Over the last 10 years as a yoga and meditation teacher, I’ve had hundreds of discussions about how to release negative thoughts that keep you doubting if you’ll ever be or have “enough.”
Here are my responses to the most common worries, frustrations and questions from clients, friends, students and colleagues on overcoming negative thoughts and calming the mind through simple self-inquiry and yoga practices.
- How do I silence my big, negative inner critic?
- How do I stop comparing myself to others?
- How can I feel like I’m enough when I continually fall short of my own expectations?
- I want to get off the hamster wheel in my mind that feels like I’m rushing to get things done, but I fear not putting in enough effort to reach my potential. How do I take time for myself and not feel guilty?
- I want to feel in control of my negative thoughts, but my mood shifts so easily based on the actions of someone else. How can I calm my mind?
- I want to trust my heart and gut intuitions, but I’m constantly questioning them with my mind. How can I be more present in my intuition and not default to self-doubt?
Q: How do I silence my big, negative inner critic?
A: Our thoughts can free us or imprison us and one thing’s for sure:
You can’t solve a mental block solely with the mind.
Those positive self-affirmations you’re putting on repeat? If it worked as easily as that, we’d all be free from the inner critic right now!
In fact, if you have low self-esteem, are anxious or unsure of yourself, then a study showed that repeating positive self-affirmations backfires. You’ll actually feel worse about yourself.
If we try to silence any thought, it becomes like stagnant water behind a dam; it waits patiently until the dam can’t hold and then the flood wrecks everything downstream.
On the flip side, if we let the inner critic shout incessantly, we’ll also remain stuck in self-limiting habits.
You can’t fight the flow — the flow always wins.
So how do you win?
One shift that has changed my perspective forever is: “I will face the prison of my judgments, concepts and beliefs.”
For years I blamed other people for why my work wasn’t good enough. I was defensive and tried to make excuses for why I didn’t achieve my best (classic perfectionist!)
- In high school, it started with, “That test was impossible to ace. This teacher’s expectations can never be met by anyone.”
- In my journalism career: “My sources are busy and never call me back so that’s why this story doesn’t feel complete.”
- As a yoga teacher it became: “Extroverted yoga teachers get the best class times and opportunities because of their connections in the community. I’m more introverted so that’s why I’m missing out.”
In all three I can think back and point to moments of personal responsibility — I didn’t study hard enough, I didn’t call enough people, I wasn’t vocal about what I wanted.
We all participate in beliefs that make us feel better about not living our potential.
To move from prisoner to peace of mind, you must 1. acknowledge, 2. honestly expose, and then 3. fiercely hold your ground with self-compassion against the voices that no longer serve.
We unconsciously reinforce self-criticism when it goes unnoticed, so the first step is acknowledging the critical remark when it occurs.
2. HONESTLY EXPOSE YOUR BELIEFS
Next, you must be willing to honestly expose these voices. That means getting them outside your head, like on paper and in conversation.
Exposing doesn’t mean trying to rationalize, appease or befriend these inner voices.
I cringe when I hear recommendations like, “Thank your inner critic for its input.” Would you thank a bully who incessantly made your life at school a living hell?
This is an imbalanced expression of feminine energy that’s been socialized to be polite.
3. FIERCELY HOLD YOUR GROUND
The final step to freeing yourself from the prison of the inner critic is to fiercely embody self-compassion.
Anger, when channeled well, helps us set effective boundaries.
Instead of giving the voices a pass by saying, “I’m doing the best I can,” you instead say, “This isn’t working for me anymore.”
The approach that works is by steeping yourself in mind-body-spirit practices that address all your intelligences, not just your logical brain. Intelligences like bodily/kinesthetic, musical, linguistic, interpersonal, spiritual, and emotional.
Once you recruit your whole self, you better believe those inner voices will stop talking so loudly.
LEARN MORE: Watch my free masterclass.
This is the exact work I do with women in my program Being Enough. Watch this free masterclass to dive even deeper into the shifts you need to break free from self-criticism and the fear of failure.
Q: How do I stop comparing myself to others? I want to fulfill my potential, but I’m often envious of other women who seem to be “farther along” than me and it keeps me stuck — paralyzed even.
A: Congratulations my dear, because you’ve just uncovered your longings.
When you pine for something that someone else has, you gain direct insight into what you want for yourself. These longings can be turned into tangible intentions (in yoga we call them sankalpas) that you manifest over time.
In some cases, you might truly want what someone else seem to have. Other times, you’ll recognize that you’ve been told that you should want it. For high-achievers, both bring on FOMO and also a pang of sadness or guilt that it hasn’t “happened yet” which your mind interprets as “This isn’t going to happen AT ALL.”
The effects of negative thinking on health is far more than just mental anguish. When you live your life in a constant state of not-enoughness, your sleep suffers, your nervous system becomes unbalanced and as a result your immune system may be compromised.
A study published in the journal of Clinical Psychological Science shows that directing kindness toward yourself calms the body, switching off the threat response. In this way, self-love actually improves your overall health.
So, how can you be kinder about the pace of your life? Rather than concentrating on ending comparison (which would require a crystal ball into your future needs and desires), become skillful and protective of your attention now.
Overcoming negative thinking is possible when you take time for introspection.
PRACTICE: Try this reflective journaling exercise.
1. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Continuously handwrite a list of all the things you get angry or jealous of that you perceive you lack. Notice how you feel during and after.
2. Set another 3 minute timer and write all the things you already have within or around you, including skills, traits, possessions, etc. Notice how you feel during and after.
3. Which list is longer? Which list gave you a sense of possibility and hope? If doing this for the first time, typically list #1 is longer and #2 made you feel more open.
Your task now is to spend time amplifying the second list with daily practices that open your mind to possibility and potential. In yoga, we call this pratipaksha bhavana, or “cultivation of the opposite.”
“To be free of thoughts that distract one from yoga, thoughts of an opposite kind must be cultivated.” (Yoga Sutras II.33)
Just so we’re on the same page, “yoga” here refers to the state of feeling completely whole and harmonious, lacking nothing. In other words, the state of being enough.
When you place conscious attention on what you have, you reclaim the power to shift your attitude toward what you want. Rather than perceiving lack, you invite in abundance.
This is a fundamental rule of Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga: Like attracts like.
Want more of what others have? First, create the firm belief that it’s possible for you.
Q: How can I feel like I’m enough when I continually fall short of my own expectations?
A: Release your expectation about the outcome.
This is a spiritual truth found in the ancient Indian text the Bhagavad Gita:
“You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions’ fruits. Act for the action’s sake.”
This is counter to everything we’ve been taught in our materialistic, fast-paced society. However, this same society constantly tells us we’re never enough, and is the reason why we have high expectations of ourselves.
The thrill of getting what we want usually lasts a moment compared to the hours of effort put into the process of getting there.
When you let the process be your fruit — your reward — every action you take becomes enough because you’re fully present and acting from ease rather than anxiety about results.
“You make progress by changing what you do, not by trying to change who you are.” —Kenneth W. Christian
It takes time to develop this state of going with the flow and trusting the process. Here’s what to do if you find yourself stuck in perfectionism and procrastination.
PRACTICE: A self-inquiry exercise to shift limiting beliefs around your expectations.
If you’re curious about how to remove negative thoughts from the mind, this helps you literally write them down so they’re not “in” in the mind anymore. The mental space you’ll feel afterward is worth the momentary discomfort.
1. List three things you created or did recently in which you believe you came up short.
2. Now list all the potential self-sabotaging factors that contributed to your belief, like…
- Was I realistic about time and what I could do with it?
- Did I work consistently or inconsistently?
- Was I impatient and gave up too soon or did I overwork and burnout?
- What was my energy level and attitude like for this task?
- Did I have a low tolerance for frustration, boredom or setbacks?
3. Now that you have reclaimed personal responsibility, make the distinction that it is not you who is “not good enough” by reframing your language. Instead of buying into the inner critic’s claim that “I continually fall short of my own expectations” replace this self-limiting belief with, “I choose to believe that I continually fall short of my own expectations.”
4. Next, write a new belief about these three situations knowing what you know now. Here’s an example: “In the past, I have usually chosen to work inconsistently and procrastinate on my projects.”
5. Now that you know what you do, you can change these behaviors instead of spiraling into negative thoughts. So let’s shift the behavior now. Write another sentence that outlines a positive tactic you’ll take in the future. Example: “I choose to create a small schedule and work a little bit every day until the project is complete.”
Can you feel how different the first statement is:
“I continually fall short of my own expectations.”
compared to the last?
“I choose to create a small schedule and work a little bit every day until the project is complete.”
This is the road to empowerment.
Q: I want to get off the hamster wheel in my mind that feels like I’m rushing to get things done, but I fear not putting in enough effort to reach my potential. How do I take time for myself and not feel guilty? My family’s mindset is to work hard and taking a “rest day” is seen as “lazy.”
A: Why do we drive ourselves into the ground with guilt and shame for RESTING?
Because our culture tells us to.
That is THE ONLY REASON. Because someone else told you that you couldn’t rest, and in order to earn their love and connection, you had to adapt and do what they said.
Growing up, I had a healthy fear of authority. Why? Because my mother did.
When we were driving around, she was quick to point out the location of every police officer. I learned to be vigilant to those who could “catch you” doing something wrong.
Who did she get that vigilance from? Her family. And her family’s family, and so on.
Society’s expectations are passed along in our bloodlines. If you look back at your family history, you’ll see recurring themes and beliefs that your family acted on.
This is our collective history when it comes to not feeling good enough just the way we are.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert gets to the heart of the matter on a podcast. She said:
“We have such a severe and truly deadly problem in this culture with self-hatred. We’re at war with ourselves because of this conviction that it’s really normal for all of us to believe that we’re not good enough. We really have internalized somehow that that’s a perfectly normal way for a human being to walk through the world. That’s what the interior landscape of the human mind is. It’s a kind of battlefield. A neighborhood you wouldn’t want to walk through at night… In fact, I have this theory that self-hatred is the only socially acceptable way that you’re allowed to think about yourself all the time.”
This is why I recommend yoga to release negative energy. The collective story doesn’t have to be your story, and yoga helps you reclaim your vital life force energy to guide your life toward your authentic path.
PRACTICE: Radical rest.
If you want to break the cycle of self-hatred and stop being limited by your family’s and society’s belief systems, then you need to do something radical: rest.
You need to take time, slow down, get quiet and discover how you want to live your life. Yoga nidra meditation is my #1 recommended way to break limiting, negative thoughts quickly. Here’s one for calling in abundance.
Q: I want to feel in control of my negative thoughts, but my mood shifts so easily based on the actions of someone else — like my irritating coworker or family member. How can I calm my mind?
A: I once saw this meme with the quote: “Don’t allow others to control the direction of your life. Don’t allow your emotions to overpower your intelligence.”
Um… first off, emotions are intelligence.
Anger helps you put up healthy boundaries, fear turns into intuition, and sadness allows us to release and let go.
“Transporting information, skills and energy — that’s the emotion’s job. The logical intellect has its own job; it translates, organizes, stores and retrieves information. When the two can work together in your balanced psyche, you’ll become intelligent in deep and meaningful ways.” —Karla McLaren
Your mind needs your feelings. They are a part of your intelligence. The difficulty lies in when they become overwhelmingly powerful and it feels like they don’t belong to you because you’ve taken them on from others.
Here’s the paradox:
- If you don’t take responsibility for your moods, you will always be at the mercy of your environment and other people.
- However, if you overemphasize the need to control your emotions, you will negate the real intelligence you need to feel balanced and whole.
The antidote? Become more resilient to others’ moods.
By doing this, you will calm your mind and feel more in control of your emotions.
Got 27 minutes a day? Over 8 weeks — just two months — you can develop more emotional resilience to the demands of your environment.
My dear, if you don’t have a meditation practice, it’s time to start.
A 2011 meditation study by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar found that the brain’s gray matter becomes less dense in the amygdala, the home of stress and fear, and more dense in areas associated with learning, memory, sense of self, empathy and stress through a meditation practice average of 27 minutes a day over two months.
Meditation and mindfulness literally grow your brain’s resilience so that you are less reactive. The result? You feel more in control.
PRACTICE: Free guided meditation for letting go of control and trusting the universe.
Q: I want to trust my heart and gut intuitions, but I’m constantly questioning them with my mind. How can I be more present in my intuition and not default to self-doubt?
A: Invite yourself back into your body. Every day, multiple times a day.
This is the quickest path to presence because the body always lives in the now. The mind and emotions can live in the past or the future, but not the body. The body only ever knows this moment.
Unfortunately, we’re exceptionally practiced in the ways we avoid, anesthetize and distract ourselves from being in our bodies.
It’s common to think that dissociation is something that people do only during extreme trauma — that sense of being outside oneself as a protection.
In reality, we choose to dissociate daily, especially as sensitive and empathic women. We keenly feel and hold onto energy and emotion that isn’t only ours.
As a result, the body can become an unsafe and uncomfortable place to be.
We zone out through video games, being online, obsessively reading, watching TV shows and movies, comfort eating, and of course through social media scrolling.
These distractions and addictions help us temporarily deal with our relationships, work stress and negative thoughts.
The main culprit that leads us to unhealthy habits in the first place? Our emotions.
When a part of you isn’t welcomed into the whole, your body-mind-spirit recognizes the disconnect. It leads to self-doubt, confusion and the inner battle with self-trust.
PRACTICE: Move your body with my free online yoga class.
Here’s the way out of distractions and back to being present in your intuition:
Spend time being in your body, moving it with yoga postures or breathing techniques that create a felt sense of being grounded on the Earth. This is one of the reasons why so many people turn to yoga for removing negative thoughts. It helps you get back into your body and out of your mind.