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Set Yourself Up for Success!

The silver lining each time we accomplish less than we set out to do is knowledge. It's a time to discover strategies that will assist us in improving our ability to reach our goal. An obstacle many encounter when making changes is engaging in negative self-talk. Research shows that negative self-talk doesn’t help us learn. In fact, it shuts down the part of the brain that supports us in learning from our setbacks.

Thankfully, Thomas Edison didn’t take his setbacks personally! It has been reported that Thomas Edison made 1000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. His attitude toward change is what helped him to stay on course and reach his goal. This attitude is epitomized by his response to reporters curious about how it felt to fail a thousand times:

“I didn’t fail a thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with a thousand steps.”

Learning happens more easily when we see goals as science experiments instead of tests that need to be passed, learning to view them as win learn instead of win lose opportunities. It’s normal to feel feelings of disappointment, frustration, and/or guilt at these times. Acknowledge the feelings and allow them to give way to acceptance, kindness toward self and curiosity about how to do things differently next time.

A sure sign that you’re taking the setback personally is when the negative self-talk starts, for example:

“I knew I wouldn’t make it to the gym today. Why can’t I ever do what I say I’m going to do?

No wonder I’m fat! I’ve always been lazy. That’s why I never complete anything I set out to do!”

The way to set yourself up for success is by being curious and kind, for example:

“I wonder why I was too tired this morning to make it to the gym? Why was I so tired? Hmmmm… I only got 6 hours of sleep instead of 7! How can I get into bed by 11pm tonight, so I get enough sleep to make it to the gym tomorrow?”

Negative self-talk will trigger more negative emotions such as: feelings of deep guilt, regret, anger, depression and shame, which will continue to fuel more negative self-talk about yourself and your ability to change. It’s no wonder why taking setbacks personally can eventually shut down ones’ desire to change.

The next time you feel the urge to bad talk yourself, take a deep breath and disarm that part of the brain. Tell it you both want the same thing: to do things differently. Thank it for looking out for your best interests and inform it that you are experimenting with a different strategy for dealing with setbacks today. Take another deep breath and shift your attention back to how to do things differently in the future.

If unable to stop the negative self-talk, postpone thinking about the incident for later when the negative emotions are gone. Now is the time to focus on bringing down the intensity of the negative emotions. This will happen by finding a way to stop thinking about the setback.

One technique for stopping the thoughts is "Changing the Channel" from therapist Debra E. Burdick. Think about 4 different things that support you in feeling relaxed/peaceful/happy/good such as petting your pet, music, sex, sports, exercise, dancing, a warm bath, socializing, things that make you laugh, your hobby, etc.…and figuratively save these channels to your favorites. Practice “changing the channel” in your mind to a more positive one and notice how you feel. Next time you need to stop the thoughts about the setback, take a deep breath and “change the channel”.

Once the negative emotions are gone practice processing the setback with more curiosity and kindness. This is challenging for many when they first start. A helpful technique is imagining you are speaking to your child, best friend, family member, pet or significant other, instead of yourself. Remember behavior change is trial and correction. You were born to make mistakes like Thomas Edison, not fake perfection.

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