DR. WALLACE: A reader wrote to you saying she was aware of her negative outlook on life but did not know how to stop it. Your advice, as always, was direct and helpful. I wonder if you might allow me to add a bit to it from my own experience.
The things we say and think throughout the day sink into our subconscious and affect the way we feel and act ... and the way others feel and act towards us. People with a negative outlook tend to feel depressed and dissatisfied with their lives.
Experts used to believe that to address such issues, it was necessary to explore the causes and feelings in depth. Now we know people can change the way they feel by changing the way they act first. For example, children who were taught to deliberately smile at other people increased their positive outlook and self-esteem compared to another group of children who did not smile unless they felt like it.
Sometimes, when people have a habit of looking for the worst, it is hard to change that behavior. Unfortunately, when you try to just "be positive" and then you blow it, you may end up thinking even more negative thoughts about yourself ("I'm hopeless" or "I can never do anything right"). There are, in fact, several specific things you can do to change your behavior and thus change your outlook:
Keep in mind the "2 = 1" equation. This means it takes two positive comments to equal one negative one. If you find yourself blurting out "He has a big nose," quickly add "But he has gorgeous eyes and a nice smile."
Immediately, label your unsavory behavior and make a note to stop it going forward. For example, every time you say a negative comment, tell yourself, "That's a bummer. I must make only positive or neutral comments going forward."
Play the "buzzer game" with a friend. Every time you are together, monitor each other. If someone says something negative, the other goes "Bzzzz" — like the sound on a game show. Have fun with it. Keep score if you wish. Pretty soon, you'll be buzzing yourself and stopping yourself before you start!
Utilize your subconscious. Repeatedly throughout the day, say a positive self-statement, such as, "Every day, it is easier and easier for me to notice the good and ignore the bad." Say it again 10 times before going to bed.
People who consciously incorporate these behaviors into their daily life like themselves better and find it easier to make and keep friends. Thank you for all the invaluable information you share with teens. I often pass on your comments and advice to others in my office and to the teenagers I come into contact with as I go about my days. — Charlene Messenger, Ph. D.
DR. CHARLENE: Thanks for your useful comments. Teens with a negative outlook will see a change to a "sunny" disposition when they follow your excellent advice. It's quite true that the strongest "muscle" in the human body is the brain. Proper exercise and attitude make a world of difference.
Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.