) To Get Rid Of Negative Thoughts

Easy Ways Proven By Science (And Neglected By Magic) To Get Rid Of Negative Thoughts

The other night I sat down to watch Harry Potter with a bucket of ice cream and a s’mores spread guaranteed to make Girl Scouts proud. This is my standard consolation meal/movie when shi*t has hit the fan and I’m too tired to make it through Star Wars. I was watching the torture scene, enthralled as a woman rotated above a table, her whimpers of pain and ragged breathing echoing in the cavernous room. The others seated looked bored, abetting her anguish because A. They were bad, bad wizards and B. This witch believed and spread “unclean thoughts”.

As marshmallow oozed down my chin, I felt jealous of how easy this woman had it. Sure, she was being tortured for thinking a certain way but in the series, women and men were always trotting about casting spells to erase memories. And these torture fellas had romantically swept her off her feet, spun her in the air and put an end to the thoughts within minutes. Meanwhile, we wand-less have to labor for weeks, even months to wipe out negative thoughts. Lucky witch.

Negative thoughts are dominated by fear, panic, blame, judgment and doubt. It can be deeply intimate; creating your own private hell or insidiously vast; sweeping through a crowd like a virus. The Holocaust, Salem Witch Trials and the Cold War are all examples of negative thinking holding nations captive.

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The solution to this would of course be to stop the thoughts. Here are ways proven by science (and neglected by magic) to free your mind.

1. Whistle, sing, smile, dance, stretch

Do this without thinking it’s lame or judging yourself. Since your brain is wired to be connected to your body, negative thoughts zing straight to your body, causing negative energy (body aches, tenseness, tiredness, twitchiness). These loop back to the brain and repeat the cycle. Doing the happy actions above release happy chemicals in your brain, which then travel to the body and repeat the cycle.

2. Be aware of your attention

Thoughts of your car, money, associates, food and clothes are relationships in your life. If these things nourish and enrich you then continue to care for them. If you focus on something out of habit or obligation and it drains you, stop giving it attention. I stand at a gnome-like height of 5’2; slam dunks are clearly not in the cards. But damned if I didn’t try to be a basketball All-Star in high school. It took a lot of energy chasing that dream and even more letting go, when I could have realized from the start my body simply wasn’t built for that exercise. Know that things do not define you unless you allow them to.

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3. Slow down your rate of exchange

If you’re talking to yourself or others and bile is coming out, slow down. Examine the words. Why did you choose them and are they accurate? Did your mind jump straight to a tired, negative belief? How did you react to the language? How did they? I still can’t hear the word “bus” without feeling hot behind my ears (embarrassment about a gentleman soiling his pants and being trapped in that stench for 30 minutes in stifling summer heat). I can however, replace that memory with one of a public city bus taking me exactly where I needed to go and feeling good about that. A lot of us make statements like “Oh, I’m retarded”. But are you really? Did the doctor sit your mother down and explain your mental hardware was defective in grade school? Probably not. So you’re not retarded, you just made an unwise decision. And you’ll do better next time.

4. Choose

How you think sparks molecular pathways in your brain, like grooves in a piece of wood. You don’t use the other grooves yet, so they’re not well-worn. You can always start a new one with thinking in a new way, tracing the path until the molecules are trained. A scene in “The Terminator” shows our favorite robot in a hotel room when there is a knock at the door and a question posed. Internally, he sees possible responses:

Yes/No
Or what?
Go away
Please come back later
F*ck you, a**hole
F*ck you

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Granted, he chose “F*ck you, a**hole” but he isn’t an accountant, he’s The Terminator. And if you’re the guy at the bar who sees a man flirting with your girlfriend, you can choose not to jump up and slam a beer glass in his eye. Instead, you can simply walk over and say “f*uck you, a**hole”. Just like Arnold.

5. Don’t pretend to care when you’re indifferent

We all have different experiences, memories, hard knocks and joys. But what we all have in common is our conscious mind and our subconscious mind. If you were raised by church-going parents and feel guilty for not attending Mass in two years, recognize that’s okay. You are not on this earth to live up to other people’s expectations.

6. Declare, write and think of the positive things you want

This kick-starts your brain, literally heating up the part of your brain holding the thought and subconsciously bringing you closer to achieving it. Like a moth to the flame. Do not state what you don’t want, because by giving attention to it, you will draw closer to it.

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7. Label your negative thoughts as useless

If your mind is swirling in how you might fail, be embarrassed, made fun of or rejected, label these thoughts as useless and proceed with your day. This separates you from the thought, allowing you to see it objectively and skip over your fight-or-flight response. Do this quickly and don’t linger. In city traffic, I constantly see drivers yelling and honking and giving themselves a coronary. Does it change the ridiculous road habits of anyone? Does it make even one other person more considerate or aware? No. It’s only causing you stress. A caveat: if there is a hurricane warning and your negative thought is “Oh, we’re all going to die” recognize this might be an actual possibility and prepare for it. Labeling a category 5 hurricane as useless has no relation on how Mother Nature can rock your world.

8. Repeat a mantra

In the morning, I typically say “I am beautiful, kind, intelligent, loved and loving”. When I offered this suggestion to my brother, he chose “I am going to kick life in the taint today”. What can I say? He’s awesome. Repeating a mantra does two things: 1. It sets your mood for the rest of the day and 2. The brain is incapable of thinking two thoughts at once. It just can’t do it. If your thoughts are actively positive, you are incapable of thinking negatively in that moment. And then you are free to go out and kick life in the taint

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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