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"[O]nce we start listening to that tiny voice, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy," writes Anita Bruzzese at Intuit's blog, The Fast Track. "If that voice tells you, for example, that you won’t give a successful presentation, then you may decide not to even try to prepare -- and you actually give a rotten presentation."
Of course, like any habit, breaking the tendency to think negatively about your own abilities will take some time. Here's how to get started:
1. Start with "stop."
Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown effectiveness in helping people stop the cycle of negative thinking. The process starts by learning to recognize negative self-talk as soon as it starts, and then stopping, sometimes by visualizing a stop sign or traffic light.
2. Replace the negative with positive.
"A good way to stop a bad habit is to replace it with something better," writes Elizabeth Scott at About.com's Stress Management site.
This can be as mild as changing a negative statement to a neutral one (by reminding yourself, for example, that you can't read the boss's mind, and so you don't actually know if he's mad at you unless he's told you so) or as ambitious as reminding yourself about the things you're good at and do well.
3. Turn statements into questions.
Another suggestion of Scott's: if you can't turn a negative into a positive, at least turn it into a question. In other words, don't say, "I'm hopeless at this." Ask, "How could I be better?"
It sounds like a small step, but you didn't start thinking badly about yourself in a day, and you won't break the habit of a lifetime in a day, either. You can, however, begin thinking more positively right now, by incorporating a few small changes into the way you think.
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