There are times in all of our lives where we can remember experiencing self-confidence, as well as self-doubt. These experiences help us to learn more about ourselves and to grow as human beings; however, sometimes we can get stuck in what feels like a never-ending cycle of self-doubt, fear, and panic. It’s important to remember that while these feelings are real and they are causing you pain; they are not forever. Dr. Martin Seligman, an American Psychologist, has spent his career studying learned optimism and has come to find that both optimistic and pessimistic outlooks can be learned and unlearned (Seligman, 2004). When you start to get stuck in a cycle, try some of these exercises to give yourself a much needed boost of optimism!
- Thought Catching. When you start to feel down, turn to your thoughts. What are they of? Are you in control of all of your thoughts? Are they good thoughts, or do they make you feel worse to think about? Asking yourself these questions will help you learn to identify the automatic thoughts you may have that are tearing you down and causing you to worry or panic. Write the thoughts that you’re having down, and look over your list. Make a note of which thoughts seem to just “happen” whenever you’re starting to feel low.
- Disputation. Now that you have written down your thoughts, and identified which ones are not beneficial to you, it’s time to argue with yourself! Looking over your list of thoughts, you probably noticed that some of them, while they make you feel bad and sometimes you want to believe them, are not realistic or good for your mental health. When you’re having thoughts like these, try to fight them. Question your thoughts! Where do these thoughts come from? What beliefs do you hold that might support these thoughts? Are those beliefs true or good for you? Evaluate these thoughts, scrutinize them the way they scrutinize you, and show yourself that in the light these negative thoughts are not truly reflections of who you are.
- Distraction. Sometimes, we begin to panic about that which is out of our control. In situations such as these, you may find relief in distracting yourself from the painful thoughts and worries that you are experiencing. You can take your mind off of what is bothering you by reading a book, playing a video game or board game, listening to or playing music on an instrument, watching a movie, practicing mindfulness, drawing, painting, crafting, and much more!
- Decatastrophizing. When a problem arises, sometimes you can solve it! Put the energy that you would normally put into worrying into brainstorming a list of ways that you could solve the problem you are experiencing instead. Write down all of the solutions that you can think of, no matter how silly or ineffective they may seem to you at first. When you are done, evaluate your list of solutions and try to come up with the best one, or ones, for the problem you are experiencing!
- Reframing. When you have come across the inevitable obstacle in your life, and you start to have those negative feelings about yourself and the situation you’re in, try reframing the situation. The thoughts that you are having about your situation affect your attitude and your behavior. If you change the thoughts you are having about your situation, you could change your outlook, feelings, and behavior, too.
- Visualization. You may find yourself consumed with a situation that you do have control over, but that causes you discomfort, anxiety, or panic. Focusing all of your energy on what could possibly go wrong will only make you feel more distressed. Instead, focus your attention on your goal. Close your eyes and picture yourself reaching your goal flawlessly. Imagine what you’re wearing, where you are, who you’re talking to, what you’re saying, and the body language you use to portray yourself confidently. By visualizing yourself reaching your goal exactly how you want to, you are more likely to make it happen!
- Positive Affirmations. Have you noticed that saying nice things to other people often makes them feel good? Or that when someone says something nice to you, you feel good? Imagine what kind of power there is in saying nice things to yourself! Using positive self- talk and positive affirmations can help to build your confidence and self-esteem. The next time you begin to notice yourself having negative, automatic thoughts, stop them and replace them with positive-self talk. Try using positive affirmations such as, “I am a great speaker,” “I am a helpful person,” and “I can learn anything,” and, in time, these will be the automatic thoughts you have!
- Journal. You might not notice the progress that using these exercises is having on your self-esteem and outlook on life at first. That’s where using a journal can become incredibly helpful. Use a journal to record what happened in your day, the automatic thoughts you caught yourself having, and the exercises that you used to cope with your thoughts and feelings. Reflecting on your journal regularly can help you to see how much progress you have made, and may even help you to discover persistent problems you may experience and what has and has not helped you deal with them.
- Meditate and breathe. Learning to meditate and regulate your breath can help you to control the thoughts and feelings that you are having, and can help you relax. Guided meditations involve using imagery that can focus on letting go of a specific problem, healing an ailment, and learning more about yourself. Practicing meditation for 10 to 20 minutes every day can help to strengthen your mind, body, and spirit.
These are just some of the many exercises that you can practice every day, or just when you need to, for a boost of optimism and confidence. These exercises are in no way meant to heal or cure depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness and would like to speak to a licensed mental health professional, please call our office at (352) 365-2243, Monday-Friday, from 9am to 5pm, and remember that there is always hope!
Written by Savannah Achor
MacDonald, L. (2004). Learn to be an optimist: A practical guide to achieving happiness. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York, NY: Vintage Books.