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How to Smile on Your Dark Days


I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you are valuable, beautiful, and lovable. If you're feeling down, remember this: you have the power to improve your mindset. All you have to do is revise your narrative—the swarm of negative thoughts inside your head.

Often, it is easier to be self-critical, which destroys our confidence. Then, we lose faith in ourselves. But that is not what we strive for, is it? No, of course not! We all want to be secure and happy without feeling defeated. Here’s the problem: working on our mindset is challenging when we can’t articulate our feelings. As a result, our support system also remains clueless. Besides, our friends can’t help us unless we inform them we’re struggling. So, it’s a lose-lose situation. 

For many of us, anticipatory anxiety outweighs the need to try. Yet the reality is we can’t always rely on someone else to be there to uplift us. You will sacrifice your mental health depending on validation from others. Therefore, we must work on being responsible for ourselves, which involves changing our thoughts. To accomplish this, we have to recognize what prevents us from growing. 

Identify & Acknowledge Your Doubts

The first step toward freedom is taking the time to identify your doubts. To begin this process, take a piece of paper or notebook and write out all your self-deprecating thoughts. Before doing anything else, sit with this list for a few minutes. Take the time to reflect on how these emotions have interfered with your daily life and progress. Then, write down the effect of all your negative thinking patterns. For example, questioning your physical strength has caused you to never walk into a gym and work out. Or you may have given up on being an author because it seems no one cares to read your work. (For a long time, this is what I believed.) When I discovered I was the one holding myself back, I made an effort to improve. 

Once you have acknowledged these almighty doubts, you can deconstruct them by modifying your internal dialogue. Believe it or not, there are several methods to bring you immediate progress. But when you’ve long felt discouraged, you fail to see the solutions. 


The Power of Self-Affirmations

For you to apply affirmations effectively, it’s necessary to understand their meaning. Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines self-affirmation as the act of owning one’s worthiness for beneficial effect. You can maximize the impact by engaging in thoughts that reinforce your value. To begin, you can make a separate list underneath your list of doubts. You want to start by writing statements that exclude any negativity or pessimism. For instance, instead of saying, “I will never accomplish my goals because I’m not good enough,” the alternative may be, “I am strong, and I am capable of surpassing my goals.” Additional examples include phrases such as, “I will have a good day today!” or “I am a winner regardless of the outcome.” Often, these simple transformations make a big difference. The problem with a self-deprecating mindset is that it causes negative expectations. When you expect to have a bad day, you perceive a typical day as worse than it is. As a consequence, your behavior aligns with those perceptions. In some cases, mild discouragement may result in giving up. Ultimately, it’s tough to alleviate these emotions, often requiring intense therapy to eliminate them. Conversely, believing you’re a winner leads you to consider hurdles as opportunities for growth. Rather than feeling hopeless, you're hopeful. You’re driven by disappointments, viewing them as vital life lessons. That’s because practicing affirmations motivates you to replace habitual thoughts instead of feeding into your doubts.


Manifesting Positive Energy

The unhealthiest thoughts we have are criticism. For example: “I will never get that raise at work” or “I’m not capable of selling ten thousand books!” These awful beliefs deter you from trying. But if you further modify these cognitions with a new representation, you will benefit. Manifestation involves envisioning a scenario where a given outcome is possible. So, instead of assuming you're incapable, you can imagine a circumstance where your dreams come true. Namely, for those who want a promising career in law, you can start by visualizing yourself as making partner at your law firm. Or if you have specific fitness goals, imagining yourself with your ideal body brings you one step closer.

Along with creating a mental picture of your ideal, you must block out the “what-ifs or nevers.” In doing so, dreams become achievable because you're replacing visuals of failure with triumph. You’re more likely to see the outcome as possible when you know what it feels like to accomplish your goals. While this is a solid starting point, the best progress involves strategic action.

Ultimately, you can’t just think your way to success; you must climb to the top. Your mind and body need to work together. Along with renewing your cognitions, you can tackle smaller steppingstones that bring you closer to your final goal. It’s helpful to make daily checklists that go along with affirmations and manifestations. Some to-do lists may be learning business basics, getting a bachelor’s degree, or finding an internship. Just remember, nothing is impossible. It’s all a matter of filtering out those intrusive voices and working on the future you see for yourself. 

Changing Your Reaction to Criticism

When we listen to what others say about us, we believe it. Eventually, we convince ourselves that we are useless, worthless, and incapable. Judgment diminishes our faith. You must understand that you can’t do anything about it except change your reaction. Don’t respond to them! Feeding into it or defending yourself only shows them they’ve gotten under your skin. If you show anger or hostility, it’s a sign that they got what they wanted—used your insecurities to gain power over you. Learning to ignore them gives you back control. 

Being Open to Receiving Good Things

When you’ve spent so long convinced that your past failures determine your future, you become closed off to receiving success. To remove that blockade, remind yourself that good things will come as long as you’re willing to acknowledge their existence. By being open-minded, you are better equipped to appreciate your achievements. 


Gratitude Changes Our Brain Activity!

It seems impossible to be thankful for good things in life during our darkest moments. Yet, surprisingly, there are benefits to expressing gratitude—and that is to counteract the development of maladaptive coping strategies. Recently, neuroscientists have sought to identify the neural mechanisms underlying this process because the inability to deal with environmental stressors can lead to chronic mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder (PD), and major depression (MD). According to an article by Stephen F. Maier and Linda R. Watkins (2010), the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC) plays a role in coping and resilience since it is known for managing mood, stress, and negative emotions. For subjects that properly managed stress, activity in the mPFC demonstrated inhibitory control over the brainstem and limbic structures. Furthermore, researchers noted that this region exhibited neuroplastic changes, indicating a learned coping response. 

This study was further corroborated through an experiment in The Journal Of Neuroscience conducted by Minghui Wang, Zinaida Perova, Benjamin R. Arenkiel, and Bo Li1 (2014) showed that excitatory synapses that converge onto the mPFC are weakened in mice that are resilient to helplessness. A recent TED talk by Psychologist Christina Costa discussed how using gratitude as a coping mechanism aided her fight against a brain tumor. This research ultimately inspired her lifelong work. She discovered that being thankful rewires the brain and reduces the signaling of the mPFC, which is confirmed by fMRI studies that show increased activation when we experience and express gratitude. 

You Can Live the Life You Deserve!

No matter how challenging life can be, there are strategies that you can employ to make it easier. First, you must acknowledge your doubts and change your thoughts and behavior. Then, you must manifest the future you see for yourself. However, you need to be more mentally receptive to success to reach it. Most importantly, being appreciative allows you to restructure how your brain operates. Remember, keep your head up. Your dark days are temporary. You will smile again when you put forth the effort toward self-improvement. 

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