I have heard comments like these from many older adults:
- I feel washed up.
- My family has put me out to pasture.
- There is nothing meaningful for me to do anymore.
- I am just an old fossil.
- I look like I have got one foot in the grave today.
I would be discouraged, too, if thoughts like that ran through my head everyday. People of all ages have positive and negative thoughts that just “pop” into their heads seemingly from nowhere. These are called automatic thoughts and they can both help and hinder us.
When the automatic thoughts are uplifting and reinforcing, we say to ourselves:
- I can do this.
- My family loves and cares for me.
- I have a lifetime of experience to share with others.
- I am just as young as I feel.
Of course, we use that little voice inside of us to guide to make good, rational decisions. But, sometimes we need to challenge those negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. This may sound hard but it is as easy as restating something negative in a positive way. By identifying the positive and negative automatic thoughts and statements you make about yourself, you will learn to balance these ideas to make the most of each day.
Jonathan D. Sherman, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writes about “The Three Secrets for Living in Balance”.
- First Secret: Be Here Now. The present moment is the only we have control over, so instead of feeling guilty about the past or worrying about the future, live in control of this moment.
- Second Secret: Do Less, Not More. Sherman suggests searching for answers not by doing more, but by slowing down and going deeper for the simple answers most of us already know.
- Secret Three: Be Truer, Not Better. Practice “radical acceptance” of yourself as you are and without reservation. You have behaviors that you want to change (everyone does), but acceptance of who you are allows you to be true to yourself.
Sherman states “Practice being good to the truth in you and you will find that you are enough in and of yourself…this is living in balance.”
Confront those thoughts that keep the balance of your life tipped toward feeling negative about yourself. Using Sherman’s tips, here are examples of tipping a negative thought back to the positive side.
- Negative: I would have had a better career if I had gone to college.
Positive: Today I will learn something new.
- Negative: If I have the whole family over for dinner and make everyone’s favorite food so they will love me.
Positive: I will write a little note to each family member and tell him or her “I love you”.
- Negative: I am no good because I never finish what I start.
Positive: I am just not very organized, but I have other qualities like being a good listener. Maybe I’ll start keeping a list on the refrigerator to keep track of things.
I am not suggesting that each of us think more of ourselves than we should or that we should lack humility. Here is a good example, of going overboard on the positive side:
Question: How many egomaniacs does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Answer: One. The egomaniac holds the light bulb while the rest of the world revolves around him.
We all have so much to offer the world around us. When we feel good about ourselves, it is easier to step out and share yourself with others. Practice living for today, looking within yourself for simple truths, and accepting yourself as you are.