Last weekend, I was invited to spend a few days on Fire Island at a friend’s beach house. I haven’t been to the island in over a year, and given the crazy weather and my schedule, I haven’t left the city for an extended period of time in ages. So, I took him up on his gracious offer and spent 3 days with him and his friends.
Saturday turned out to be one of those perfect late spring days a — sunny bright sky, a nice breeze, and hot enough to get some sun and swim in the pool (the ocean was still freezing, as you can imagine). After hanging out with my housemates, I decided to walk around the island to see if any of my friends were out for the weekend.
As it happened, four separate groups of friends were visiting, and I was able to catch up with all of them, which was a fantastic addition to an already wonderful weekend. During one of my walks, I ran into an acquaintance who I had met years before. I stopped and we chatted for a bit on the old wooden boardwalk.
The truth is I had never spent much time with this guy. He’s a decent person, but he had such a negative attitude and worldview that it made hanging out with him an uncomfortable chore. He definitely fell into the “poor me,” “why do all the bad things happen to me,” Eeyore-kind of guy (Any Winnie the Pooh fans?). However, on that day, I was quite surprised to find him engaging, upbeat, and truly happy. We had a nice conversation and after 10 minutes or so I joked about the difference in his demeanor and how thrilling it was to see him in such a happy place. He chuckled and said, “Yeah, I really was a miserable S.O.B.!”
He told me that he had met the love of his life and after constantly self-sabotaging the relationship with his negativity, he realized that if he didn’t change his behavior, this person would most certainly leave him. He hired a life coach who helped him understand how his negative approach to life was stifling it, and after some very intense work, he turned it around and became quite an optimist.
As a life coach, I obviously love this story (and I'm grateful for the fact that he’s been reading my blog!), but it made me think about all of the discontented people who don’t understand that their lives CAN change and that they don’t have remain in a miserable and unhappy situation. Circumstances don’t predict our future, our thinking and acting determine our future.
When we head down the path of negativity, the internal conversations we have with ourselves can become quite toxic. Since we already know our weak points, these self-observations can lead to a dialogue that truly hits below the belt and, at times, can reach a level of nastiness that’s astonishing. The truth of the matter is that people, or at least the vast majority of us (I would hope), would never, EVER talk to another person the way we talk to ourselves. This is negative self-talk — that constant negative mental chatter that occupies our mind and often becomes a habit that we don't even notice.
It’s true that our thoughts do influence our feelings and our emotional state, and not vice versa. A challenge with negative self-talk is that the terrible things we think and say to ourselves can appear to be true. We assume that these thoughts are facts, when in reality, they are only based on our own perceptions. Louise Hay wrote, "...if you don't have the thought, you won't have the feeling. And thoughts can be changed. Change the thought, and the feeling must go."
Although we may not consciously be fooled by this negative chatter, our subconscious mind is listening very intently. The subconscious mind has no sense of humor, it just believes what the conscious mind tells it, and acts upon that information — information that the conscious mind might even know is irrational. If left unchecked — and numerous studies corroborate this — negative self-talk can lead to higher stress levels, anxiety, and depression.
So, what are some signs that you might be a negative self-talker?
- Do you worry about a negative outcome that might happen, even if there’s no real sign that it will?
- Do you often find yourself in a victim mentality, thinking that terrible things always happen to you and you have no control over your circumstances?
- Do you think you can never be good enough — that you’ll never perfect whatever it is that you’d like to achieve?
- Do you criticize your actions and behaviors, constantly putting yourself down?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may just be a negative self-talker!
So, how do you flip the switch and change this behavioral pattern? If we don’t like the results we see in our lives, we need to look at our thoughts and learn to express them in a positive way. Doing so defies the negative aspects of our thinking, and substitutes them with more rational and accommodating thoughts. This is a powerful way to feel better either about ourselves or a situation.
If you are someone who tends to have a negative attitude and outlook, don't expect to become an optimist overnight. But with practice, eventually, your self-talk will contain less self-criticism and more self-acceptance. Here are some tips that you may find useful.
1. Up Until Now
One tip that will help you work towards a more positive view is the phrase, “Up Until Now.” When you are overwhelmed and can only express yourself in a negative way, use that phrase at the end of your sentence. For instance, “I’ve been in a dead-end career, up until now…” It will help keep you in a positive mindset and empower you to continue to move forward.
You may also become less critical of the world around you. When your state of mind is generally optimistic, you're better able to handle everyday stress in a more constructive way. That ability may contribute to the widely accepted health benefits of positive thinking.
2. Possible Thinking
If you are really stuck in a negative behavioral pattern, build to a positive place gradually by practicing “Possible Thinking.” This technique involves expressing yourself with neutral thoughts about your situation and stating the facts. “I’m a lazy fat slob” becomes “I want to lose 15 pounds, and this is how I'm going to do it.” The facts give you more options and can guide you in the right direction.
3. Change the Language
Stop using negative phrases, such as “I can’t,” “It’s impossible,” “I’m not smart enough,” or “I always fail.” Our words are a window into our thoughts and they “program” our mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about “standing guard at the portal of your mind.” Be impeccable about your words and you’ll be surprised by the positive results.
4. Get Proper Perspective
Another technique that is useful is to always put things in proper perspective. Often with negative self-talk, we think that one screw up has ruined everything. Some tiny mistake avalanches to a doomsday scenario. When you’re heading down that road, take a few deep breaths and look at the circumstance from a bird’s eye viewpoint. Nine times out of 10, you’ll see that the scope of the “incident” was inconsequential in the full spectrum of your life.
5. Change Roles
Do a “Would I Say This to Someone I Cared About” role reversal. If you wouldn’t say it to your friend, family member, or even a stranger, why in the world would you say it to yourself?
6. Give Yourself a Break
Perfection doesn’t exist, so why are you striving for it? Any successful person will tell you that their willingness to fail time and time again didn’t hinder their success — just the opposite — that willingness and staying positive about what they were pursuing helped propel them forward to actualize their dream. So relax your standards and understand that failure is just feedback, and stay positive.
Being positive in this day and age can be a challenge — especially given the current U.S. Administration’s foolhardiness and the terrible violent incidents that are occurring around the world. But if you want to “escape hell for good,” that’s the golden ticket. As Bob Proctor said, “Don’t be a victim of negative self-talk. Remember, YOU are listening…”
TIME TO DINE: Cooking for Joan
Since I was on Fire Island this weekend, I thought I’d include a recipe that I made during my visit. However, I realized that I had already included those two dishes — Sausage, Tomato, and Cheddar Breakfast Bake (made with bacon and chicken instead of sausage) and my Caesar Salad. So, instead, I’m offering up a dish that I haven’t had in a while but when I was going through the Cooking for Joan Cookbook, I found the perfect dish to include and to make for myself later this week! These Tilapia Fish Tacos with Slaw are amazing. They’re light, tangy, spicy, and healthy! I generally make a spicy Thai vinaigrette for the slaw but I’ll include that in a Thai recipe in a future post.
Tilapia Fish Tacos with Quick Cabbage Slaw
Prep Time: 1 hr | Cook Time: 5 min | Makes: 4 | Difficulty: Easy
For the slaw:
- 1 small cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
- 1 small carrot, grated
- 2 to 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 to 1 whole jalapeño chile, seeded and minced, optional
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- Honey, sugar or agave nectar to taste
- Salt and pepper
**Instead of making the slaw by hand, I sometimes use the pre-chopped Broccoli Slaw mix and just add extra ingredients
For the fish:
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika or chipotle powder
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds tilapia (you can use snapper, sole, rockfish, or catfish)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil suitable for high-heat cooking (like safflower or grapeseed)
- 12 corn tortillas
- Torn cilantro leaves
- Sliced avocado
- Lime wedges
To prepare the slaw:
Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Massage and squeeze the cabbage with your hands to help it release its liquid and begin wilting.
Transfer the cabbage to a strainer set over a bowl and set aside to drain for about 15 minutes.
Squeeze the cabbage of its excess liquid, one handful at a time, and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the grated carrot, green onions, and jalapeño (if using). Toss to combine.
Whisk together the minced garlic, lime juice, and mayonnaise. Taste and add a sweetener, salt, and pepper to taste. Pour over the cabbage mix and toss to combine.
To prepare the fish:
Combine the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika in a shallow container. Pat the fish dry, then dredge it in the flour mixture.
Heat the oil in a heavy (preferably cast iron) pan over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmery and flows to coat the entire bottom of the pan. Add the fish to the pan
If cooking multiple fillets, arrange them in a single layer with a little space between.
Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side, carefully flipping once with a spatula, until both sides are golden-brown and the fish is opaque and flakes apart easily in the thickest part.
Transfer the fish to a clean plate and flake into large chunks.
Meanwhile, heat the corn tortillas, one by one, in a heavy, dry pan, until soft and warm. Wrap them in a clean cloth as you go. (Alternatively, wrap them in a clean dish towel and warm them in the microwave for a few seconds.)
Serve the fish on a platter with the tortillas, slaw, cilantro, avocado, lime, and salsa on the side, letting each diner assemble his or her own tacos.