Change Your Mindset
Many of us likely heard this phrase growing up: "It's what's on the inside that counts," and as we navigate through life this mantra only becomes truer. Yes, how we present ourselves externally (whether at work, on a date or with friends) is important, but our mindset and emotions affect our decisions and habits in subtle but important ways everyday.
September is "Self-Improvement Month" so now is an ideal time to evaluate our mental bad habits and understand how to combat them for overall betterment. The following five behaviors can have negative effects on your health, mind and spirit. Here's how to overcome them ASAP.
Putting yourself down directly (as in, "I look fat") or under-prioritizing your needs (thinking, "I don't need to take any time out for me — I am not that important," for example) is the most destructive negative mental habit people have, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula. "We live our identity," she explains. "Those automatic self-statements are as reflexive as blinking our eyes and can lead to a hundred subtle little things like eye contact, body language and too much self-deprecation. They result in us not being our best selves."
This habit is hard to break, Durvasula says, because negative self-talk evolves into an automatic impulse for many. Women in particular get into the habit of downplaying our accomplishments to others (and ourselves), becoming overly self-effacing.
How to Overcome: To train yourself to stop Dr. Durvasula suggests enlisting a friend or two to keep you — and one another — accountable. "We do it all the time and are rarely corrected," she says. "'[You] need someone who catches you in it — a sort of negative self-talk monitor. When she hears you say it, she can stop you and say, 'What's with the fat talk? Let's try that again.' Groups of people that hang out together can train each other to stop from engaging in this habit."
Practicing negative self-talk can eventually lead to believing it, if you don't already. Durvasula says. "You can believe that you are not good enough, not deserving, a lesser candidate, or 'just' you," she says. "And that can translate into behaviors, words and actions that make your negative self-talk a self-fulfilling prophecy."
When you lack self-confidence, you end up doubting your potential and your abilities. This may stop you from applying for a job, asking for a (deserved) raise or taking on more responsibility at work.
How to Overcome: Try to turn your doubts into opportunities for teachable moments, advises psychotherapist Dr. Tina B. Tessina, author of “The 10 Smartest Decisions Women Can Make After Forty.” "Insecurity and feelings of incompetence are definitely stressful, but they may also be useful," she explains. "Find out if you really are unprepared for the task ahead. Don't be afraid to ask questions or ask for help." Accomplishing tasks that feel daunting will eventually boost your confidence.
Comparing Yourself to Others
Whether you covet your co-worker's sense of style or wish your husband was as attentive as your sister's, when you start playing the comparison game, you will never win. "To compare is to despair," says marriage and family therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer. "Whenever we judge other people we submerge ourselves in a toxic pool of false assumptions and negativity."
How to Overcome: Remember that what you see from the outside is likely never the full picture into someone else's life. That sartorially savvy colleague may have thousands of dollars of credit card debt behind that killer wardrobe, for example.
And consider that weighing your attributes or life against other people's can go the other way too and become a habit in making negative judgments says marriage and family psychotherapist Sharon Gilchrist O'Neill, author of “A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage.” "Habitually judging other people often gives an individual an inappropriate sense of self -- that they are better than everyone else," she says. (If you truly are "better" than the person you're judging, then there is no need to put others down, right?)
Rather than making snap assumptions — which only actually make you look insecure, by the way — O'Neill suggests "trying out the alternate behavior of waiting to get to know someone longer and allowing for a more sensible period of time before making realistic judgments."
Decision-Making Out of Fear
"Fear is hard-wired into our central nervous system and in many ways serves us well," says Hokemeyer. "Fear keeps us out of harm's way; it prevents us from taking impulsive and destructive actions." However, he says that fear can also paralyze us into playing it too safe — to the point that we might miss out on opportunities to accomplish our dreams (or even our short-term goals).
"Most people have been trained by their families to avoid taking chances," he says. "The net result of this is that we are told by the people whose love and approval we desperately crave to stay within comfortable boundaries, while breathing in commercial-driven messages that tell us we are not enough. This dissonance paralyzes us."
How to Overcome: To reframe your decision-making process, zero in on what's keeping you from taking a leap in life, whether career-wise or personally. Creating pro-con lists or writing down potential outcomes of your decisions will put your fears on paper, allowing you to determine when it might be worth taking a risk or moving out of your comfort zone for the sake of a great opportunity.
Nowadays, with social media and various telecommunication technologies, it seems like we are more connected to other people than ever. However, a 2013 study from the University of Michigan shows that "social" activities like checking Facebook actually make us feel lonelier and disconnected.
How to Overcome: "Be wary of spending too much time on your computer, in chat rooms and so on," says Tessina, explaining that it's imperative to step away from your devices and get some face time with real people. "Make sure you schedule some time with a friend at least once a week. If you don't have friends, then use that weekly time to take a class or join a group — for example, a book club or sports group — which will give you a chance to make new friends," she suggests.