THE BLOG

Are You An 'Awfulizer'?

06/25/2011 11:38 am ET | Updated Aug 25, 2011

Which thought sounds more like one of yours?

  • "OK. I'll do it. Even though I don't have the time or the energy. Because I don't want to disappoint them. I hate it when others are disapproving."
  • "Is this request reasonable? If it is, I can handle it even though I don't like it. Uncomfortable feelings are temporary."

Do you hear the difference in how each thought is framed?

Many of my folks at the gym allow weight and body image issues to take control of the mental majority of their day. And it's not always that they are actively thinking negative thoughts. It is usually that they are focusing on what they do not like about their life or their body and wanting what others have.

It makes sense that people who jump to the most negative conclusions often are unhappy. I call them "awfulizers."

Awfulizers drive themselves and others crazy with negative thoughts. And even more of us are shadow awfulizers, meaning we don't do it out loud -- but it is just as damaging, whether we say it out loud or not.

But it is possible to learn how to reframe your thoughts in more positive ways by replacing unhealthy mental patterns with healthy thoughts that improve your mood and therefore your functioning, so that your life turns out better.

The scientific term for this is cognitive restructuring, and this entails changing our distorted, inaccurate thoughts to less negative, more accurate beliefs. I call it tweaking your thoughts.

Do you ever have thoughts like, "This is terrible, and it feels like it will never change," or, "I should be better, more efficient and more competent at what I do"?

All of these thoughts are common, but tweaking your thoughts can help us think less dogmatically (want vs. must), can help us be less dramatic about problems and can increase our tolerance for frustration. It can also help us accept that we all deserve a break.

Start by paying attention to what you are saying to yourself. For example, you may say you want to lose weight but then pig out every night.

So identify the problem, then ask yourself:

  • Is this thought helping me?
  • Is it really true?
  • Am I overemphasizing the negative?
  • What's the worse that will happen?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions?

Then see if there's another way to look at the solution. There is always another way to see the situation.

Here are some stress-reducing thoughts:

  • "I am a worthy human being. I'm going to try to be compassionate with myself as I continue to learn."
  • "I'm appreciative of many things, and there are many things about my life and myself that I wish were different, but I'm going to keep all this in perspective so that I can change what I can."
  • "I can't please everyone all the time. There is no way to go through life without subjecting myself to some disappointment and disapproval. I can handle it. I'll listen to my heart and do what's right for me."

We cannot always control our thoughts, especially when life comes unhinged. But that makes it all the more important to control the thoughts that are manageable. Choosing kindness, especially toward ourselves, can go a long way toward relieving our own stress.

Change your thoughts, change your world.