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Upbeat or Downbeat?

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Unless you’re a bit of a masochist, you know that when others say nice things to you, it makes you feel pretty good. And when others say nasty things to you, it makes you feel pretty rotten.

But do you know that what you say to yourself also affects how you feel? Ending your sentence on an upbeat note tends to rally feelings of empowerment and possibility. While ending your sentence on a downbeat note tends to spur feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

So wouldn’t it be a good idea to say only nice things to yourself? Well yes, but let’s be realistic. You’re probably not going around saying “good job,” “you look terrific,” or “wow, you’re smart” all day long. (Though I hope, at times, you do compliment yourself like that.)

Since life is filled with complex matters, it’s more likely you’re saying things like:

“I can’t decide if I made the right decision.”
“I don’t know whether to call him or not.”
“I’m unsure about what to do.”

When you make such statements, you tend to feel even more up-in-the-air than before. But here’s an easy way out. Extend your sentence so that it ends with an upbeat thought. By so doing, you'll find yourself feeling more empowered.

Here’s an exercise to clarify this point:

Complete the following sentences with something pertinent to your life:

I can’t ____________.
I don’t know ____________.
I’m unsure about ____________.

Now, say the same sentence but add an additional phrase:

I can’t ____________ but one thing I can do is ____________.
I don’t know ____________ but one thing I do know is ____________.
I’m unsure about ____________ but one thing I’m sure about is ____________.

How did adding the additional phrase change things for you? Most people respond that it helped them to feel less overwhelmed. It gave them hope. Their predicament no longer seemed so insurmountable.

When Nancy was feeling anxious about the upcoming holidays, her first thought was, “I don’t know how I’ll ever get it all done.” When I asked her to extend her sentence with an upbeat thought, it took her less than a New York minute to respond, “I don’t know how I’ll ever get it all done, but one thing I do know is that I can ask my family to take care of some of the cooking.” The additional phrase doesn’t always come so quickly, but give it thought and it will come. And when it does, you will recognize that there’s always some option that will let you breathe easier, feel better.

Make it a habit to end your sentences on an upbeat note. Then notice how your problems suddenly seem just a bit less earth shattering.

Copyright © 2011: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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