By Paula McCall, PhD

When I was asked to write this article, I thought, “Great! I can do this!” And then I realized I hadn’t written an article in a long time. And instead I began telling myself, “Maybe I can’t do this. Maybe this was a bad idea. What am I doing? I am such a fake. I’m a loser.”

How did that make you feel to read? Probably uncomfortable, maybe confused, maybe sad. That is because it IS uncomfortable, confusing, and sad. And that is how it feels to our brains every time we send these negative messages to ourselves, and unfortunately we do that a lot.

Our brains are wired to learn and succeed. When we have negative thoughts about ourselves, our brains are confused because we are not wired to just stop and give up. But negative thinking can spiral and take over. It usually starts with a specific situation like a test or a gathering with friends. We begin to worry about that specific situation and then we justify that negative thinking by becoming negative about ourselves as a whole person. For example, I might be worried about failing a test and then to justify that thought I start thinking that I am just no good at that subject, or as a student overall, and that I will never get into college or be successful in my life. It spirals, and then we feel uncomfortable, confused, and sad. And worst of all, we believe it. Why? Because it is easier to believe that false truth than to move forward in a scary situation where we may fail.

It is important to remember that the story we tell ourselves is the story we believe. What if instead of thinking about failure, we thought about the alternative equally possible outcome that we may succeed and, if not, we will at least learn something from the process? This is how to do it:

  • Think about the current situation only. What can I do to help myself do my best in THIS situation?
  • Push away negative thoughts about myself as a person. No one situation decides who I am overall. I am learning and growing.
  • When things don’t go as I had hoped, look at it as a learning opportunity. It does not make me a bad or failed person. It gives me information. What went wrong? What did I learn? What could I do differently next time?
  • Be our own cheerleader. Remind ourselves that we can do this that we have had challenging situations in the past but we have survived!

I decided to change the way I talked to myself about this article. I asked myself, “What can I focus on? What are the key points I could make?” I reminded myself that I try to be a helpful person, and even if it doesn’t go great, I will learn from the experience. So I wrote this…

Life is the story that we tell ourselves. If we talk to ourselves negatively, we will believe and live it. If we look at challenges as opportunities, with reminders to ourselves that we are capable, we will believe and live that. It is in our power to decide…


Dr. Paula McCall is an Arizona Licensed Psychologist and Nationally Certified School Psychologist. She owns her practice, Next Step Psychology, which provides counseling and evaluations for children and adolescents. Dr. McCall is also passionate about providing free community outreach in suicide awareness and other topics of mental health.