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Information Emotions Give Us

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Imagine not being able to experience the joy of holding your baby, or that feeling of confidence over a job well done, or the excitement you feel cheering your favorite sports team. Life would be dull and robotic if it weren’t for those wonderful moments of joy and excitement and contentment.

Every day we experience emotions enabling us to enjoy life.

Emotions help us respond appropriately. They warn us of danger as well as bringing us incredible joy. There is a large body of research, such as RET (Rational Emotive Theory) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Theory) that help us understand how emotions and thinking affect our life.

The research indicates it’s not situations themselves that create our responses so much as it is our interpretations of what is happening.

Interpretations >> Core beliefs >> Habits >> Rules & Expectations

Throughout life, starting in childhood, we are ascribing meaning to life. These interpretations become the core beliefs that we live by.

They become habits used in thinking and making judgments about everything.

From those early interpretations we establish rules, expectations, assumptions, and attitudes that we live by and insist others live by as well.

Unless examined and assessed, these beliefs can become rigid and uncompromising, global in scope and over-generalized.

In the example below, I have combined the stories of many people into the person of Suzie. Suzie illustrates how early core beliefs about her ability to do anything well enough keeps her from recognizing her qualifications, abilities, and successes.

Susie was taunted at school because she was bright and was more interested in learning than following the crowd. She had few friends, was overweight and the other girls called her geek, fatty and ugly.

She longed to have pretty clothes, but her family was poor. Her dad drank and her mom didn’t give her encouragement.

As she grew up, she worked harder and harder, but believed that she was stupid and worthless. When things went wrong, the labels leveled at her as a kid rang in her ears as confirmation.

Her core beliefs became global – she believed she had no worth or value – and those beliefs applied to everything she did. Even when she tried to believe otherwise, old thoughts reminded her that she would never be any different no matter how hard she tried.

Deep down she believed the labels were true. Only when she went into counseling did she understand that those core beliefs were biased and false.

Automatic thoughts occur quickly, usually without our awareness. In the blink of an eye, circumstances trigger a habitual response and emotional reaction. When our reactions are based on faulty beliefs and perceptions from the past, the outcomes, while predictable, will not always serve us.

Think back to a time when you were in a new situation, given a promotion, got your dream job, or held a management position.

  • How did you feel overall? Did you feel confident or apprehensive?
  • What were your thoughts about your capabilities?
  • Were feelings of insecurity replaced with confidence over time or did you continue to struggle to feel good about your abilities?
  • When things went wrong, did you immediately blame yourself?
  • When things went well, did you congratulate yourself or give the credit to others?

Identify, Challenge and Replace


The following exercise will help you identify patterns of emotional thinking and responses that might be working against you.

To challenge the logic and reliability of your automatic thoughts, you must first recognize them.

Emotions based on biased or inaccurate thinking often include excessive feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness.

While we are aware of the emotions, the thoughts associated with them often remain obscured until we deliberately look for them. To alter our emotional responses, we must recognize and challenge the thoughts and beliefs connected to them.

To identify your patterns, make three columns on a piece of paper or on an electronic device with these headings:

Situation (Who, what, when, where)

Emotions (What you felt)

Automatic Thoughts (What thoughts or beliefs went through your mind)

For one week, record events that trigger repetitive, habitual, or upsetting emotions.

On your tracking sheet, “Situations” refer to whatever circumstances you find yourself in that trigger a stressful emotion. Jot down what is happening: who, what, when and where.

In the next column, “Emotions,” note all the feelings you had, how strong or intense they were, and how they affected you physically as well as emotionally.

Under “Automatic Thoughts,” record what you were thinking when feeling these emotions. It may have been a stream of thoughts, beliefs, or recollections… even images.

Here are some typical automatic thoughts you might experience:

  • There I go again.
  • I always say something stupid.
  • Won’t I ever learn.
  • Nothing I do is ever good enough

After recording all the information for a week, go back and evaluate your thoughts.

  • What thoughts did you have that you were unaware of at first?
  • How accurate or rational were your thoughts in relation to what was happening in the moment?
  • What messages from the past might be generating these thoughts or beliefs?

You will begin to see an emerging pattern. You can then challenge the validity and accuracy of those thoughts as they correspond to the situation and replace them with more rational and realistic thinking.

Remember, emotions are neither good nor bad.

They give us valuable and important information so we can respond appropriately to situations.

That first instantaneous reaction might not be helpful. Understanding that those initial reactionary reactions can be altered puts you in charge.

You are responsible for all your responses and have a great deal of influence over what you feel and think.

Next week, I will take you through the steps to challenge automatic thoughts.

Empower Your Life with Resolve

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After surgery to fuse my lower back, I was required to wear a brace for three months. During that time, I walked every day, up to two miles a day to help heal and strengthen my back.

We understand that it takes time to recover from broken bones or surgeries, and that the healing process requires physical therapy.

It takes time to recover from emotional and spiritual wounds, as well.

Making that transition to a new life is never straightforward – there will be ups and downs and sometimes detours.

I love to tell the true story of two individuals in the prime of their life who were injured in separate accidents, met in physical therapy, and got married. Both were paraplegics with no feeling from the chest down. They wanted to prove to themselves that their handicaps would not keep them from living a full life. So, they had a boat built for them and set out to meet a challenge few of us with whole bodies would do – sail across the Atlantic Ocean – by themselves.

Accidents happen. Tragedy strikes.

There might be times when we feel that everything has been taken away from us that we thought we couldn’t live without. And we are left wondering what hit us.

The world changes; and so does our life. It will never be the same. Those that survive catastrophic life events or just personal crises will be faced with making life-changing decisions they never wanted to make. Sometimes there isn’t even time to grieve their loss.

At such times, what we say to ourselves is critical. Like the two paraplegics who told themselves, “Yes, we can,” and proceeded to make it happen.

We will encounter obstacles that seem to make it impossible to reach our goals. Sometimes, we abandon our goals because the obstacles seem too daunting and overwhelming. We might feel intimidated or unwilling to alter our goals to match new realities.

What is important is remembering that it isn’t what happens in life that makes us successful – it is what we do with it.

Success is the journey of taking what life hands us and making something positive out of it.

I believe that deep within us lies the resources we need to meet any crisis, adversity, or unwanted change. These resources are often buried beneath doubts and old destructive messages. We just need to uncover those resources and alter our thinking to accommodate what is happening in our world.

Remember the first time you said to yourself, if so and so can do it, then so can I? When I was going through my adversities, after the initial slam of harsh reality, I reminded myself that people had endured far greater challenges than I and had weathered the storms of life. If others could, then so could I.

No matter how strong our determination and resolve, however, we can’t do it alone. We need the support and love of others. And even more important, we need to know that we have a God who will give us strength and courage.

We are not alone. God is with us.

It is where we find the faith and grace and hope needed to take that next step.

Determining how you will respond to life may be the biggest and most important lifestyle change you ever make.

Do a quick inventory of how you have handled difficulties in the past.

  • What did you do?
  • How did you feel?
  • What would you do differently?
  • What would you do again?

We are never sure what we will do when faced with a crisis. But if we have learned how to stop and think vs. just reacting, we will be prepared to handle most any unexpected calamity.

Endings can be scary.

To walk a new path requires expanding your horizon and trying new things.

  • Are there things in your past that keep you stuck?
  • What fears keep interfering?
  • What old beliefs, lifestyles, life scripts, assumptions, expectations, etc. are keeping you from exploring new options?

Give yourself permission to explore more of who you are.

Life Is a Dance of Letting Go and Taking Control

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Life is a dance – a process – that requires flexibility while we learn how to change position and location and still maintain our balance.

Life is movement – we are going somewhere.

Life is never static – never the same but constantly changing and evolving. We can learn the music of life; we can adjust our movements and take charge of change and our responses to it or simply be swept along with no direction or purpose.

Every day we have the opportunity to start fresh, to let go of what isn’t working, and to focus on new possibilities. Every day we have the opportunity to reach out to God and to others. Every day we can begin anew with grace, forgiveness, and love.

Years ago, I was part of a team that developed a class for people in chronic illness and pain. The following was one of the handouts I developed. I share it with you now as it speaks to life in general.

Letting Go – Taking Control

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”
Victor Frankl

To experience freedom and create meaning in our lives, we must let go of the past while taking control of the present and future.

Letting go means:

  • Removing my masks – becoming honest with myself and others
  • I can laugh – I can cry – I can feel my pain – and it’s okay
  • Transcending my fears: facing death, disability, hardships, disappointments
  • Grieving my losses
  • Asking for and receiving help
  • Accepting things I cannot change

Taking control means:

  • Discovering the real, genuine, authentic me
  • Spending time with myself
  • Focusing on what I can do – not what I can’t do
  • Choosing hope over despair – the positive versus the negative
  • Soaring like an eagle
  • Believing I have choices and that I am making those choices every day
  • Enjoying each step forward – there is no step too small or too large
  • Looking for and finding opportunities within every situation

dancerProblems, disappointment, life situations CANNOT keep me from:

  • Exploring new options
  • Setting new priorities and goals
  • Living life to the fullest
  • Developing a better quality of life

Problems, tragedies, and losses CAN help me:

  • Discover great, hidden strengths and determination
  • Create new and exciting meaning for my life
  • Transform “who I was” to “who I am becoming”
  • Develop awareness and appreciation for myself and my world

Building a Bridge

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A bridge takes you from one side of a divide to another.

When you are transitioning from a loss, you need to build a bridge from your ending to a new beginning.

Making a transition from unwanted endings is never easy. In fact, it can be very painful at times.

After the death of my husband at a time when our professional careers were diminishing, my loss created enormous changes in my life. Yet, as difficult and unwelcome as this loss was, I made some important discoveries about myself that resulted in new meaning and enjoyment for life again.

You might think the time spent here can only be repetitive and unproductive. You just want to move on. But the work done during this time can be invaluable. It can keep you from repeating the same mistakes or continuing to apply outdated and outlived information to your life. This is a time when new options pop up that you would never have thought of or considered before.

Making a transition is never a linear path.

It goes back and forth from what was to what is today and continues the process of acceptance and letting go and rebuilding.

Change is as important to our health ­– mental, spiritual and physical – as the air we breathe. Yet I am constantly amazed at the deep resistance we have to change.

We can’t go back and glue the pieces of our life together again. But we can pick up the pieces we need and find a new way to connect them.

At a workshop I gave a number of years ago, “Turn Your Gravel Pit into a Beautiful Garden,” I described how we can take the ugliness of our lives and turn it into something beautiful and positive. I used the example of the Butchart Gardens in Canada.

Turn Your Gravel Pit into A Beautiful Garden | focuswithmarlene.com

Those of you who have visited the site will remember the awe of that incredible garden that was once a huge gravel pit. You would never have thought it possible until you viewed the before and after pictures posted by their gift shop. It took an idea, turned into a vision and then a plan to make it happen.

No matter how bad the past, no matter what was destroyed, in the rubble that remains are the materials to create something beautiful and new. You are the architect and designer.

The same is true when we have suffered a great loss.

What we see in the moment is our whole life turned into rubble. But out of the remains comes a new beginning if we are willing to make it happen.

As you reflect on the ending you are completing and building that bridge to a new beginning, tell yourself that you are making some wonderful discoveries about yourself while exploring possibilities and potential for your future.

While experiencing distress you will feel anxious and sometimes angry. But you do not have to stay in that emotional space. You can choose to respond differently. You can use your emotions to work for important change.

However, if you think you MUST change something in order to feel better, you can get caught up in an emotional cycle of hurt, frustration, anger and resentment.

It is liberating to know that you have the ability to change how you think and respond to all of life’s circumstances.

Yes, you will get angry.

Yes, you will get disappointed.

Yes, you will at times want revenge.

But remaining in any of the states is not beneficial. Choose instead responses that move you forward.

  • Choice gives us freedom and responsibility
  • Choice gives us options
  • Choice requires awareness, acknowledgement, and acceptance
  • We choose our attitudes and the way we want to respond to life
  • We choose our behaviors – how we treat other people – we do not have to treat others like they treat us
  • We choose how we want to believe about ourselves and our world.

5 bridge-building questions

Hilly old bridge

Here are some questions you can ask to help you build that bridge. As you review and reflect, you’ll gain a better understanding of yourself, your abilities and possibilities.

  1. What part of the past is keeping you stuck, preventing you from moving forward?
  2. What fears are keeping you from crossing the bridge to a new life?
  3. What old beliefs, lifestyles, life scripts, assumptions, expectations, etc. are prohibiting you from exploring new options? (Life scripts tell us what we should do, have to do or must do.)
  4. Who do you want to become? Give yourself permission to explore.
  5. What new vistas and opportunities can you envision? Start making a list and expand it every day.

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comIf you want more information about healing and moving forward from loss, you can find step-by-step ways to make that journey in my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, available on Amazon.

Also, review my blog posts on that topic.

6 Tips for Making Successful Transitions

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“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.”

— T.S. Eliot

We leave something of ourselves behind in our endings as we reach forward to a new beginning.

When endings are not adequately completed, it will be difficult to make a successful new beginning. We no longer feel pleasure or satisfaction in the things we used to do, and we get discouraged and disheartened with this uncertainty. We wonder, Can I have a meaningful life again?

Years ago, I attended a weekend college class led by guest lecturer, William Bridges, who wrote the book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. In his book, he addressed the everyday transitions we make but seldom think about: getting married, becoming a parent, retirement, etc.

Each transition requires leaving behind who you were in order to embrace a new identity.

When leaving one world to move towards another, we go through a transitional period.

As humans we want to move immediately from an ending to a new beginning. We don’t want to feel the anxiety or uncertainty of an unknown future. We are uncomfortable not knowing where we are going. We want to be doing something – anything. So, we quickly bundle up our “baggage” into our backpacks and head out the door to find what we had before.

Bridges defined three stages involved in making a successful transition: an ending, a neutral zone, and finally, a new beginning.

The task of endings is to clarify and express our feelings as we grieve our loss. Mental and emotional energy is focused on healing. We may be required to make necessary decisions for the moment while at the same time struggling to come to terms with our loss and saying goodbye to what we had.

During the next stage, the neutral zone, we do work that will lead to a more successful new beginning. It is a time for reflection and evaluation, spending time alone with ourselves and God.

  • Who was I before?
  • Who am I today?
  • Who do I want to become?

This can be a very unsettling time as we face the question of what we want to do with the rest of our life.

As we enter the neutral zone, we leave our old identity behind. It is a time to challenge old assumptions and outgrown expectations. As we stop and examine our beliefs, our journey becomes a spiritual one as well as a psychological one. We become aware of our strengths and weaknesses as never before. In the neutral zone we are able to develop new insight and perspective.

During this period of uncertainty, everything may seem unproductive because we feel we are not going anywhere. While it may seem like we are wasting time to stop and reflect, it is an opportunity to gain a better understanding of who we are.

It becomes a bridge between the old and the new, helping us make more careful and measured plans for our future.

bridge over stream

Throughout our lifetime, we will make many transitions from one stage of life to another. Someone has said it takes about 18 months to 4 years to complete a major life transition.

In today’s world of instant responses, we want answers immediately. But just like grieving, it is not a journey we can race through. There will be immediate decisions we will be required to make but we need to take time to do this transitional reflective work.

6 ways to use reflection during the transition time period

  1. Spend some quiet time recalling the dreams you had in the past. Is there anything you want to revisit? What obstacles need to be cleared away in order to construct a new path forward.
  2. Where are you in your grieving? Endings involve acceptance and letting go. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that takes time and goes up and down. But when grief no longer takes center stage, we can begin to focus on making a meaningful transition.
  3. Write yourself a letter. Dear (insert your own name). What obstacles are keeping you tied to the past or keeping you from doing what you want to do in the present? What past and unfinished business is keeping you locked in the past?
  4. If you are struggling with ongoing pain because of guilt, anger, or bitterness, take some time to just sit with it for a while. Don’t try to alter or change how you feel. Simply sit with your pain and tell it you are listening. Write down the valuable insights you receive.
  5. What valuable information are you learning about yourself? You are more than your past.
  6. In “How to Replace Critical Self-Talk with Affirmations,” you learned the value of repeating affirmations every day. As we continue to repeat statements that affirm our worth and ability, we are drawn to looking for the ways to make things happen.

Remember: Any journey has a beginning that began with an ending. It is an opportunity to not only reflect but develop new tools of living that will take you farther than you had imagined.

Developing Your Personal Plan of Action

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This month, we have reflected on and became aware of our habits, both habits of thinking and habits of behaviors.

Go back and review the answers you gave to the questions asked in each of the four previous blog posts:

Which habits grabbed your attention?

Which current habits are helpful, and which are not?

Look at your list of potential habit changes and prioritize them. Which one would benefit you the most?

Any habit change requires starting small.

You may have two or three habits you want to start working on. Choose one. If you work on more than one at a time, you can quickly find yourself struggling to be consistent.

Begin by establishing an easy-to-follow daily routine.

What habits do you currently have that make it easy to maintain that routine?

Now choose a habit you want to replace or start and find a slot in that routine where you will most likely follow through.

Set up your environment and a cue to get your attention. For example, you want to walk or run every day. Take your shoes out of the closet and put them somewhere where you see them. Your cue will be the time you have designated. The shoes are in the environment waiting to be put on.

As you plan, remind yourself of the rewards you will receive. Many of them will be long-term rewards, such as better health. But you will begin to experience more immediate rewards too. You will feel better and more positive and energetic.

I bundle easy-to-do tasks together with other things.

For example, while fixing my breakfast, I do other necessary routine tasks in the kitchen. Sometimes, while preparing a meal, I do simple exercises such as stretching, knee bends, etc. In bundling them together, they get done without a lot of special consideration or extra time.

When planning your routine, don’t forget to include time-outs and relaxation and recreation times. I have a morning ritual that allows me to have my cup of morning coffee before I go to work in my office.

Don’t underrate the importance of your environment.

Design it for success. Certain behaviors will repeat themselves in certain environmental conditions.

What we see, we reach for.

Visual cues are the greatest catalyst of our behavior. A small change in what we see can lead to a big shift in what we do. If you are constantly distracted by your phone, put it away and designate a time to review calls.

If the environment of your home or office is always messy and chaotic, take time to organize and find a place for things. Enjoy how nice it looks and the ease of finding what you want.

Setting up such an environment can be the motivation to put things away at the end of each day before it becomes a mess. That can soon become a habit.

When you begin to make the habit changes that free you from procrastination or wasted time, you will find yourself becoming energized and motivated.


Habits happen with repetition. At some point they become instinctive. But in the beginning, it is important to be consistent.

As you move further towards a new productive and exciting life, consider the following.

  1. Make a list of the expectations or prospects you had for your life when you left home. How many of them came to pass? What factors kept them from happening? What new habits will help you reestablish your earlier goals or make even greater ones?
  2. What expectations do you have for your future? What will you do to help bring that about? How will those expectations require adjustment when you hit roadblocks?
  3. Create a vision of yourself moving forward. Close your eyes and see yourself doing the things you want to do. Keep that image in the forefront every day.
  4. Believe that you can make it. Go back and listen to the podcast episode on your inner critic. Challenge it every day. Put in place critical thinking.
  5. Review your achievements every day. Congratulate yourself for every little step you make. Don’t minimize any of them. It takes courage and determination to put new productive habits in place.

The following are books you might like to read that speak to habit changes and the enormous difference it can have in your life.

How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where you Want to Be, by Katy Milkman and Angela Duckworth

Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

    Atomic Habits    The Power of Habit

4 Ways Habits Are Created

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Change is ongoing throughout life. We will experience many ups and downs, bumps and bruises, most of which we take for granted.

It is when we encounter major upheavals and setbacks that it takes longer to get back on our feet. At those times we have the opportunity to reflect on what is working and what is not and explore new ways to improve our life and make our goals happen.

This month, we have been reflecting on how current habits can either help or hinder us.

In How to Replace Bad Habits With Beneficial Habits, you made a list of how you spent your days and the habits that either got things done or got in the way.

In Changing Negative Habits Formed During Childhood, you explored the messages you heard as a kid that resulted in many of the habits you have today.

In How to Replace Critical Self-Talk with Affirmations, you learned about your internal critic and how to replace it with critical thinking.

This week, I want to summarize how habits are created.

Behaviors repeated over and over eventually become a habit.

After a habit is formed, you don’t think about it; you just do it. The habit becomes the activating behavior, not thought or willpower.

For example, you decide to run each day for exercise. You establish the time and when that time arrives, it becomes your cue to put on your running shoes and move.

You don’t focus on how you feel; you only focus on your decision. After a number of repetitions, a habit is formed, and you no longer think about it.

When establishing a routine, decision and time frame become the motivation.

Behavior change

Atomic HabitsIn his book, Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, James Clear states that all behavior is driven by the desire to solve a problem.

“Sometimes the problem is something good you notice and want. Sometimes the problem is pain, and you want to relieve it.”

Either way, you solve problems through establishing productive habits.

In defining a behavior change of any kind, James Clear indicates there are 4 stages involved.

First, there is a cue – that gets your attention.

Second, there is a craving or desire – you want this.

Then you respond to both of these so you can get your reward.

In creating good habits, he suggests that the cue be obvious, the craving, attractive, your response, easy, and the reward, satisfying.

When I established my habit of walking or exercising in some way each day, my cue was the designated time I set. My reward for following through was how good I felt after going for my walk.

To break a habit, you hide or make the cue invisible, you make the craving “unattractive,” and you make responding difficult.

If you have a sweet tooth, always craving that cookie, you probably have cookies or sweets around that are easy grab and eat. When you want to break that habit, you remove all cookies or sweets from your home. That is hiding the cue.

You remember that eating cookies only adds to the pounds you want to shed, so you are making the craving unattractive.

You replace this craving habit with something else that is both healthy and satisfying.

Cues get our attention.

sticky note on bathroom mirror

They prompt us to do something. They are a signal for action of some kind.

Cues can be used as reminders of things you want to do. When I have my outdoor sprinklers on, I put a large note on my kitchen counter or in my office where it is highly visible. The note states: Water on (time). Shut off (time).

I do the same when I have something slow-cooking in the kitchen. I set a timer in my office to remind me to go check within 10 minutes or so.

When I need to be somewhere I put a reminder note on my bathroom mirror the night before.

When you have a busy schedule, these reminder cues are priceless. These are different than writing it in your day planner. These are visible and quickly capture your attention.

How to Replace Critical Self-Talk with Affirmations

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Going through tough times can be discouraging. You find yourself becoming more and more critical of yourself and others. While each day offers an opportunity to work towards new solutions, our self-talk can become a major stumbling block.

Your Internal Critic

When negative thoughts and self-imposed judgments are constantly repeated, they become an ongoing internal dialogue, like a recording set on auto-replay.

This recording only contains our failures, the times we have been disappointed or rejected. I call this on-going recording your “internal critic.”

These messages have been around so long that anything positive is dismissed, and everything negative is magnified. It is so pervasive that we are often unaware of its influence on us. When activated, we are flooded with self-doubts and feelings of defeat.

Repetitive, critical messages program us to behave and act in predictable ways.

They always include a judgment of ourselves or others and predict a negative outcome to whatever we choose to do. Often, a label is attached. These judgmental reminders activate our first responses to whatever is happening. They become an internal critic whose only job is to continually remind us of how bad and incompetent we are.

Once we become aware that this is happening, however, we can stop these automatic responses and replace them with a new constructive dialogue.

This is not the same as “critical thinking.”

  • With “critical thinking” you question and evaluate the pros and cons of different options.
  • With “critical thinking,” you develop discernment, the ability to evaluate what works and what doesn’t work.

The difference between a critic and critical thinking is that with an internal critic you immediately believe you are a failure, and nothing can change that.

Devaluing statements and critical messages repeated consciously or unconsciously, form a self-fulfilling prophecy. They draw you towards that outcome.

When you put a stop to this repetition, you can think rationally about problems and make informed decisions based on the here and now. You can say to yourself, “Okay, I may have made mistakes and some bad choices in the past, but here is what I can do now.”

finger pushing "play" button

Persistent critical self-talk can sabotage our efforts to believe we can make it.

There is nothing positive or instructional in it. By challenging, we are rejecting that definition of who we are supposed to be and choose instead a mindset that believes in our ability to find constructive alternatives. We may not have had a voice as a kid, but we do as an adult.

Challenge critical self-talk and replace with affirming statements.

  • Affirmations declare we have worth and value. They become a direct antidote to repetitive negative thinking and self-talk.
  • Affirmations put in place possibility thinking. They allow confidence to develop and become a new self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Affirmations encourage, motivate, and reflect the value you have for yourself and others. It doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes or bad choices. What it does mean is that you are not defined by your mistakes. You are a child of God. And to quote an old phrase of the 70s, “God don’t make no junk.”

You are not your pain, shame, or abused child. The past does not define who you are today unless you allow it. Purposefully leaving the past in the past is telling yourself, I am okay – I can make it – I am worthwhile. There are no perfect childhoods or perfect parents. We all make interpretations based on who we were at the time.

A New Dialogue

Repeating affirmations every day installs a new dialogue. Choose from the affirmations listed below or create some of your own. Repeat them every day, several times a day. After a while they will become a new way of thinking that is encouraging and motivating.

  • I am an intelligent, capable, and responsible person.
  • I choose to expand my point-of-view and focus on what is positive.
  • I can bring something good out of a hurtful past.
  • I can become more than my hurtful experience.
  • I forgive because hanging onto grievances hurts me.
  • I work for excellence instead of perfection.
  • I am methodical and careful in everything I do.
  • I focus on what I can do and not on what I can’t do.
  • I am not my past – I am me in the present moment.
  • I accept myself unconditionally – both my strengths and my weaknesses.
  • I am capable, competent, and discerning.
  • I look for solutions to my problems.
  • I am pro-active and my efforts make a difference.
  • I am discovering more of my special talents, skills, and abilities every day.

This week, spend some time recognizing your internal critic. When does he/she begin haranguing you about all your failures? ]

Give it a name, tell it to sit down and be quiet. You no longer want to listen to all that stuff.

Then look over your past and find all the things that were helpful, instructive, and motivating, things you learned even in the toughest of times that can become a positive take away.

Changing Negative Habits Formed During Childhood

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Hard times bring up old memories; unpleasant or discouraging flashbacks from our youth.

There may have been traumatic times earlier in your adult life. Presumptions about who you believed you could become have been shaken. You might hear your parent admonishing you for not getting better grades or fighting with your siblings, unfair comparisons with a sister or brother or scolding for disobeying.

At such moments, we question ourselves.

Am I really that incompetent?

What if I can only be a troublemaker and can’t ever do anything right?

What if, what if, what if.

How can I be sure I won’t screw up so badly that I will never be able to recover?

Those old messages can erode any confidence you are gaining.

Life is an ongoing process of growth.

Abilities are honed over time. Our identities are defined as we live from period to period.

Discovering the source of unhelpful habits can be intimidating, especially if they originated in our childhood.

Why did that behavior or way of thinking become a habit?

What benefits am I getting from keeping it?

There is a reason why our behaviors become and remain habits.

Raw and intense emotions associated with our past often remain barricaded behind protective walls we build in our memories. When triggered in the present, we experience the same feelings of anger, protest, defiance, and resistance again, even when actual events are blurred or incomplete.

We can rewrite difficult stories from our past, enabling a new way to look at ourselves and our world.

Just remember that children are children and do childish things that get us into trouble. It is when we continue as a grown adult to believe we are that incompetent kid that we will feel insecure and end up with a habit or belief that is counterproductive.

Habits of thinking formed early in life continue to influence how we react to the world today until examined and challenged.

When we remain focused on the negative, we dismiss the qualities of possibilities, resilience, and determination.

When we understand that we can change non-productive, negative habits, we will develop the faith to step out and try again.

  • We can change thinking habits just as we can change behavior habits
  • We can replace destructive, devaluing words with positive, constructive ones
  • We can believe in ourselves
  • The past cannot keep us locked in negative thinking unless we allow it

child crying in kitchen

During this next week, think about the multitude of messages you heard as a kid. Write them down.

  • Which were instructional, focusing on teaching appropriate behavior such as good manners, stop running in the house, respecting others, etc.?
  • Which focused on how bad you were?
  • What labels were given to you, such as stupid, lazy, worthless, etc.?
  • How were you encouraged and supported to do your best?
  • What words were used that made you feel good about yourself?

Writing them down helps you remember the context in which they were given and how your reactions became habits of thinking and responding over time.

Our mind wants to dwell on the negative, in part so problems can be resolved. We need to be tenacious and persistent about bringing forward the positive and encouraging qualities that may have been dismissed or overlooked.

We can learn resilience and determination.

You can turn negatives into positive learning tools. You do not need to keep repeating old, biased, negative messages about who you are or who you can become. Challenge them.

Remind yourself of your resilience and tenacity to become a person you can respect – the person you want to be – one who accepts the good and bad of you. In that acceptance, you can begin to build on the positives and use them to construct new positive habits of thinking and believing and acting.

It is important to remember that processing old woundings may require the help of a trained and licensed mental health counselor. It takes courage to reach out and ask for the help we need.

How to Replace Bad Habits With Beneficial Habits

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Habits affect every aspect of our lives; from the moment we get up in the morning to the time we go to bed. We usually think of habits as our daily routines, so we don’t think much about them.

But our habits involve much more than our usual routines.

How you think, perceive, and respond to the world become habits.

Consider your typical responses.

  • Is your first reaction to anything that’s contrary to your view irritation, or anger?
  • Do you find yourself constantly defiant or defensive?
  • Do you see the world as pessimistic or negative, with no redeeming qualities (this outlook can result in ongoing anxiety and fear).
  • Are there few moments of enjoyment or pleasure?

When our typical way of responding becomes consistent over time, it becomes a habit. Yet, our responses are so automatic that we don’t think of them as habits.

Recognizing that habits affect every segment of our lives, we can understand the need to evaluate them.

Which have we consciously chosen, and which have become reactionary habits (our typical way of responding without thinking)?

How to create beneficial habits

To create beneficial habits requires first identifying the ones that aren’t helping.

  • Which habits are time wasters, such as items you put off for tomorrow when you could quickly and easily accomplish the task now?
  • What habits of interaction with others create ongoing conflict?
  • How often do you find yourself feeling defensive or argumentative?
  • Can you respect the differences of others while respecting your own?
  • How did you end up with these habits in the first place?

When suffering setbacks or losses, we often begin to doubt ourselves and our ability to make worthwhile decisions. In exploring our habits, we can remind ourselves that habits can be changed.

If there is an ongoing pattern of making bad decisions or diminishing your worth, the first habit change is to accept yourself unconditionally.

Acknowledge and accept both the positive and negative sides of who you are. We are not perfect and never will be. No one is. We are constantly transforming and becoming. Without acceptance you will not feel you can make the changes you want.

In last week’s blog post, 7 Things You Need to Know About Habits, I asked you to divide a sheet of paper into three sections: morning, afternoon, and evening. Every day for a week, write what you normally do during those time periods. This helps you identify current habits. Expand on that by including specific times of day.

Review your results.

  • How satisfied are you overall about how you spend your time each day?
  • How and when did you use your time effectively?
  • What intervals could your time been used more constructively?
  • What was left undone that you wish had been completed that day and how did it affect the following day(s)?
  • What role does procrastination play in your life? Were things left undone because you didn’t feel like doing them in the moment, or because you felt it was too much to do?

Replacing bad habits


To replace bad habits, we need to identify them and pinpoint how and why they first got started. When we can separate favorable habits from those that are unfavorable, we find ourselves energized to make changes.

Recognizing non-productive habits and how they impede or interfere with your progress is the first step. You get a broader picture of how going beyond survival can be a positive and productive time in your life.

You determine where you want to go. You are in charge of your habits. Pray about it. Ask God for wisdom and courage to recognize and make appropriate changes. We can’t do it by ourselves.

Remember that habits are formed by repeating behaviors over and over. We change by replacing the cue and the process.

As you begin taking those tiny steps forward you will be rewarded with a new confidence and belief in yourself.

Believing in yourself does not mean you won’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you don’t need the help and support of others. Reaching out to others is essential. We need the support of friends who are accepting and caring.

We learn that humility isn’t diminishing. It takes courage to accept that we are not perfect, never will be, and yet, we can move forward anyway.