Friday, January 3, 2020

Choose Joy

This is a reprint of an article I wrote as a guest author for nosidebar.com, originally published on December 20, 2019.  I think it's worth starting the New Year with this message.


Photo by Andreas Kretschmer on Unsplash


Self-talk is the voice inside your head.  It makes no sound, but it's a constant narrator.  It controls your decisions, your actions, and your attitude toward yourself and your experience of the world.  And for most of us, self-talk is negative.

We may put on a good show, but many of us are mired in negative self-talk.  Have you noticed?  That insistent voice has added to your stress and anxiety for years, maybe even decades.  It has magnified your worries and lessened your happiness.  It turns small problems into big ones, and overlooks or plays down all that is lovely and praiseworthy.  It steals your joy.

Stop it!  Stop giving negative self-talk the upper hand.  We all have the power to choose:  Fear or faith?  Anxiety or peace?  I know what I want.  Don't you want it too?

Is is possible to be happy all of the time?  Probably not.  Is it possible to be miserable all of the time?  Definitely.  A negative mindset can ruin every single day.

The world isn't perfect, and troubles and disappointments will come.  But don't let yourself sink under negative chatter.  Make the positive choice.



5 Practices to Help You Choose Joy Every Day

1.  Be mindful.
In order to stand guard and stop negative self-talk in its tracks, you have to be aware of it.  You may not have the habit of noticing your inner chatter.  Take two minutes each morning or evening to sit quietly, eyes closed, looking inward.  Listen, and don't judge.

You may hear a barrage of criticism:  "I'm not good enough.  I'm not smart enough.  I'm too old.  Too fat.  Too tired.  This is too hard.  Too boring.  My life isn't going anywhere.  I don't want to.  I can't.  He doesn't care about me.  No one really appreciates me.  I have nothing to look forward to."  On and on and on.

2.  Speak the truth.
Don't argue with your inner voice, simply speak the truth.  Say it out loud, if it helps.  "That's not true."  None of it is true.

If a friend spoke those hopeless words about herself to you, your response would be, "That's not true.  None of those things are true."  And you would go on to remind her of her strengths, her talents, her opportunities.  She's not perfect -- no one is -- but she's growing and learning and accomplishing much day by day.

Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend.  Sure, you've had troubles and setbacks, and maybe you're in the middle of dealing with some of them right now, but you're dealing with them.  You have so much to offer, and your negative voice is a liar.

3.  Resist excuses.
Sometimes (and I write this kindly, because I've done it too), it's easier to let the negative voice be in charge.  It's easier to say, "Well, it hasn't worked before, so I can't do anything to change."  Resist that.  Push back against inertia.  Change is hard, but the reward is great.  You are capable of creating a worthwhile, contented life for yourself, regardless of your circumstances.

4.  Journal your gratitude.
The practice of gratitude changes you.  When you focus on what you're grateful for, you essentially crowd out your more negative thoughts.  And since the brain constantly looks for things that prove what you already believe (it's called confirmation bias), by regularly scanning your life for what's good, your mind will start finding even more good things for you to appreciate.

Most of us have a lot to be happy about, even if we don't think so.  And if we spend more time focusing on those good things -- cultivating gratitude -- we will feel happier.  Gratefulness leads to happiness.  It's an essential part of a quality life.

We need to break the habit of negativity.  That defeated, pessimistic attitude has gotten easier with practice.  So we need to make a conscious effort to develop a habit of gratitude.

This is where a journal can be so beneficial.  Actually writing down what you're thankful for forces you to slow down, be more mindful, and really pay attention to the goodness in your life.

Buy a notebook, and establish a two minute morning or evening routine.

5.  Listen to Mr. Rogers.
Take a minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today.  Fred Rogers said:

Anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work has had at least one person, and often many, who have believed in him or her.  We just don't get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.... 
Wherever they are, if they've loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they're right inside yourself.  And I feel that you deserve quiet time... to devote some thought to them.  So, let's just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way.  One silent minute. 

I dare you to do this and not end up feeling blessed, guided, and nurtured.  There may be tears.  People will come to your remembrance, some you have not thought of for a long time.

Mr. Rogers also said that "the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving."

So I'm going to say it:  You deserve joy, and what is good in the deepest part of you is so valuable.  Don't let it be smothered by a negative inner voice.




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