Courtesy of Mary Sauer

I Tried Not To Insult Myself For Five Days & It Was Actually Really Hard

When I was a kid, I was supposedly a ray of sunshine, quick to assume the best of others, believe things were going to turn out OK, and feel like I could kick ass at whatever I tried. As a parent, I guess you can only keep sprinkling your kid's world in rainbow-sparkles for so long. In early high school, my parents split up, a few friendships blew up, and I struggled with depression. Later, as a mom, I dealt with postpartum depression and anxiety. Over time, it became harder to look on the bright side of things. I became prone to negative self-talk, particularly targeted at myself.

This is something I would like to change. As an adult, I know that seeing the world as all sunshine and rainbows isn’t realistic, but I would like to get back in the habit of seeing the good in people and circumstances whenever possible. So I decided that, for a week or so, I would make an effort to eliminate negative talk from my life. I would practice gratitude, stop comparing myself to others, work harder to see my kids in a positive light, and think about myself more positively as well.

Here’s how it went.

Courtesy of Mary Sauer

Days 1 & 2: Feeling Grateful For The Good Things

I knew from the start that positive thinking wasn’t something that was just going to happen. I needed a plan in place to reorient my thought patterns. So, that first day of my experiment, I did a little research on how to become a positive thinker and saw one common theme: positive people pay attention to what they have to be grateful for in their life.

So I decided that every time I noticed I was complaining, I would replace my complaint with an expression of gratitude. At first, this felt a little disingenuous, like I was playing Pollyanna. As the day went on, it felt a little more natural to say these things out loud.

It is so easy to notice someone who is thinner than I am, enjoying more success in their career, or living a more exciting life.

The second day, I woke up and fell back into my old habits without one of those thoughts that leaves behind a gloom cloud. I was frustrated with the mess in my kitchen, my kids were being loud, and I had gotten very little sleep. It wasn’t until lunchtime that I noticed I was in a sour mood, but from that point on I tried to grab ahold of my thoughts and replace them with something positive. I knew I needed reminders, like a Post-it on my fridge or an alarm on phone, if I wanted to keep at this practice day after day.

Courtesy of Mary Sauer

Day 3: Not Comparing Myself To Others

Before I started this experiment in positive thinking, I knew the negative effect self-comparison had on my mood. I spend a lot of time online, where it is pretty easy to start noticing how awesome other people's lives are. If I’m not careful, it isn’t long before I start comparing what I have to what others have. It isn’t just material possessions, either. It is so easy to notice someone who is thinner than I am, enjoying more success in their career, or living a more exciting life.

The less time I spent on social media, the more time I had in general.

So I decided to cut back on my social media use. I have done this before and it always improves my mood. Spending less time scrolling through Facebook and looking at the Instagram feeds of strangers helped me focus my attention on what I have in my life and it made it easier to keep up with naming my feelings of gratitude out loud. Additionally, the less time I spent on social media, the more time I had in general. I felt less rushed and stressed out, and I had a little free time to do things that improve my mood, like reading and spending time outside.

Courtesy of Mary Sauer

Day 4: Seeing The Good In Everyone

Let’s face it: my children are the ones to experience the effects when I am stuck in a pattern of negative thinking. When I am worn down or discouraged by certain circumstances in my life, it is harder for me to assume the best of them. Instead, I am more impatient and quick to come down hard on their behavior.

It isn’t hard for me to say, 'That was kind,' or 'I love the way you think,' but I know those little comments build up and contribute to how they see themselves over time.

I don’t like this about myself. I want my children to know I am on their side. I don’t want them to think I am easy to disappoint or hard to please. I want to be more concerned with their personal development than making motherhood as convenient as possible for me.

I made a point to spend some one-on-one time with each of my kids, so I could remind myself what I love most about them. They’re great kids, really, I just don’t always take the time to notice the things that make them unique. It isn’t hard for me to say, “That was kind,” or “I love the way you think,” but I know those little comments build up and contribute to how they see themselves over time. So I am speaking more positively of my children and hoping that will help me think more positively about them, too.

Courtesy of Mary Sauer

Day 5: Believing In Myself

I know that I am the target of a lot of my negative thinking. I feel frustrated that I don’t look a certain way since having children. I doubt my ability to succeed at new things. I am quick to criticize myself when I fail or when I struggle to juggle the tasks I have on my plate. And when I am hard on myself, I am less likely to put myself out there.

On the last day of my experiment, I spent some time reflecting on why I am so hard on myself and thinking constructively about how I can practice more self-compassion. It doesn’t seem that this will be as easy as just changing my mindset — those thought patterns are hard to reshape. And it takes time and work to heal old wounds. Still, I can take small steps in the right direction. I can make a habit of celebrating my success. I can lean into the relationships with the people who love me, unconditionally.

I know better than to believe that a week of eliminating negative talk from my life is enough to change my entire mindset. But I feel like a week of intentional thinking showed me just how much the way I think affects how I behave. Maybe it's easy to feel happy and light as a child, when your parents are shouldering the burdens of the world, but I hope by adjusting my own thought patterns, I can teach my kids how to adopt a more resilient mindset for the day those rainbows evaporate for the first time for them.

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