"Two things define you: Your patience when you have nothing, and your attitude when you have everything." -- Unknown
In your most difficult times, how do you define yourself? When I ask my clients this question, I sometimes receive responses like, "I am a procrastinator. I am lazy. I am overwhelmed. I am lost. I am not good enough."
"I am." Two common, yet powerful words--often the prelude to a psychologically harmful comment. Followed by a word that describes a negative behavior, they indicate that our actions actually define who we are. People often use these words to label themselves in a way that doesn't serve them well.
During tough times, it's easy to label yourself as a failure or to believe that everything is your fault. Ironically, voicing and believing these falsehoods only brings more of what you don't want into your world. They can even lead to situational depression and to more of the behavioral patterns that contribute to the cause of the negative situation in the first place.
Using this type of self-reproving language embeds the belief that you are your behavior, rather than someone who is not behaving in a desirable way. Once that belief is embedded in your psychological blueprint for living, irrational thinking is difficult to overcome. Indeed, what we carry to be true in our own minds is our only reality.
A negative thought is simply that: a thought. In no way does it mean that it's the truth. Unfortunately, like riding a bicycle downhill, these thoughts easily gain momentum. Even thinking of yourself as a procrastinator will increase the likelihood of your delaying things. Instead, recognize that what you are procrastinating on is probably a tedious, frustrating, or ambiguous task. You can change your behavior by first recognizing that it's a task you don't like doing, or that you are unclear about. Putting distance between yourself and a negative definition of yourself allows your mind to create clarity and get the task done.
Switching your thoughts and language to recognize limiting beliefs and actions as behaviors, rather than thinking of them as who you are, empowers to overcome the problem. Take back your power. Rather than "I am depressed," try "I am feeling depressed in this moment." The addition of the word "feeling" differentiates it from an identity. And "in this moment" tells your brain the behavior is not permanent. It gives you permission to look at the behavior, accept it, and explore options to move into a healthier mindset. This simple awareness alone can be life-changing.
Each day you'll move closer and closer toward actions that resemble success. Save the "I am" for the positive qualities within you. If it's difficult for you to buy into the more robust claims, begin with something simple: I am giving. Or, I am loving. Each day, or as often as possible, step up a rung on your ladder of emotional descriptors. Now, repeat after me: "I am brilliant!"