No one wants to be the toxic one. The draining one who exhausts all of their mental energy analysing the many different ways life has been unlucky or unkind to them. Or all the reasons they have to feel sorry for themselves. Let’s be real though, we have all probably found ourselves there on occasion, ultimately leading us down a path of damaging and self-defeating behaviours. But however strongly entrenched these negative patterns are, or however much we are hurting, we do not have to succumb to the allure of negativity, for overcoming misery and misfortune involves making a choice. An important choice. A choice that can remove the shackles keeping us trapped in a web of repeated failure, chronic guilt and pain. One that can help us foster enormous mental strength and acceptance of the person we are. Or the person we want to be.
Feeling mentally strong is not necessarily an automatic gift bestowed on those who easily see the glass as half full. It is a choice that requires cultivation every day (despite what life decides to throw at us). Cultivating this choice repeatedly time and time again creates a habit. And it takes time, patience and a whole lot of hard work to create a new habit (just think of how hard it is to create a habit around regular exercise, eating well or quitting smoking). The good news? Once the new habit is created, the rest is history and we are well on our way to living the life we want.
So how do we train ourselves to exude a ‘can do’ attitude? Well, let’s be real for a minute. Part of this depends on how determined and committed you are to changing. Try to adopt the following principles and evaluate how they make you feel. Chances are you’ll feel a little better. The important thing is to persist- changing negative thought patterns takes time and causes discomfort initially. But practicing these principles repeatedly is a massive step towards breaking out of the vicious cycle of pessimism and toxicity.
1. Realise that the only one who can make yourself feel good is you. People with good self-worth foster internal validation that functions completely independently from others’ opinions of them (the flipside is where you only value yourself when others do, placing an overemphasis and even desperation on the need to please others and be noticed). As the saying goes, ‘what others think of me is none of my business’. Move away from worrying what others think of you and an unhealthy NEED to be liked. If someone likes you, that’s a bonus. If they don’t, move on because someone else will.
2. Avoid comparing yourself with others (this comes from a place of being unsure of your worth). If you find yourself doing this compulsively, you are probably always coming off second best. And how can you foster a positive self-image when you always tell yourself you aren’t good enough?
3. Stop watching for signs of rejection from others and avoid acting based on a fear of getting hurt. If you are acting with this as a motivator then you are ultimately making some bad and self-destructive choices. Be relaxed and confident in the wonderful person you are with your unique gifts and qualities.
Someone can’t get inside and change your feelings of yourself without you letting them.
4. See that no one has a perfect life and is able to be happy all the time. Therefore, when challenges arise they should be viewed as problems needing solutions. Just focusing on the problem and the pain (or the ‘circle of concern’) drains your energy and you will quickly and easily become overwhelmed (and probably build up the problem to catastrophic proportions in the process). Instead, focus on your ‘circle of influence’, or what you can do to solve the problem. If the problem cannot be solved now (or ever), then choose to focus your energy on working at accepting what cannot be changed, thus freeing up your mental energy to change what you can in your life and not stressing on all those things you can’t. The two mantras of the depressed and anxious are the ‘If Onlys’ relating to all the hurt and regret of bad decisions made in the past and the ‘What If’s’ which are the myriad of negative and catastrophic possibilities for the future. These two mantras will only serve to make you unhappy, negative and ‘stuck’.
5. Recognise that the only one responsible (and to blame) for your choices is you. You are not that vulnerable child anymore and you are not the product of other people’s opinions of you (sure these things could contribute to who you have become up until this point but ultimately the job is yours now and into the future). Take your life into your own hands and try to not blame others for your own choices and mistakes. It takes someone with good self worth to admit they are wrong (when this is justified) and to take steps to acknowledge this and repair the relationship (even when the relationship needing repair is with yourself!). Being free of the pressure to please others allows you to take on what you want to and leave the stuff you don’t (could it be that simple?). In the famous words of Dr Seuss:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
6. Stay true to yourself by not fearing your uniqueness from others. For its this individual difference that makes you, you and not the person next to you. When we were children we could live disinhibited and free to play in whatever way we wanted. Then why can’t we accept all the facets of our character as adults? We all function best when we are slightly outside our comfort zones. So get outside of yours and take some calculated risks. It can be quite liberating when you do!
7. Leave others alone to steer their own lives as they see fit, not as you do. It takes a strong person to accept that others think differently to you and that’s ok. You can agree to disagree without sensing that as a personal threat. Others need to grow and learn from their own experiences just as you have. Let them do that and you will empower them in the process. Do not be the one who is a caretaker for someone because YOU have a need to feel valued (coming back to that unhealthy need for external validation). If you find yourself being the caretaker of another adult be warned: you risk not being appreciated. This comes from a view that your behaviour represents an attempt to control rather than to provide genuine support.
Even though we can’t control the adversities that happen to us in life, we can control what lens we choose to see our lives through. Good decision making starts with understanding how powerful our thought patterns are and how closely they dictate our actions. Positive begets positive. Negative begets negative. Approaching life using the above principles helps to create more positive experiences into our lives. This typifies mental strength. And builds our sense of self-worth.
Every moment is a place we’ve never been. Meet today with expectation, enthusiasm and surprise. It’s time to start living the life you’ve imagined!
Taming the Black Dog, by Bev Aisbett
All of IT, by Bev Aisbett
7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey