Best Life Now

Your Guide to Positive Thinking

Learn the art of self-kindness and feel happier—and more fulfilled—every day.


Put negative stuff in a box
When we're beating ourselves up, a tiny blunder is inflated into an epic typhoon of failure. So the next time a negative thought intrudes, take a few deep breaths and then "quickly narrow it down and put your problems into the smallest box possible," Chansky says. "If you think you screwed up in a meeting, instead of saying, 'I'm an idiot; I ruined my career,' say, 'Man, I used a poor choice of words.' Visualizing that box can really help."

Seeing a tiny box in your mind shows the actual size of the problem and helps you feel more confident that you can take it on.

Try the power of possible thinking
"We feel a lot of pressure to turn it all around and make it positive," Chansky says. "But research has found that when you're down and out and force yourself to say positive things to yourself, you end up feeling worse." That's because our internal lie detector goes off.

She suggests a technique called possible thinking, which involves reaching for neutral thoughts about the situation and naming the facts. "I'm a fat cow" becomes "I'd like to lose 10 pounds. I know how to do it." The facts give you a lot more choices and directions you can go in.

Ask yourself if you're really so guilty
Let's say in a meeting you blurt out that your Spanx are too tight. You think, I've just made the biggest fool of myself. Challenge your version of the story: Did everyone really recoil in horror, or were most of them actually tapping on their BlackBerrys under the table?

"Make the choice to be kind to yourself by questioning your initial thoughts, which is key to slowing down that voice," Johnson says. The more follow-ups you ask yourself, the more you dilute the shameful moment.

Put a better spin on things
A simple semantic tweak can actually change your outlook, Chansky says. Instead of telling yourself, "I'm so disorganized, I'll never get anything done," train yourself to say, "I'm having a thought that I'm not going to get it done." Rather than, "Ugh, I look tired and worn-out," sub in "I'm feeling like I look tired and worn out right now."

It may sound silly, but this little change of wording gives you distance and reminds you that your low self-esteem moment is just that: a moment. It's not the final word of what's going on in your life.

"I always tell people that saying, 'Boy, did I feel stupid,' rather than 'I am so stupid' may seem like a nuance, but there's a significant difference," Young adds, because the former describes how you feel, not who you are.

Ask: what would my best friend say?
A quick way to puncture nasty self-talk is to think of someone you trust and imagine what she would say to you. "Which is probably, 'Oh please, was it really that bad?'" notes Chansky. "Did you really ruin your career in the meeting?" Another rule: If you wouldn't say it to your friend, don't say it to yourself. You would never—at least, we hope you would never—call your friend a "total slob" for dribbling tomato sauce on her blouse.


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By Jancee Dunn
Last Updated: March 16, 2012

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