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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.

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Last Updated on September 12, 2019

12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life

12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life

Even the most charismatic people you know, whether in person or celebrities of some sort, experience days where they feel lost in life and isolated from everyone else.

While it’s good to know we aren’t alone in this feeling, the question still remains:

What should we do when we feel lost and lonely?

Here are 12 things to remember:

1. Recognize That It’s Okay!

The truth is, there are times you need to be alone. If you’ve always been accustomed to being in contact with people, this may prove difficult.

However, learning how to be alone and comfortable in your own skin will give you confidence and a sense of self reliance.

We cheat ourselves out of the opportunity to become self reliant when we look for constant companionship.

Learn how to embrace your me time: What Your Fear of Being Alone Is Really About and How to Get over It

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2. Use Your Lost and Loneliness as a Self-Directing Guide

You’ve most likely heard the expression: “You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.”

Loneliness also serves as a life signal to indicate you’re in search of something. It’s when we’re in the midst of solitude that answers come from true soul searching.

Remember, there is more to life than what you’re feeling.

3. Realize Loneliness Helps You Face the Truth

Being in the constant company of others, although comforting sometimes, can often serve as a distraction when we need to face the reality of a situation.

Solitude cuts straight to the chase and forces you to deal with the problem at hand. See it as a blessing that can serve as a catalyst to set things right!

4. Be Aware That You Have More Control Than You Think

Typically, when we see ourselves as being lost or lonely, it gives us an excuse to view everything we come in contact with in a negative light. It lends itself to putting ourselves in the victim mode, when the truth of the matter is that you choose your attitude in every situation.

No one can force a feeling upon you! It is YOU who has the ultimate say as to how you choose to react.

5. Embrace the Freedom That the Feeling of Being Alone Can Offer

Instead of wallowing in self pity, which many are prone to do because of loneliness, try looking at your circumstance as a new-found freedom.

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Most people are in constant need of approval of their viewpoints. Try enjoying the fact that  you don’t need everyone you care about to support your decisions.

6. Acknowledge the Person You Are Now

Perhaps you feel a sense of loneliness and confusion because your life circumstances have taken you away from the persona that others know to be you.

Perhaps the new you differs radically from the old. Realize that life is about change and how we react to that change. It’s okay that you’re not who you used to be.

Take a look at this article and learn to accept your imperfect self: Accept Yourself (Flaws and All): 7 Benefits of Being Vulnerable

7. Keep Striving to Do Your Best

Often those who are feeling isolated and unto themselves will develop a defeatist attitude. They’ll do substandard work because their self esteem is low and they don’t care.

Never let this feeling take away your sense of worth! Do your best always and when you come through this dark time, others will admire how you stayed determined in spite of the obstacles you had to overcome.

And to live your best life, you must do this ONE thing: step out of your comfort zone.

8. Don’t Forget That Time Is Precious

When we’re lost in a sea of loneliness and depression, it’s all too easy to reflect on regrets of past life events. This does nothing but feed negativity and perpetuate the situation.

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Instead of falling prey to this common pitfall, put one foot in front of the other and acknowledge every positive step you take. By doing this, you can celebrate the struggles you overcome at the end of the day.

9. Remember, Things Happen for a Reason

Every circumstance we encounter in our life is designed to teach us and that lesson is in turn passed on to others.

Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to figure out the lesson to be learned, while other times, we simply need to have faith that if the lesson wasn’t meant directly for us to learn from, how we handled it was observed by someone who needed to learn.

Your solitude and feeling of lost, in this instance, although painful possibly, may be teaching someone else.

10. Journal During This Time

Record your thoughts when you’re at the height of loneliness and feeling lost. You’ll be amazed when you reflect back at how you viewed things at the time and how far you’ve come later.

This time (if recorded) can give you a keen insight into who you are and what makes you feel the way you feel.

11. Remember You Aren’t the First to Feel This Way

It’s quite common to feel as if we’re alone and no one else has ever felt this way before. We think this because at the time of our distress, we’re silently observing others around us who are seemingly fine in every way.

The truth is, we can’t possibly know the struggles of those around us unless they elect to share them. We ALL have known this pain!

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Try confiding in someone you trust and ask them how they deal with these feelings when they experienced it. You may be surprised at what you learn.

12. Ask for Help If the Problem Persists

The feeling of being lost and lonely is common to everyone, but typically it will last for a relatively short period of time.

Most people will confess to, at one time or another, being in a “funk.” But if the problem persists longer than you feel it should, don’t ignore it.

When your ability to reason and consider things rationally becomes impaired, do not poo poo the problem away and think it isn’t worthy of attention. Seek medical help.

Afraid to ask for help? Here’s how to change your outlook to aim high!

Final Thoughts

Loneliness and a sense of feeling lost can in many ways be extremely painful and difficult to deal with at best. However, these feelings can also serve as a catalyst for change in our lives if we acknowledge them and act.

Above anything, cherish your mental well being and don’t underestimate its worth. Seek professional guidance if you’re unable to distinguish between a sense of freedom for yourself and a sense of despair.

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Featured photo credit: Andrew Neel via unsplash.com

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