The word “can’t” is probably the only four letter word I never heard in my 24 years as an FBI agent. As Agents we were trained early not to let negativity impair our ability to analyze a tough case that looked impossible to crack. With enough chipping away, and digging, we searched for answers until all leads were exhausted.
Mental toughness was keeping our thoughts under control as we searched for and found ways to keep moving. The key was a flexible and agile mind that refused to let barriers and adversity define the outcome of a case.
It’s not only FBI cases that need the mental toughness to see success. Everything from business, love, and relationships can become affected by our negativity if we allow it to raise its ugly head.
Les Brown once said that 80% of self-talk is negative. Our mind produces the mental toughness we need to succeed; it also produces the negativity that can paralyze us. This means you need to pay more attention to ways your thoughts can lie to you because these are the same thoughts that will keep you from moving ahead in business and life.
Witnesses are always important in FBI investigations because they are first-hand observations. In the same way, you need to witness your thoughts and observe them so you are in a better position to eliminate their negative influence.
9 ways your thoughts can lie to you:
1. Using the Words “Always” and “Never.”
If you use the words always and never when you’re confronted with an obstacle or barrier, you activate the limbic brain system. This produces emotions like fear and anger. Absolutes like “always” and “never” are rarely correct.
- “My children never listen to me.”
- “I never get recognized for my hard work.”
- “Everyone always takes advantage of me.”
- “I always end up on the short end of the deal.”
This is very common thinking, but if you catch yourself thinking in terms of absolutes, stop and make yourself recall times when you can disprove the negative thought.
2. Focusing On the Negative
When your thoughts focus only on the negative, you fail to see the positive around you. Looking for and finding only the negative in your situation will not only make you feel sad, it will prevent you from recognizing your blessings. Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing.
3. Believing In the Negative
Question your negative feelings; don’t act on them without thinking them through. Since we all have a negativity bias, it’s easier to believe a situation will turn negative than positive. Negative thoughts are like Velcro; they stick. Positive thoughts are like Teflon; they easily fall away.
4. Predicting the Future
Do not be tempted to predict the worst possible outcome. Many times we think that by predicting a negative outcome it will lessen our disappointment. For example, if you don’t get promoted or get a business loan—or whatever we’re seeking. In fact, all it does is reduce our chances for feeling good about what we’re doing now.
5. Reading Minds
Don’t waste time assuming what people think about you—you are not a mind reader. We try to guess what others are thinking, it’s usually comes from a negative attitude we have about the person. Instead, learn to communicate your thoughts and feelings before loosing an opportunity or becoming bitter.
6. Beating Yourself Up with Guilt
Not every emotion we feel is important or rational. When you feel guilty about something, be skeptical. Is the guilt trying to teach you something rational and helpful about your behavior? Or, is it an irrational response to a situation? This is the first step. The key, however, is to realize the mistake and accept that you’re only human. Do not beat yourself up and batter your self-esteem because you’re not perfect.
When we judge others, we are labeling them. Negative labels are very harmful because when you lump one person with others you’ve never met, you lose the ability to understand people as unique individuals. Labeling and judging others is an outward display of inward inferiority and anger.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 ESV
The actions of other people do not need to have a negative effect on you. If you take things personally, you make yourself a victim of what others think and do. Realize that it makes no sense to give people such power over you.
Research suggests that we overestimate how much we are singled out by others, and quite frankly, it’s self-absorbed to live this way. Do we actually believe that everything is always about us?
Mental toughness is acknowledging and accepting responsibility for your life. You cannot dodge responsibility for what your life is about. You create the situation you are in and the emotions that flow from those situations. The worst thing you can do is take on the role of victim, make excuses, or blame others. This is a lie we tell ourselves to prevent us from reaching our own success.
As you witness the ways your thoughts can lie to you, remember there are things you can do to diminish their power over you.
I’ve listed 9 ways your thoughts can lie to you—can you add more?
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