Practice makes perfect. That's true of learning to play the violin or improving your golf game, but it's also true of thinking. Just like repeating the same fingering or swing over and over again makes it way easier to do it again in the future, thinking the same thing repeatedly makes it easier to think the same thing going forward.
We can use this truth both for good or ill. Practice gratitude, for instance, and science shows you'll get better at looking on the bright side. Continually complain and your brain will become ace at finding the negative in any situation.
This is also true of your inner critic. That negative, self-doubting voice in your head that tells you that you'll never succeed gets stronger and louder with every repetition. Let the nasty little monster chatter on unchecked and it'll become harder and harder to shut him up over time.
So how do you finally silence the troublesome voice in your head? Elizabeth Bernstein recently rounded up several strategies in the Wall Street Journal. Many of them you may have heard before, including simply paying closer attention to how you talk to yourself and using a journal to empty out and examine all those exaggeratedly negative thoughts. But one idea is both completely fresh and totally counter-intuitive.
Take it to extremes
You can't simply shout over or muscle through negative thoughts. "Turning off your negative thoughts... is almost impossible to do without replacing them with something else," writes Bernstein. So when it comes to confronting your inner critic, forget willpower or other exercises of sheer strength and get tricky instead.
Instead of opposing your excessively negative assessments, try embracing and exaggerating them. "Follow your negative thought to its extreme conclusion," suggests Bernstein. "You think you're a loser? Tell yourself you are the biggest loser in the country. If there was a loser Olympics, you'd win 10 gold medals. Time magazine would put your face on the cover, under the headline: 'Biggest Loser on Earth.'"
Does that seem ridiculous? Good, that's what you're aiming for. "You're going for the laughter," explains psychologist Steve Orma. "That alone will help you feel better. The exaggeration also helps underscore the absurdity of your negative thoughts."
So the next time your inner voice is bullying you, don't try to push back. Instead run with it, extending the idea to its hilarious extreme. You'll laugh -- and feel more powerful.