10 ways to Take Control of Your Life

When we are stressed, many of us develop negative thinking patterns because we become frustrated by our challenges and frequent feelings of being overwhelmed. This negative outlook then makes it even harder for us to manage those challenges and move forward. 

Practicing positive thinking allows us to focus on our strengths and accomplishments, which increases happiness and motivation. This, in turn, allows us to spend more time making progress, and less time feeling down and stuck. The following tips provide practical suggestions that you can use to help you shift into more positive thinking patterns:

1. Take Good Care of Yourself

It’s much easier to be positive when you are eating well, exercising, and getting enough rest.  So get out and go for a walk, if possible, spend some time outside in bare feet so you can literally connect to the earth.  This helps to ground your energy and balance your feelings.

Next, look at what you’re eating (and drinking!) and make sure you are nourishing your body in a useful way not filling it with chemicals and poisons. Sure, a glass of wine can take the edge off a stressful day, but when a glass turns into a bottle, you need to stop and think.

Finally, ensure you go to bed at a reasonable hour.  Use a sleep story app if you have trouble falling asleep and end your day with a gratitude practice (see next point) so that your last thoughts are positive.

2. Remind Yourself of the Things You Are Grateful For

Stresses and challenges don’t seem quite as bad when you are constantly reminding yourself of the things that are right in life. Taking just 60 seconds a day to stop and appreciate the good things will make a huge difference.  I find starting and ending the day with a gratitude practice extremely beneficial.  Think of three things you are grateful for and let the feeling of gratitude fill you up and just sit with that feeling for a moment.

3. Look for the Proof Instead of Making Assumptions

A fear of not being liked or accepted sometimes leads us to assume that we know what others are thinking, but our fears are usually not reality. If you have a fear that a friend or family member’s bad mood is due to something you did, or that your co-workers are secretly gossiping about you when you turn your back, speak up and ask them. 

Similarly, other types of fears can become overwhelming, but you need to ask yourself, “Is this really true?”  We all tend to ‘catastrophise’ when things aren’t going great, but the truth is rarely as bad as our imagination will have us believe.  Don’t waste time worrying about something unless you have proof that there is something to worry about.

4. Refrain from Using Absolutes

Have you ever told a partner “You’re ALWAYS late!” or complained to a friend “You NEVER call me!”? Thinking and speaking in absolutes like ‘always’ and ‘never’ makes the situation seem worse than it is, and programs your brain into believing that certain people are incapable of delivering.  Cut yourself, and them, some slack, and try to see the good in a situation.

5. Detach From Negative Thoughts

Your thoughts can’t hold any power over you if you don’t judge them. If you notice yourself having a negative thought, detach from it, witness it, and don’t follow it.  Observe it as you would a bird flying by, and see it for what it is, just a thought, not necessarily reality.

6. Squash the “ANTs”

In his book “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” Dr. Daniel Amen talks about “ANTs” – Automatic Negative Thoughts. These are the bad thoughts that are usually reactionary, like “Those people are laughing, they must be talking about me,” or “The boss wants to see me? It must be bad!” When you notice these thoughts, realize that they are nothing more than ANTs and squash them!

7. Practice Lovin’, Touchin’ & Squeezin’ (Your Friends and Family)

You don’t have to be an expert to know the benefits of a good hug. Positive physical contact with friends, loved ones, and even pets, is an instant pick-me-up. One research study on this subject had a waitress touch some of her customers on the arm as she handed them their checks. She received higher tips from these customers than from the ones she didn’t touch!  We’ve been scared off physical touch recently, but the benefits are well documented, so hug away!

8. Increase Your Social Activity

By increasing social activity, you decrease loneliness. Surround yourself with healthy, happy people, and their positive energy will affect you in a positive way!  Positivity is catching, and so is negativity, so be very careful who you choose to spend time with.  Just being around positive, happy people can life your mood and raise your spirits.

9. Volunteer for an Organization, or Help another Person

Everyone feels good after helping. You can volunteer your time, your money, or your resources. The more positive energy you put out into the world, the more you will receive in return.  Studies have shown real and measurable benefits to helping others.

10. Use Pattern Interrupts to Combat Rumination

If you find yourself ruminating, a great way to stop it is to interrupt the pattern and force yourself to do something completely different. Rumination is like hyper-focus on something negative. It’s never productive, because it’s not rational or solution-oriented, it’s just excessive worry. Try changing your physical environment – go for a walk or sit outside. You could also call a friend, pick up a book, or turn on some music. 

It’s so important to look after yourself before your negative thought patterns become a habit.  Stop and take stock on a regular basis and ask yourself honestly what you need to improve in your life in order to lead a happy, healthy and more productive life.

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