Wouldn’t it be easy if you could fight addiction by simply deciding to quit the addictive behavior? Many of us have tried — and failed — to fight substance abuse by simply deciding not to drink alcohol or throwing away the pills. We know our lives would be much better if only we could quit for good. Why is it so hard to quit the behaviors that we know are harming us?
What if we told you the best tool for fighting addiction was inside your brain all along? Addiction isn’t just about the behaviors you engage in. Rather, it’s a complex disease through which the brain’s decision-making processes lead you to act against your own best interests.
The good news is that by learning how to change problematic thought patterns, YOU can take back control of your life and overcome addiction! One of the most important steps you can take on your recovery journey is learning how to become a positive thinker.
Make a Conscious Effort to Only Think Positive Thoughts
Positive people don’t live in a magical world full of rainbows and unicorns. Bad things happen to everybody, and we all spend a large portion of our time thinking about life’s challenges.
What’s the difference between positive and negative thinkers? The difference isn’t what we think about — it’s whether we choose to ruminate over our troubles or respond productively to them. For negative thinkers, every problem in life can feel like a massive boulder cutting off their path through life. But for positive thinkers, life’s struggles become an opportunity to climb over that boulder and continue on their path!
How do we begin to recognize negative thought patterns so we can begin to change them? The most common types of negative thought patterns are:
- All-or-nothing thinking — You assume that anything less than perfection is a complete failure. “If I don’t finish every Thanksgiving dish I planned, what is even the point of making dinner?”
- Disqualifying the positives — You fixate on the negative aspects of an experience, but fail to acknowledge that these negative aspects are frequently intermingled with positive ones. “I didn’t win the race so it doesn’t matter that my time was a personal best.”
- Negative self-labeling — You react to negative circumstances by making negative judgments about yourself. “Missing my daughter’s piano recital means that I’m a terrible father.”
- Catastrophizing — You assume your actions will result in the worst-case scenario. “I found a typo in my resume. Now I’m not going to get that job, or any other job, and I’m going to be unemployed forever.”
Do any of these thought processes look familiar?
When you take a step back and look at these thought processes, you can tell they’re unhelpful and irrational ways to approach problems. If a friend expressed one of these negative thought patterns, you would probably point out the ways in which their thought process was flawed — yet, we often don’t think to step back and correct our own faulty thought patterns!
A positive thinker might approach each of these problems with a healthier response, such as:
- “Whoops, it looks as if I can’t finish everything I planned. Let’s save the pecan pie ingredients for later, and enjoy the pumpkin pie tonight.”
- “Wow the other competitors were fast today! But I ran faster than I ever have in a meet before, so it looks like I’m improving!”
- “I really let my daughter down by missing her piano recital. I need to work harder to show her I care about her achievements. I better put her next swim meet on my calendar and make sure not to schedule anything else during that time.”
- “Whoops, there’s a typo in my resume! Hopefully if the HR manager sees it, she’ll understand that mistakes happen. I’ll be sure to proofread better so the next person who reads my resume knows I pay attention to details.”
You might have noticed that the positive thinkers in these scenarios still acknowledge that they’ve made mistakes, but they quickly bounce back with ways to fix their problems in the future.
Next time you catch yourself approaching a problem with one of these negative processes, try imagining someone you care about is expressing similar sentiments. What advice would you give to encourage them to think positive thoughts? With a little practice, you’ll be confronting problems with positivity and resilience in no time!
Avoid Negative People
Have you ever heard the saying “You are what you eat”? Nutritionists know our body’s physical health is only as good as the quality of the food we put into it. Just as we fuel our bodies with energy from three square meals a day, we also feed our brains with the energy we get from our friends and family.
To overcome negative self-talk, you first need to look at how those around you express themselves. What kinds of friends do you spend time with? Is there a Negative Nancy in your life? How about Cynical Cynthia? Or her friends Spiteful Sally and Blaming Betty? Spending too much time with negative people can thwart our best efforts to have a positive outlook on life.
The reasons for this are simple. Whether we like to admit it or not, our brains can be lazy! While we would like to think every thought that enters our brain is our own original idea, the reality is our brains spend a lot of time repeating the ideas, opinions and — yes — even exact phrases that we hear others use around us. The result? When you spend too much time with the Debbie Downers in your life, you’ll catch the voice inside of your head sounding an awful lot like the negative people you surround yourself with.
When you commit to changing your addictive thought patterns and cutting negative self-talk out of your life, it’s important to stay out of toxic social environments. Unfortunately, this sometimes means spending less time with friends and family members who are bringing you down.
Have a conversation with the people who are important to you about the changes you are making in your life. Ask them to support you in your recovery journey by creating a positive environment. Invite them to work on developing positive thought processes together. You may be surprised at how your true friends are willing to change their behavior for you!
You may have to cut some people out of your life during your recovery. Remember that recovering from addiction is your number-one priority right now. Life is like the airline safety instructions of putting on your oxygen mask before assisting others — sometimes, you have to work on your own health before you can have a positive impact on those around you. One day, when you are at a more stable point in your life, you can work on rebuilding old friendships into healthy relationships.
Spend Time Around Positive People
While you might have to cut old friends out of your life as you recover from addiction, your recovery process shouldn’t be a lonely time in your life. It’s important to have the right kind of social support when you’re undertaking a life challenge such as overcoming addiction.
What’s the secret of successful individuals? They surround themselves with like-minded individuals who believe in their ability to achieve their dreams! Like the Beatles, we all “get by with a little help from [our] friends.”
Just as spending time around negative people can poison our thoughts, making a conscious effort to spend time around positive people can help our brains develop positive thought patterns. These thought patterns help us believe we can overcome the challenges we are facing. When your brain absorbs the speech and logic patterns of positive people, you find your self-talk will become more positive as well.
Even better, when you spend time around positive thinkers, you have a whole crowd of supporters to pick you up when you’re feeling down about your ability to overcome addiction. Recovery is the most mentally and emotionally difficult challenge that many people will take on in their lifetime. At some point in your journey, it’s likely you will turn to someone and say, “I don’t know if I can do it.” It’s important you have people in your life who will say, “I care about you, I believe in you, and I know you can.”
Where can you find positive people? Positive people often have active social lives. When they enjoy an activity, they make sure to seek it out and practice it regularly. Try joining an organized group, such as a book club or kickball team, or look into learning a new skill by taking a class such as drawing or improv. If you find strength in your faith, join a church, synagogue, mosque or other spiritual community.
Don’t be afraid to invite new friends to spend time with you outside of shared activities. Let the teammate who scored the winning point in your basketball game know you admire their skills and dedication, and invite them out for celebratory milkshakes after the game! Most people are flattered to know you admire them and are happy to return the friendship.
We’d be remiss not to mention the importance of developing meaningful relationships with other people in all phases of the recovery journey. It can be difficult to understand the struggles of addiction without experiencing it firsthand. Others recovering from addiction will understand the magnitude of the positive changes you are making in your life. In particular, people in later stages of recovery can share strategies that have worked for them and can serve as a reminder that recovery is possible (even if it doesn’t always feel that way!).
Set Attainable Goals
Have you ever tried to keep a New Year’s resolution? Maybe you wanted to lose 50 pounds, read a book a week or take the dog to the park every single day. Of the 43 percent of Americans who make New Years’ resolutions, one in three will ditch their vows by the end of January, and 73 percent will give up before reaching their goal.
When we think of the person we want to be, we often dream big. There’s nothing wrong with setting pie-in-the-sky goals, but it’s also important to remember that big changes in your life often involve a steady stream of smaller day-to-day commitments.
When we set lofty goals without breaking them down into smaller steps, it’s hard to imagine where to begin. Additionally, setting one big goal can set us up for the all-or-nothing thinking. With this thinking, our brain mistakenly believes we are failures unless we meet our big goals completely.
Instead, try making a list of “big goals,” and then breaking each of these down into more manageable bits. For example, if you’re trying to quit drinking alcohol entirely, you might break your goal down into day-, week- and month-long increments. Imagining a life without alcohol might be daunting, but when you focus on the next week only, you can think about specific challenges — that company Christmas party, for example — and how to overcome them — such as bringing a nonalcoholic treat like a fancy ginger ale and asking a supportive co-worker to keep you accountable.
As a bonus, setting more goals gives you more opportunities to look back on your successes and celebrate! Make sure to recognize even your smallest accomplishments and keep a record of all of those goals you’ve met.
Break Your Negativity Into Manageable Bits You Can More Easily Overcome
No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to overcome negativity entirely. Who doesn’t sometimes have doubts and uncertainties? When you open yourself up to the possibility of overcoming addiction, it’s only natural to experience negative self-talk.
Processing negative thoughts is key to making any big life changes. While it’s easy to let negative thoughts trick you into thinking you’ll never be able to meet any of your goals, it’s important to process negative thoughts in ways that give you specific tools to better your life.
One trick to managing negativity is being careful not to confuse our actions with our character. Thoughts such as “I’m worthless” or “I’m a terrible parent” after flaking on a friend or snapping at the kids often come naturally. We have these thoughts because we care deeply about those around us, and it pains us to realize we aren’t treating our loved ones as well as they deserve.
But making sweeping judgments about our character doesn’t give us any tools to overcome our flaws. After all, how does someone set out to become “less worthless” or a “better parent”? While we all make mistakes, positive people focus on how they can turn their mistakes into learning opportunities, so they can avoid making the same mistake in the future. Instead of thinking about their character flaws, positive people think about how they can make amends for their mistakes and avoid having the same problems in future situations. Focus on how you will resolve your mistakes, and your negative events won’t be negative at all!
Another strategy for managing negative thoughts is to avoid snowballing thoughts about one mistake into a long history of mistakes and regret. For example, when you miss a deadline at work, it can be hard not to think of every other deadline you’ve ever missed and every promise you haven’t kept. The problem with this type of thinking is it makes it difficult for us to imagine fixing our problem in the future. When we get mired in past mistakes, we often fall into the trap of creating self-fulfilling prophecies, making it impossible to imagine changing our behavior in the future.
The next time you encounter negative thoughts, try to:
- Isolate the specific event that is making you feel negatively towards yourself
- Come up with the specific mistake you made in this event ONLY
- Create a plan to make amends for your actions
- Apologize to those you have hurt and promise to make changes to prevent future mistakes
- Think about future situations in which you may encounter some of the same challenges
- Come up with a concrete plan for encountering these challenges
Talk to Your Therapist
All of this advice can sound pretty daunting. Fortunately, you aren’t alone in your addiction recovery journey. Seeking support from a trained therapist who specializes in addiction is vital to recovering from drug or alcohol abuse.
It’s important to remember that addiction is a disease, and the best way to overcome this challenge is by seeking support from a professional who understands the effects an addictive relationship with drugs or alcohol can have on your brain.
If you contracted pinkeye, would you blame yourself and try to fix the problem on your own? Would you rely on your own will and determination to get through leukemia? Of course not! When things go wrong with your physical body, you seek out a doctor with special training to diagnose and treat the problem.
Many people think they should be able to get through addiction with only the help of their familiy and friends. While it’s true that social support is vital to your recovery, that doesn’t mean you should view going to therapy as a sign your relationships aren’t strong enough.
Therapists aren’t just paid listeners — they have special training in how the brain works and, in particular, how to rewire the brain to overcome addiction. Unlike in friendship, you don’t have to worry about how what you say will affect your relationship, and you can be free to reveal things without fear of judgment.
It’s important to look after our mental health in the same way we take care of our physical well-being. This includes seeking out someone who has professional experience with overcoming addiction. Remember: Seeing a therapist is NOT a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t mean you’re crazy! It shows you are a responsible person who knows every problem has a solution, and you’re willing to do the hard work to better your life.
At 12 Keys Rehab, Overcoming Negative Self-Talk and Achieving Long-Term Recovery Is Possible
When it comes to overcoming addiction, you don’t have to go it alone! The compassionate, experienced addiction specialists at 12 Keys Rehab are here to support you as you take the exhilarating first step towards a life free of drug or alcohol addiction. We’ll design a plan just for you that addresses your specific needs, concerns, challenges, goals and interests.
At our beautiful waterfront property in Florida, you’ll have the opportunity to focus on healing in every way: mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. You’ll develop the skills that empower you to leave substance abuse behind. Contact 12 Keys today to get started on your journey to a better life!