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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How To Stop Negative Thoughts from Killing Your Confidence

How To Stop Negative Thoughts from Killing Your Confidence

To have negative thoughts is to be human. The story of humanity is the story of an epic battle with negativity.

This is perhaps the most important question in existence: How do you conquer negative thoughts that are stifling your confidence and bringing you down?

You’d be surprised to know the answer to this question is much simpler than it seems.

Yet even the simplest things can easily drown beneath the roar and constant cascade of negative thoughts that seem justified. If you could ignore that roar, what would you do? Pursue a new career? Make new friends? Go on a date and begin a relationship with a person who seems unattainable?

To read on is to know you can do any of these things, and more — but at the same time, this is a dare: to read on is to accept the dare and choose a confident approach to actions that terrify you.

This article will help you stop negative thoughts by teaching you strategies to cope with them in actionable ways. You’ll learn how to view your thoughts differently, how to calm your mind, and how to be confident in your actions. Most importantly, you’ll step away from the page empowered and ready to pay attention to the world around you in a non-judgmental way.

1. Uncover the Root of Negative Thoughts

Here’s a revelation: four different studies showed that people who are unskilled tend to grossly overestimate their abilities. The studies measured humor, grammar, and logic. Participants who thought they were great were in fact incompetent.[1]

This shines a light on the root of your negative thoughts about your own abilities. Your self-doubt is a result of your intelligence. Instead of assuming you’re good, capable, skilled, and born ready to tackle any challenge, you analyze yourself and the situation. Past failings come to mind.

You think — you don’t just act — and when the brain gives itself time to think, any number of unwanted thoughts tend to pop up.

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There’s a good reason why: early humans evolved in a dangerous environment. We had to think about what could possibly go wrong almost all of the time. We were threatened by wild animals, natural disasters, rival tribes, and competitors in our own camps. Our brains are hardwired to look for danger, and when a challenge arises, instinct tells us to either fight or flee.

You have negative thoughts because your intelligent brain is considering all of the possibilities. Although the challenges you face may not be anywhere close to the extremity of a wild animal attack, they’re challenges nonetheless, and a muffled version of your fight-or-flight instinct kicks in.

2. Value Your Emotional IQ

We’ve established that your intelligence is contributing to negative thoughts, the type of thoughts that can kill your confidence if you focus on them. But have you ever thought about your emotional intelligence?

Otherwise known as EI, this is a quality that goes a long way in the professional world, where it’s extremely important for people to possess it. In a survey, 71 percent of hiring managers said EI is more important than IQ, and 58 percent won’t even hire somebody with a high IQ and low EI.[2] The University of Maryland identifies the following important aspects of EI:

  • You recognize your emotions.
  • You register the emotions of others.
  • You can figure out what’s triggering your emotions.
  • You “manage emotional info,” meaning you don’t just react when emotions flare, you are able to control yourself.

We’re taught to value the intellect from a very young age. We don’t place very much emphasis on the ability to recognize emotions and use them in effective ways. It’s this lack of balance that leads many of us to stumble.

Negative emotions cause negative thoughts, and emotion is triggered by something you can’t control. Likewise, the internal verbalisation of an emotion happens almost instantaneously — you don’t even notice when it happens. You feel sad because you didn’t get invited to a party. Suddenly, you start thinking you’re inadequate, and then defensiveness kicks in and you think, “I don’t like those people anyhow.”

Instead of reacting to emotion negatively, cultivate your EI. Recognize the emotion and understand that an emotion of this type is likely to cause negative thoughts. Also, recognize that the emotion is natural — it’s not right or wrong, it’s just a feeling you have.

Be there with the emotion, give it a name, give it a color, find a way to express it externally. Be creative, and if your expression feels sad, that’s because it’s authentic.

3. Recognize Unhealthy Actions That Reinforce Negative Thoughts

We thrive on stimulus. Basically, this means you seek out things to help you feel good. A lot of times, when kids are very young, parents do them a disservice by offering a stimulus at the wrong times. This carries through to adulthood.

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For example, when you were a kid, you were sad because kids were making fun of you at school. Negative thoughts surfaced almost immediately, like buoyant objects on waves of emotion. Instead of sitting with you in your sadness and helping you express it, your parents gave you something to eat, sat you down in front of the TV, and then put you to bed.

What’s wrong with that? The first thing to provide comfort was an external stimulus in the form of food. The psychology of food[3] is such that,

“We can form unhealthy relationships with the thing that is supposed to aid in our well being.”

Food — especially processed, sugary food that delivers a dopamine kick — is a powerful substance that engages all of the senses. When you learn to turn to an external stimulus like food as a way to make yourself feel better, you create a negative feedback loop. Down the line, you develop a stimulus habit, and then when you indulge in the habit, you get down on yourself after the initial satisfaction is gone.

Identify unhealthy habits and remove them as an option. They’re confidence killers. Replace them with healthy habits such as exercise, art, journaling, and caring for a pet or visiting relatives and old friends more often.

4. Make Regular Deposits in Your Confidence Account

You need to do little things that increase your confidence. That way, when discouraging thoughts rear up, you have a reservoir of confidence to rely on.

Here are some confidence-building activities:

  1. Make a list of your strengths and things you’ve done (or are doing) that you’re proud of. Keep adding to the list regularly.
  2. Do a power pose every day. According to psychologist Amy Cuddy, simply standing in an open, broad stance with arms raised like you scored a touchdown will train your brain to develop confidence.[4] Do this for about a minute each day in front of the mirror.
  3. Challenge yourself with a new activity that isn’t out of reach. Take up yoga, learn how to sew or to cook a new type of food, memorize a poem or lyrics to a great song.
  4. Exercise and get enough sleep.
  5. Do the 100 days of rejection challenge. Jia Jiang, the owner of Rejection Therapy, desensitized himself to rejection and built courage by making crazy requests of people for 100 days.[5]
  6. Make self-affirmative statements in your mind and out loud. Use your list of strengths. Say, “I am a good communicator, I am smart, I care for other people.” When your inner critic speaks up, counter it with self-affirmation.

Doing confidence-building exercises regularly pays off in the long-term. You’ll feel better physically and mentally, and negative thoughts won’t have the confidence-killing effect they once had.

5. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

This is a huge one. It’s incredibly easy to compare yourself to other people in today’s social media environment. A study showed that the more time people spend on Facebook, the more depressed they are.[6]

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People tend to share their achievements via status updates and post pictures that are flattering. It’s easy to compare yourself to your friends’ Facebook façade and come up lacking. Then, you decide to post an update that makes you look good, and if it doesn’t get a ton of likes and comments, you get the impression your Facebook friends don’t like you.

This applies a great deal to people who are in relationships as well. A study showed that when people are in a serious, dependent relationship, they tend to advertise it on Facebook.[7] Oftentimes, they do so because they’ve seen their friends do the same. If you’re not in a satisfying relationship, seeing someone’s positive status in the artificial environment of social media can be a serious downer. You end up comparing yourself to them without even realizing it.

University of Texas professor Raj Raghunathan recommends an alternative approach.[8]:

“Become a little more aware of what it is that you’re really good at, and what you enjoy doing. When you don’t need to compare yourself to other people, you gravitate towards things that you instinctively enjoy doing.”

Focus on what you enjoy. There will be no room for negative thoughts. You’ll get closer to mastering what you enjoy most and you’ll be confident in your mastery.

6. Practice Mindfulness as a Way of Life

Our Western mode of thought frames things in terms of problems and solutions. It’s tempting to say, “If negative thoughts are the problem, mindfulness is the solution.”

Mindfulness meditation isn’t a solution and expectations for mindfulness creates frustration. All you can expect of mindfulness is to be mindful.

Mindfulness is a way of life. It’s the practice of paying attention, it’s the practice of noting phenomena and releasing phenomena in the same way the lungs take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

How does mindfulness help you cope with negative thoughts? The mind takes note of the thought and then releases it.

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That’s all, there’s no magic here. There is the recognition that your brain and its thoughts are a functioning part of a phenomenal universe. At the risk of sounding cliche, a rolling stone grows no moss. The mind that releases thoughts and lets them go in the universe does not brood on them, therefore that mind remains fresh and ready for new challenges.

7. Judge Less, Do More

When we judge other people and gossip and make negative comments about them, we give negative thoughts power. We vocalize them and let them resound. Soon, this type of thinking becomes a habit, and it turns on the speaker. It’s like a dog biting an owner who trained the dog to bite people.

Don’t give negative thoughts about other people a foothold. Don’t make these thoughts an authority. Instead, practice loving-kindness meditation or something close to it. With loving-kindness, you sit and direct thoughts of well-being and unconditional love first to yourself, then to a friend, then to an acquaintance, and then to someone you don’t like.

Next, start writing down specific, achievable checkpoints, tasks, and goals for yourself. Write down dates and places and get as hyper-specific as possible. Make sure your checkpoints and goals revolve around what you enjoy doing. Keep a laminated copy of your to-do list in your pocket. Check things off: do more and enjoy the act of doing.

By focusing positive thoughts on yourself and others, and by focusing on your object of enjoyment, you’re training your brain. Soon, you are used to thinking positively and getting things done. Oh how good this feels!

The Bottom Line

Confidence is a habit. Like any habit, you need continual practice to build confidence. It’s easy to develop bad habits because you’re not thinking of some distant goal. You’re just engaging in an action repeatedly. Hand takes donut, puts donut in mouth, mouth chews, throat swallows, repeat. Why can’t positive habits be the same way?

Build your confidence by repeating routine actions that build confidence. Go to sleep with enough time for eight hours of shut-eye. Wake up, stretch, and hold a power pose for a minute while thinking self-affirming thoughts.

If you have time for exercise in the morning, exercise in the morning. Set a realistic goal to challenge yourself in some way that day. Then, with knowledge that you will tackle an achievable challenge, go through your day with mindful indulgence in each moment.

More Resources to Help You Stay Positive

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dan Matthews, CPRP

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

How to Start a New Life Without Sacrificing Everything You Have 10 Secrets to Living a Happy Life No Matter How Old You Are How to Forgive Yourself and Move Forward for a Happier Life How To Stop Negative Thoughts from Killing Your Confidence Why You Can (And You Should) Quit Your Job Because of Stress

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Last Updated on May 20, 2019

How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

We sometimes hear people talk about the importance of living in the moment. We might hear about the different ways it will benefit us. It all sounds wonderful, but how exactly can we live in the moment when our mind is constantly racing?

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of living in the moment you may not be aware of. Then we’ll look at some of the obstacles, and why we worry. Finally, and most importantly, I’ll show you how to live in the moment and stop worrying using some simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your busy schedule.

The result: a happier and more fulfilling life.

Why Live in the Moment?

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” – Buddha

Living in the moment has innumerable benefits. Here are just a few that will enhance your life tremendously:

Better Health

By reducing stress and anxiety, you avoid many of the associated health consequences, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have shown that being present can also improve psychological well-being.[1]

Improve Your Relationships

Have you ever been with someone who is physically present, but mentally he’s a million miles away?

Being with unavailable people is a struggle, and makes relationships with them extremely difficult.

How about being with someone who is fully present? We enjoy being with him because we can make a much deeper connection with him.

By living in the moment, you can be that person other people enjoy being with, and you make relationships much easier.

Greater Self-Control

You have greater control over your mind, body, and emotions. Imagine how much better your life would be if it weren’t at the mercy of a racing mind, and unpredictable emotions. You would certainly be more at peace, and much happier.[2]

Why Do We Worry?

Before we answer this question, it’s important to distinguish between worry and concern.

When we are concerned about something, we are more likely dealing with a real problem with realistic solutions. Then once we do whatever we can to address the problem, we’re willing to live with the outcome.

Worrying, on the other hand, involves unrealistic thinking. We may worry about a problem that doesn’t really exist, or dwell on all the bad things that can happen as a result. Then, we feel unable to deal with the outcome. Either way, we have difficulty dealing with uncertainty, which is a normal part of life.

Certainly, some of our problems may not have desirable outcomes, such as a serious health issue. Some problems may be beyond our control, such as civil unrest or economic downturn. In such cases, it can be hard to avoid worrying, but not impossible.

We sometimes worry when we don’t know how to deal with a problem. For example, have you ever received a letter from the IRS telling you that you owe more money than you thought, and don’t have the funds to pay it? This is enough to scare anyone who is not familiar with taxes.

How to Live in the Moment

Step 1: Overcome Worrying

In order to overcome worrying, we need to do two things:

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Learn How to Live in the Moment

By living in the moment, you calm your mind, and are able to see more clearly.

The reason some problems seem so daunting is that our mind is racing so fast that we cannot see things as they truly are. So we make up a bunch of possible scenarios in our mind, most of which are unlikely to come true.

In addition to seeing more clearly, living in the moment will help us think more realistically. Unrealistic thinking is fueled by confusion and uncontrolled emotions. Calming your mind will reduce confusion and calm your emotions.

Learn to Focus on Solutions Instead of Problems

Some people tend to be more solution-oriented, and others more problem-oriented. Some of the factors that may determine this are gender, upbringing, and education.

People with higher educations tend to be problem-solvers. That is what their years of education train them to do. In addition, their jobs probably reinforce this way of thinking.

If you’re not problem-solving oriented, don’t worry. You can train yourself to worry less. We’ll discuss that soon.

Step 2: Identify Obstacles to Living in the Moment

In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge to live in the moment. The reasons revolve around how our mind works, and outside influences.

Racing Mind

Many busy people have a racing mind that never seems to slow down. Their mind gets so agitated from too much sensory stimulation.

You see, anything that stimulates any of our five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell) will trigger a thought, and that thought leads to another, and then another, and so on.

If you have a busy life, all your activities will overstimulate your mind, and make it seemingly impossible to slow it down. And an agitated mind wants to go to another place and time.

Unpleasant Situations and Troublesome Past

None of us want to be in unpleasant situations, or remember those of the past. They can bring up painful emotions, which we don’t want to feel.

So how do most people cope with painful emotions?

By doing whatever we can to avoid them, and we can avoid them by taking our mind to another place and time where things are more pleasant.

In other words, we avoid living in the present moment.

Some people resort to doing things that stimulate sensory pleasure, such as eating, alcohol or sex. Others will consume substances that dull their mind, and keep them from thinking about unpleasant or stressful situations.

A Wandering Mind

From the moment we are born (likely sooner) until the time we die, our body and mind are active performing some function. So it’s natural for our mind to have some level of activity, whether conscious or unconscious.

Generally, a wandering mind is unproductive. As noted above, one thought starts an endless chain of thoughts. The reason is that one thought reminds us of something else, and this process can go on until we need our mind to perform a specific function, or until we get distracted with something else.

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Now, there are times when a wandering mind can be productive, such as when creating works of art, or trying to find creative solutions to problems. In such cases, we need our mind to explore different possibilities.[3]

Outside Influences

Most of us are not fully aware of how our environment and social norms influence our thinking and behavior. People and institutions are constantly competing for our attention. The news media draw our attention to the past, and advertising usually to the future.[4]

Many people around us who dwell on the past or future try to draw us to their way of thinking. Even the whole concept of the American dream is geared toward the future. It tells us that if we acquire things like a good career, family, and house, then we’ll be happy.

Step 3: Practice Mindfulness

So how can we live in the moment in a world that is constantly trying to draw our attention to the past and future?

Before we get into concrete actions you can take, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. You’ve probably heard the term before, but may not fully understand what it means.

Understand Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness is actually quite simple. To be mindful IS to live in the moment.

When you are mindful, your attention is focused on what is happening in the present moment. When you are mindful, you are fully in touch with reality because the present moment is where reality is taking place.

You are aware of what is happening in your body, mind, emotions, and the world around you. This is different than thinking about these things. To develop greater understanding, you don’t have to think about them so much, but rather just observe them.

This may be counter-intuitive to many people, especially intellectuals, because they’re so used to using logic to develop greater understanding. With mindfulness, we calm our mind and emotions so we can see clearer. Then much of our understanding will come from simply observation. When we develop mindfulness, we literally expand our awareness.

To develop mindfulness, we need to train ourselves to observe things more objectively, that is, without our emotions or preconceived ideas influencing our views.

You’d be surprised to find out just how much your emotions and past experiences influence your judgments. What many of us do, including intellectuals, is make a quick judgment about a person or situation, then add the reasoning afterwards. That is not logic, but rather rationalization.

When you are mindful, you reserve judgment until you have more information. Notice how I said “more information,” and not “complete information.” It is impossible to have complete information about something because there are infinite numbers of factors affecting it. So the best thing to do is be as objective as possible, and always be open to new information.

Viewing the world in this manner can be a challenge, and takes some practice to overcome years of habitual thinking. But it can make our lives infinitely more fulfilling, as we’ll be able to make much better decisions that will result in real happiness and inner peace.

So if you’re ready to live a better life, read on for some simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your busy life to help you live in the moment, that is, reality.

You don’t have to do all of them, but rather choose the ones that appeal to you, and suit your lifestyle.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the mainstay of developing mindfulness and living in the moment. To practice mindfulness meditation, all you really have to do is sit quietly and follow your breathing. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back to your breath.

Notice how your lungs expand with each in-breath, and contract with each out-breath. Let your breathing become relaxed and natural.

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You don’t have to do it perfectly. The idea is to give your mind a rest from the constant sensory stimulation of all your activities, and just allow it to settle down naturally. Start with about 5 to 10 minutes per day and work your way up to about 20 minutes or longer.

This practice is highly effective, and can have both short-term and long-term benefits.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness meditation, take a look at this article: How to Practice Mindful Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts

Also, there are many good books on the market that explain the concepts and techniques in greater detail. Some examples are

Mindful Breathing

While this may sound the same as mindfulness meditation, all you’re really doing is taking short breaks occasionally (10 to 15 seconds) to observe your breathing. Stop whatever you’re doing, and take a few mindful breaths, then resume your activity. That’s it.

You can do mindful breathing at any time of the day during your busy schedule. What it does is interrupt the acceleration of your mind. It is like taking your foot off the accelerator while driving. It’s a nice refreshing break you can take without anyone noticing.

Here’re some breathing exercises you can try to learn: 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)

Mindful Walking

Walking is an activity that you perform several times throughout the day. We often think we’re being productive by texting, or calling someone while walking. But are we really?

Instead of getting on your cell phone, or letting your mind wander off, why not use your walking for training yourself to live in the moment?

Mindful walking is similar to mindful breathing. But instead of focusing on your breath, focus on your walking. Pay attention to each footstep. Also, notice the different motions of your arms, legs, and torso. When your mind wanders off, just bring your attention back to your walking.

You can even make a meditation out of walking. That is, go walking for a few minutes outside. Start by slowing down your pace. If you slow down your body, your mind will follow.

In addition to paying attention to your walking, notice the trees, sunshine, and critters. A mindful walk is enjoyable, and can really help your mind settle down.

Mindful Eating

Eating is an activity that most of us perform mindlessly. The reason is that it doesn’t require your attention to perform. So what many of us do is try to multitask while we eat. We may talk on the phone, text, watch TV, or even hold a meeting.

The problem with not eating mindfully is that we don’t eat what our body and mind need to perform at an optimal level. We may eat unhealthy foods, or too much. This can lead to various health problems, especially as we get older.

Mindful eating has many health benefits, such as reduced food cravings, better digestion, and even weight loss.[5]

So how do you eat mindfully? Start by slowing down, and avoid the temptation to distract yourself with another activity. Here are 3 different aspects of eating where you can practice mindfulness:

  • Eating itself: Focus your attention on choosing a portion of food to insert into your mouth. Notice the smell, flavor, and texture as you chew it; then finally swallow it. As with following your breath during meditation, pay close attention to every aspect of eating.
  • Choice of foods: Although you’ve already chosen your food before you have begun eating, you can still take the opportunity to contemplate your choices. Think about the nutrients your body needs to sustain itself. Ask yourself, “Is this what my body and mind need to be healthy, and perform at an optimal level?” “Is it sufficient, or too much?” By asking yourself these questions, you will be more inclined to make better choices in the future.
  • Contemplating the sources: Most of us don’t think about all the work it takes to provide us with the food we eat. While you’re eating, consider all the work by the farmer, shipping company, and the grocery store. These are real people who worked hard to provide you with the food necessary for your survival.

You can find more tips about mindful eating here: 7 Simple Steps to Mindful Eating

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Mindful Activities

Choose an activity that you perform regularly, such as washing dishes. Focus all your attention on this activity, and resist the temptation to let your mind wander, or get distracted. When it does, then just bring your attention back to washing dishes.

Notice some of the specific movements, or sensations of washing dishes, such as how the soapy water feels on your hands, the circular motion of scrubbing the dish, or the rinsing. You’d be surprised at how such a mundane activity can truly expand your awareness.

You can choose any activity you like, such as ironing, folding clothes, mowing the lawn, or showering. Over time, you will begin doing all these activities with greater mindfulness.

Bonus Suggestion

Here is one activity that is not generally considered a mindful activity. It is physical training. For those of you who already workout, it may be easy to see how physical training requires you to live in the moment.

Here’s how it works:

In order to perform an exercise to get the desired benefit, you need to use a proper technique. In order to use the proper technique, you need to pay close attention to how you are doing the exercise. In other words, you need to be fully present in the moment.

Another aspect of training that helps you live in the moment is tuning into what is happening in your body. First, during exercising, you need to pay close attention to how your body feels. Are you exercising hard enough, or not enough?

There are times to go easy, such as during warm-up exercises; and times to push yourself hard, such as when you’re warmed up and want to stimulate growth.

Second, when you’re not in the gym training, you need to pay close attention to the signals your body is sending you. What nutrients and how much do you need to consume to support your training? How much rest do you need?

By tuning in to your body, you force yourself to be in the moment. So, physical training done properly is just about as effective as meditation, or any mindful activity, for developing mindfulness. It’s also great for your health.

Final Thoughts

Practicing mindfulness is like regularly putting small amounts of change in a jar. They will all add up over time. And this will add up to greater peace and happiness.

Remember, you don’t have to do the mindfulness practices perfectly to get the benefits. All you have to do is keep bringing your mind back to the present moment when it wanders off.

Practicing mindfulness may be a bit challenging in the beginning; but I can assure you, it will get easier fairly quickly.

The benefits of living in the moment are well within your reach, no matter how much your mind is racing. If you stick with these mindfulness practices, you too will learn how to live in the moment and stop worrying; and when you do, a whole new world will open up for you. This is what Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls the ultimate reality.

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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