Want to Be Happier? Argue with Yourself!

Twins shouting at each other

If someone were to say to you: “You are not a good friend,” you would instantly list a number of reasons why that person is wrong. How could they be right if, just this week, you surprised your co-worker with a get-well card, called your mom for her birthday and talked with your best friend for hours after her boyfriend broke up with her? All those reasons are proof positive that you are a thoughtful friend.

And yet when we tell ourselves we are not good at something, we believe it. We rarely argue with our own thoughts. We just listen and nod. The little voice in our heads can sometimes be hurtful, pessimistic, and downright mean, and we just sit back and take it. Believing what it says creates self-doubt and insecurity, which affects everything we do in life. The worst part is that often we are not even aware of our negative beliefs. We are so used to the chatter that we don't even notice. We simply experience the effects including anxiety, anger and depression, and feelings of discouragement and hopelessness, to name a few.

When was the last time you stopped to pay attention to what you really think about yourself and your potential? How often is it negative? Take a listen, it might surprise you!

The next time you become aware of "negative talk" inside your head that doesn't seem fair, try the following steps:

  1. Identify the negative thought. Listen to your inner dialogue and write down what it is saying. It could be a simple one-liner. Some examples are: “I am never going to be in good shape,” “I am so bad at relationships and no one wants to date me,” and “I will never get a new job.”
  2. Give evidence to prove this thought is true. Let's take the first negative thought from above: “I am never going to be in good shape.” Evidence could include: I am trying to get in shape but my workouts don't seem to get any easier. I still find it hard to run a mile on the treadmill. I am sore after lifting weights.  Put all the evidence down on paper.
  3. List the ramifications if this thought is true. If the statement “I am never going to be in good shape” is true, that means I am always going to be out of breath when I get on the treadmill. Climbing stairs at the office will continue to be exhausting for the rest of my life. I can never improve my level of physical fitness no matter how hard I work out at the gym. I am such a loser because I just can't seem to stick to my workout plan or even show up at the gym twice a week.
  4. Argue with yourself. Dispute the thought. Write down a list of reasons why this is not true. For instance, other people who go to the gym regularly do get in better shape. I was once in better shape when I exercised three times a week. Just by going to the gym once a week, I can already feel a difference climbing the stairs at work, even though I still get tired. That means I am making some progress and improving my level of fitness.
  5. Ask yourself if you want to believe that thought anymore. What value does it hold in your life? What do you get out of believing that thought? What could you achieve in life if you didn't believe that thought? “I am never going to be in good shape” does not help motivate anyone to work out. The thought provides no positive value to your life. Choosing not to believe it opens up the possibility that you could actually get in shape.

Arguing with ourselves can be a great tool to help us change the way we see the world. Once we knock down these negative, limiting thoughts, we get out of our own way and start seeing that achieving anything really is possible.


This post originally appeared on the Psychology Today website on April 6, 2010. 

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