Dear Dr. Romance:
When one hits a setback in life what are some healthy ways to keep moving forward? How can one build a healthy mental outlook when things go wrong?
The most important and uplifting thing you can do is look for what you can learn from the problem. Richard Bach wrote "There's no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands" "Turning Poison into Medicine" has steps you can follow to turn a negative experience into self-motivation.
One of the most powerful tools you can use to change defeat into inspiration is self-talk. We all have a running dialog in our heads, which often is negative or self-defeating. The good news is that you can choose to replace this negative monologue with something more positive. The brain tends to repeat familiar things over and over, going again and again over established neuronal pathways. Repeating a mantra, an affirmation or a choice over and over creates new pathways, which eventually become automatic. The new thoughts will run through your head like the old thoughts did, or like a popular song you've heard over and over.
If your self talk feels negative, you may be creating a self-fulfilling identity, which saps your ability to choose your responses. One thing you can do is to monitor your self-talk: what do you say to yourself about the upcoming day, about mistakes, about your luck? If these messages are negative, changing them can indeed lift your spirits and your optimism.
Know yourself: if you love silence, tend to be quiet, like quiet conversations and not big parties, this may be a genetic trait -- your hearing, and nervous system may be more sensitive than others, and this trait will not go away. You can, however, make the most of it, and learn that creating plenty of quiet in your life will make you a happier, calmer person. If, on the other hand, you’re a party animal – social, enjoying noise and excitement, you can also use that as an asset.
Positive, happy people do have an easier time in life, and bounce back from problems faster. There are things you can do in every case to increase your level of optimism, even if you can't change who you are.
Your thoughts affect your mood, and how you relate to yourself can either lift or dampen your spirits. Neuronal activity in the brain activates hormones which are synonymous with feelings. Constant self-criticism results in a "what's the use" attitude, which leads to depression and a cranky attitude, which doesn’t work well in your marriage. Continuous free-floating thoughts of impending doom lead to anxiety attacks. Negative self-talk creates stress. What I do to help clients become aware of self-inflicted stress is first, to ask them to become aware of what they're saying to themselves -- if there is a constant stream of negativity, it will create stress -- just as being followed around by someone who's constantly carping on you would be stressful. Also, if they're fighting within themselves -- not able to come to a solid idea of what they want -- that will make it difficult to make decisions, and increase the stress. Dysfunctional relationship patterns also are stress-building. For example, if you are constantly guilt-tripped by someone else, or you and your spouse fight, or you are too worried about others' opinions of who you are and what you're doing, you'll be a lot more stressed than if you know how to get along with others, when to listen and when to trust yourself. Most of my clients don’t realize that they can be in charge of their own feelings, and no one else is responsible for making them feel better.
"Attitude: From Negative to Gratitude" will help you understand how to accomplish this change. It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction contains exercises and information to help you.
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