Chapter 34: Negative thoughts — I can’t do it

Whether you’re creating a new positive habit, or quitting a bad habit, there are some hidden obstacles that it’s helpful to illuminate with our spotlight of mindfulness: negative thoughts.

When I was forming the running habit, lots of negative self-talk would go through my head: “I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough. I want to quit. It’s not worth it!” I would watch these thoughts, and I would imagine squashing them like bugs. These days, I wouldn’t recommend squashing the thoughts, but it was helpful to be able to visualize them.

I learned to watch these negative thoughts when I was quitting smoking, and the negative self-talk would build up to a roar. If I didn’t notice the thoughts, they’d have tremendous power over me. If I did see them as they happened, I could take action: squash the thoughts or rebut them with pre-prepared counterarguments (“You’ve done it before, so you can do it,” or “You deserve to treat yourself with respect.”)

Staying positive when things get uncomfortable is tough. But I’ve found it to be critical — as in, life or death to a habit change. The right mindset is everything, because if you allow yourself to listen to negative self-talk, you’ll fail.

See the negative self-talk, but don’t believe it. It’s your Childish Mind trying to get out of something difficult.

An overly optimistic mindset isn’t necessarily helpful, because not everything is going to go perfectly. If you say, “This is going to be awesome, and I won’t have any problems!” but then things don’t go well, you’ll stop believing yourself and feel bad about being wrong. Instead, be realistic: just tell yourself that you’re strong, and you can do this. And that is true. Be realistic by telling yourself that things might not go as planned, but those are learning opportunities. In the long run, you’re going to make it, because you’re worth the effort.

You’ll learn with practice that you can still do the habit even when your mind objects. You’ll be fine even in discomfort. You don’t have to believe the negative self-talk — instead of attaching yourself to these negative thoughts, see them as clouds that are passing and will soon be gone.

Mission: Prepare for negative thoughts

If you’re not having negative thoughts about your habit today, you probably have on another day, and you will again. Start to watch for the self-talk, and spend a few minutes today preparing yourself for the negative objections. What will you say when your mind says that things are too hard, that you can’t do it, that you deserve a treat or a break, that you shouldn’t torture yourself or put yourself through this? Have answers written down for every common objection you can think of. And be patient and compassionate with your Childish Mind, which just wants to be comfortable.

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