Happiness is a choice, not a product of your circumstances. Here’s how you can choose it, according to psychologists.
“It’s been so long and I see no improvement,” my friend told me after our morning Yoga session.
We’d started practicing Yoga every morning on the terrace. It’s been two weeks and my friend was still too stiff to try out the asanas to their full extent. True, she was nowhere close to perfect but had come a long way since day one.
I patted her shoulder and said, “It’s okay. We’ve only just started. You’ll get better.”
“But you can do everything so easily. I don’t think Yoga is for me.”
I told her I’d been working out consistently for almost a year. My body was used to bending into new shapes and could adapt easily to different forms of exercise. Things would be different for someone just starting out.
She complained, but after a lot of convincing, agreed to keep up our Yoga practice. This conversation with my friend made me realize these:
- When we see our friends criticizing themselves, we go all in to be supportive and assure them it’s not their fault. But when it comes to ourselves, we’ll be super harsh and start blaming ourselves for not being good enough.
- It’s so easy to compare our progress to someone else’s without knowing the obstacles they overcame to reach there.
- When things look tough, our first instinct is to either keep trying until we burn out or to immediately give up.
When it comes to embracing happiness, maybe our biggest enemy on the way is not someone else, but our own brain. Read on for three science-backed instances when you’ve got to learn to say “no” to yourself to be happier.
1. Say “no” to criticism
The longest conversations you have are with yourself. If they are tinged with criticism, you’ll find yourself unable to overcome even minor obstacles.
Your self-talk, the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head, are automatic thoughts arising from logic, reason, information, or perception. They can be positive or negative.
Most of the time, if we don’t consciously monitor our self-talk, it tends to veer towards negative. As the licensed psychologist, Guy Winch, Ph.D., writes, “Negative self-talk is purely harmful. It impairs our self-esteem, confidence, sense of empowerment, agency, mastery, competence, motivation, determination, and sense of purpose. It adds zero value and causes profound psychological, emotional, and cognitive damage.”
If self-criticism is so harmful, why do we keep justifying it? What are some ways to get over negative self-talk? Behavioral expert, Beverly D. Flaxington, has outlined a 4-step guide to changing the narrative in your head to something more positive:
- Be aware of the times your self-talk tries to tell you you’re not good enough. Acknowledge the presence and potential destructiveness of this negative self-talk.
- Next, replace the negative spool that runs over and over in your head with something more neutral.
- Then, make a list of the things that make you happy. Print it out and read it over and over again until you’re comforted that things are really okay.
- Choose objectivity over emotion. Going into a state of data and objective viewpoints often diminish the sting of emotion associated with negative states.
2. Say “no” to comparison
“Comparisons may be part of human nature,” writes psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, “but when it gets out of hand, it leaves you feeling inadequate and insecure, not to mention depressed and anxious.”
As physician Susan Biali Haas, M.D. writes, here are some tips to say “no” to the comparison trap:
- Start noticing the situations that cause you to play the comparison game. Avoid comparison triggers if you can, especially if the activity or contact doesn’t add meaning or any real value to your life.
- Remind yourself that even though the image other people portray might seem perfect, you don’t actually know what goes on behind closed doors.
- Be grateful for the good in your life, and resist any lies that shout “You’re not enough.”
- Choose to be inspired by someone doing better than you instead of being envious. Learn what traits make them successful and try to incorporate them into your life and business.
3. Say “no” when enough is enough
When you’re working towards a goal, even when your tasks for the day are complete, your brain might trick you into believing you need to work more to be successful. This can lead to a severe work-life imbalance and burnout.
To avoid that from happening, you need to learn to say “no” to yourself when your brain tries to convince you that you haven’t worked hard enough. In other words, you’ve got to draw better boundaries with yourself.
“Personal boundaries define you as an individual. They are statements of what you will or won’t do, what you like and don’t like, how far you will or won’t go…they are your value system in action.” — Gary Lundberg and Joy Lundber, I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better.
Saying “no” to yourself when your brain tells you to work harder can be difficult. The conditioning of several years of ‘hustle culture’ might bruise your ego to admit you can’t handle too much work. After all, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to not feel overwhelmed all the time.
Author Mike Fishbein proposes two ways you can draw better boundaries with yourself:
- Know your priorities. Every time you say “yes” to more work, you’re saying “no” to the other aspects of your life that you value. By taking inventory of your list of priorities, and where work lies on that list, you can make decisions that will help you live a more fulfilling life.
- Address the underlying issues. Are you working to avoid thinking about your insecurities or shortcomings? Or, do you think you need to have more money in order to be loved or appreciated?
It’s so easy to see when our friends are struggling and assure them they have made progress. But when it comes to ourselves, why are we so harsh and full of self-criticism?
If you read this till the end, consider this as your sign from the Universe that you need to actively practice self-love. No matter how many times you fail or how hard you struggle, you should only congratulate yourself for coming this far and thank your body for allowing so much progress.
Make a promise that you won’t be harsh on yourself, no matter what.
Promise yourself that you’ll start saying “No” when your brain tries to trick you into believing you’re not doing enough.
You have everything you need and you’re exactly where you need to be. Trust that, and cherish the process. Growth is never a straight line, but that doesn’t mean growth has to be painful. You can be successful without being secretly unhappy.
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