“Oh, you’re my best friend…” The lyrics of that song by Queen have been running through my mind lately. Which is a much better choice than what usually cycles and recycles through my monkey mind at times. I heard the song a few days ago, and it caused me to ponder: what if we truly were a best friend to ourselves?
Each day I engage with people who tussle with feelings of self-doubt, a lack of self-confidence, or struggle regularly with a very busy and vocal Inner Critic (self included). And I wonder how much energy they all spend trying to hide, pretend, or “overcome those thoughts, feelings and negative inner dialogue.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting on Mt. Olympus and watching the ‘poor mortals’ struggle as entertainment. I too need to be mindful of my own thoughts and the resulting feelings. When I get bogged down in the swamp of negative thoughts, I remind myself “Oh yeah, it’s just how my brain is wired.” It’s natural to focus on the negative.
At those times I remind myself of Dr. Daniel Amen’s sage advice; “Don’t believe every stupid thought you have!” (Also known as ANTS. Automatic negative thoughts.) We all experience involuntary negative thoughts. Isn’t it refreshing that a clinical neuroscientist states we all have stupid thoughts?
So, if we are wired to focus on the negative, how does a person shift to behaving like their own best friend? I started by generating a list. No, not a to-do list with items like “become best friend” or “take self to lunch.” This is a different kind of list.
Think about how a best friend treats you, how they view you, the kind of things they say to you, and how they positively influence you.
Here’s my partial list:
- Knows my shortcomings and loves me anyway
- Encourages me when I’m feeling unsure
- Tells me things to make me laugh
- Gives me grace when I’m behaving badly
- Reminds me of my strengths and positive qualities
- Gives me feedback that is factual and actionable
- Asks me questions to help me climb out of my “mind-ruts”
- Causes me to up my game, because I want to do my best
- (Repeat first item above multiple times.)
What if you could do all or some of those things for yourself? (You can, you know.) For example, how do you provide feedback to yourself that is factual and actionable?
Here’s an easy tool you can use. On a sheet of paper (or in your journal) create three columns. In the first column write your negative thought(s) and the behavior you exhibit when you think those thoughts.
In the middle column write the facts related to the negative thoughts. (Channel your inner Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am.”)
In the last column, brainstorm ideas or actions you can take to shift your thoughts and behavior.
Left column thoughts and behaviors:
- There’s too much to do. I can’t do it all. I’m falling behind. (Thoughts)
- I begin to procrastinate and become easily distracted, getting less done. (Behavior)
Middle column facts:
- There are a lot of things listed on the to-do list. However, they don’t all have the same deadlines, nor the same urgency or importance. (Facts)
Right column ideas:
- Break down the larger tasks into sub-tasks.
- For those items that don’t have a clear end date, create one.
- Ask for help on a couple of tasks.
- Decide that a few things won’t get done, determine potential consequences, if any.
- Look at calendar and re-organize a few meetings to provide more “task time.”
- Identify positive thoughts that will energize me.
Identify 1-3 items from your right column and begin to act. When we take action (even small acts), it focuses our brain on the task, rather than thoughts and anxiety. As you complete each task, acknowledge your effort.
Take a few moments to focus on how good it feels when you finish a task. You want to retrain your brain to focus on acknowledging completion.
Yep, it’s not rocket science or brain surgery. It’s taking the time to slow down and get off the hamster wheel of allowing negative thoughts to drive your feelings and retraining your brain. And, you are acting like your best friend!
My best friend also reminds me a little dog hair on the floor, furniture, and me, just means I have dogs, not that I’m a slob who can’t keep her house clean.
What if you were your best friend today?