October 1, 2015

Everyone has a mantra or phrase that they tell themselves when life gets tough.

“Keep your chin up!” “You can do it!” “Take it one step at a time.”

There are also those little thought bubbles that aren’t quite as inspirational.

“Come on, get it right!” “Don’t be such a loser!” “Don’t mess up!”

Most of the time we recognize the difference between positive and negative self-talk. And most of us try to stay on the more positive side.

But sometimes it isn’t so easy to tell the two apart!

Some phrases can be really helpful in certain situations, but really self-sabotaging in others.

Here are 5 of these phrases that can masquerade as picker-uppers when they’re secretly pulling you down, and what you can do to turn it around:

1. “Just do your best.”

When it’s helpful…

This one is a phrase we hear all the time. And sometimes it’s exactly what we need to hear!

As human beings we collectively suffer from placing too much pressure on ourselves. To succeed, to win, to improve. But sometimes it’s good to know that all we have to do is just what we’re able to do. And nothing more.

Take, for example, an athlete:

They’ve been training for months and it’s finally time for the big game. They’re stressed, nervous, and dreading the possibility of failure. But they tell themselves, “just do your best.” They’ve worked hard and now they just need to relax and play the game.

In this case, it relieves the pressure when you aren’t expected to give more than you’re able.

When it’s not…

But then there are those times when this tiny little phrase does the exact opposite of what it was intended to do.

This is particularly common in overachievers.

The problem is, these people are very aware that their best is REALLY DARN GOOD.

In fact, they may not know what their best work is, because chances are they think they could always do better.

This quickly leads to an endless cycle of perceived failure. Sure you did well…but was it your BEST?? Can you hear the stress growing?

Try instead…

“Do your best for THIS MOMENT.”

The fact is, everyone is a different version of themselves every single day. Some days, the best you have to give is nowhere near what it could be on an ideal day with perfect conditions.

But that doesn’t mean you’re a failure! It doesn’t matter if you COULD have done better or you HAVE done better on another day.

Give what you have to give for each moment. And assess what you are able to do on another day, on another day.

2. “If ________ can do it, so can I!”

When it’s helpful…

The underdog accomplishes a victory that no one saw coming. An individual overcomes unbelievable adversity to do the impossible.

And we get inspired because we’ve all felt like the underdog as some point on our journey.

“Wow, if Martin Luther King Jr. can stand up against intense prejudice and discrimination, then I can do the right thing too, even if it’s hard.”

When we can use that inspiration to fuel our passion and put our own problems into perspective, this phrase can be very powerful.

When it’s not…

As great as that inspiration can be, sometimes it only shows part of the story. And it can turn into unhealthy competition and comparisons.

“If Elaine can run a mile in 6 minutes, then so can I!” Well, no, no you can’t. Elaine is 5’10 and has been training as a runner since she was six.

You are 5’1 with asthma.

This is obviously an extreme example, but the truth is, we compare ourselves with others all the time.

Does that mean you will never run a 6 minute mile? Of course not. But you can’t run a 6 minute mile just because Elaine can.

Every person is different and we don’t always know about the experiences they’ve had or the events that led to their accomplishments.

You are the best and only you, but you will always be a second rate someone else.

Try instead…

“What an inspiring person. Their success gives me conviction to overcome my own obstacles.”

Love your heroes! Aspire to have the courage of Martin Luther King Jr, the tenacity of Amelia Earhart, the wit of Mark Twain. Let their journeys inspire you.

But don’t try to take their journey. Take your own.

If YOU can do it, then do it! Only you can measure your own success; so be honest, be determined, just be you.

3. “Let it go.”

When it’s helpful…

(There is a reason the song is so popular…)

We carry so much with us on a day-to-day basis… We juggle jobs, family, school, bills, friends, and anything we might want to do for ourselves.

And with that balancing act comes pressure.

Now, a little bit of pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We don’t want to drop the ball on something that’s actually important to us. But too much pressure is just that: too much.

We can start taking on more than our share of worries. We stress about small, inconsequential things. We hold onto grudges.

And sometimes, we need to let it go. We need to give our selves permission to reassess our priorities and drop any dead weight that isn’t serving our lives.

When it’s not…

Notice how I said “reassess our priorities?”

Some of us miss that step in the “letting it go” process. And it’s totally understandable!

It can be so frustrating when we realize that unimportant stresses are making our day more difficult than it needs to be.

It’s tempting just to drop the weight and avoid dealing with any of it.

But that can lead to other problems!

When we neglect to look at the deeper reasons of why we’re holding onto these stresses and negativity, they tend to resurface even worse than before.

If you keep getting into a fight with your significant other over who is supposed to do the dishes, sure, you could just let it go… After all, it’s just dishes.

Or is it? Maybe you don’t feel like your needs are being considered or valued. Maybe you feel taken advantage of.

These are feelings that shouldn’t be merely “let go” but carefully considered and worked through.

Try instead…

“What is the root of my stress/worry/negativity?”

More often than not, people don’t get upset for no reason.

It may seem illogical in the moment, but there’s usually a stimulus to our emotions. And those emotions deserve your care and attention.

You wake up feeling unrested, you’re having a bad hair day, you spill coffee on your shirt, you miss the exit on the freeway, and you get to work 15 minutes late. And then your co-worker accidentally bumps into you in the hallway and you snap!

This kind of situation has happened to all of us. But are you really mad at the co-worker?

Of course not! At least not to that degree. You’re completely stressed out from the morning and you’re feeling depleted and upset, and your coworker was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

By asking why you’re really feeling the way you are, you realize just how depleted you feel.

So meditate at your desk for 10 minutes. Take a small breather in the bathroom. Go get a piece of chocolate.

Do something for yourself to recharge and then you can let it go.

4. “I’m being realistic.”

When it’s helpful…

Sometimes it’s easy to get our hopes up. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Being realistic does have its place.

If you know that there’s a lot of traffic at 5:30, it’s ridiculous to think that you can get anywhere in a fraction of the time it would take you without traffic.

Be realistic. Book in more time and save yourself the stress.

When it’s not…

But being realistic can quickly turn into a dream-killer.

It’s one thing to be aware of how surrounding circumstances will affect your life. It’s another thing to give up on something you feel passionate about because it might not work out.

If you’ve always dreamed of being an artist, realistically you probably won’t be very successful. Few artists are. And even the ones who do find success often have a difficult road to travel.

So does that mean that you should give up?

No way! Become an artist! Just maybe have a decent day job too, so you can pay your bills. If you feel drawn to a path, follow it. Who knows, maybe you will be successful!

Realistically, Thomas Edison should have quit after the first 20 attempts at the light bulb. Boy, aren’t we glad he didn’t!

Try instead…

“I’m being honest with myself.”

Maybe your dream of being an artist is still alive and well. But maybe the hardships of pursuing that as a career aren’t worth it to you. Maybe you want other things in life more.

That’s perfectly ok! It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you’re values are and what really matters to you.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up your dreams.

But now that you know where being an artist falls on your list of priorities, you can give it the right level of importance.

Perhaps it’s just your favorite hobby. Or you might enjoy making some extra money at art fairs. But it might not be as important as starting a family or having financial security.

Being honest with yourself will give you the clarity you need to create a sense of balance and harmony in your life. And that is realistically the best of all possible worlds.

5. “I should…”

When it’s helpful…

Should you pay your bills on time? Yes, you should. Should you get an oil change when the little lamp light comes on? Yes, you should. Should you call your mother who you adore after not talking to her for a month? Yes, you should really do that.

No one likes paying bills. But if you don’t pay them on time, your money goes to the subsequent late fees instead of the things you really want.

Do you REALLY need to get an oil change as often as is recommended? Maybe not. But you certainly don’t want to get stuck with an angry car that isn’t working properly because you didn’t take care of it.

And I’m sure your poor mother would love to hear about your new job or that crazy experience you had the other day. In fact, it would probably make her millennium.

We do the “should’s” so that we can have the want’s and need’s when we want and need them.

When it’s not…

But sometimes a “should” is linked to neither a want nor a need.

Say you joined a book club that used to be super fun and enjoyable. You liked the books and the people were great.

But now you just aren’t getting the same level of enjoyment that you once did. Yet you still go. Why? “I dunno, I just should.”

When you can’t answer why, or your answer seem hollow and baseless, then why do it?

Granted sometimes the situation isn’t that trivial. Sometimes we find “should” all over something that feels like it could be really important.

“I should save my money instead of buying that dress I really want.” “I should watch that documentary that so and so gave me 2 years ago.” And maybe some of it is actually important to do. But try stopping and figuring out why first.

Try instead…

“Is this something I actually want or need to do?”

Initially, you might not buy the dress because you’ve heard how important saving money is your whole life.

So ask yourself, “do I really want this? Will I really love this dress or will I feel better having this money later on?”

If you really love the dress and there won’t be serious repercussions from the purchase, then go for it!

So and so may have had great intentions when they lent you a documentary about ants, but if you’re not that into ants, that’s really ok.

Treat every “should” as an opportunity to understand yourself and your own moral compass.

The more you ask the tough questions instead of assuming you’re obligated to do everything, the easier it will be to make every day choices that serve you.

Get On Your Own Team

Life can be challenging and sometimes it’s hard to realize that we might be the challenge. But analyzing how your internal dialogue is affecting you can have a monumental impact on the choices you make. Be your own “best teammate,” and tell yourself exactly what you need to hear to be the greatest possible you!

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