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4 Clever Ways to Beat Back Negative Thoughts

More than 80% of us struggle with self-doubt. Here’s what we can all do about it.

All of us grapple with that little inner voice whispering doubts and fears. I don’t know what I’m doing. What if these numbers are wrong? I’m in over my head… This plan would never work. It’s as if we all have an internal saboteur on our payroll, working tirelessly to chip away at our confidence.

Dr. Judy Ho, a triple board-certified clinical psychologist—and an Optimist instructor who teaches the class, “Stop Self Sabotage and Achieve Lasting Success”—would like to help us all deal with it. Dr. Judy, renowned for her practical and scientifically grounded approaches, teaches us how to turn our inner critic into a supportive ally and offers a few powerful strategies to conquer self-sabotage.

“Thoughts do not always equal the truth,” Dr. Judy says, “Self-sabotage happens when we start prioritizing those thoughts and replacing the truth entirely.” So when we start to feel those self-sabotaging thoughts begin to form, it’s all about shifting our perspective… and there are four different ways we can do it.

1. Put Our Thoughts “On Trial”

A negative thought crosses our minds. We ask ourselves, “Is this thought factual?”

For instance, if we think, “I’m never good at presentations,” we challenge this by looking for evidence. Have there really been no instances where we’ve done well? Adjusting this thought could look like, “Sometimes I feel nervous about presentations, but I have received positive feedback before.”

2. Modify Our Thoughts to Be More Balanced

Once we’ve questioned our thoughts, it’s time to modify them. This involves reshaping them to be more balanced.

For example, take the thought, “I can’t handle this project; it’s too complex.” Instead, we try thinking, “The project is challenging, but I can handle parts of it well and can seek help for the rest.”

This approach acknowledges difficulty without dismissing our capabilities.

3. Take the Sting Out of Our Thoughts by Labeling Them

We can minimize their impact by labeling them as mere mental events.

So, for instance, the thought, “I’m going to fail,” can be transformed by thinking, “I’m having the thought that I might fail.”

This simple tweak helps us see the thought as not an inevitable truth but a fleeting feeling.

4. Inject Positivity Where We Can

If the original thought is, “I don’t have what it takes to succeed,” we begin our morning by listing our strengths and recent successes. Change this to, “I have succeeded before, and I have the specific skills and experiences to help me succeed again.”

In other words, we take our self-doubting thoughts and turn them into an opportunity to empower ourselves. We rewrite the narrative, silencing the inner saboteur and transforming it into an ally that highlights our capabilities and potential. The goal isn’t to never have negative thoughts, but to change how we interact with them.

For more, check out The Optimism Library.

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