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  • Stacey Sumereau

Overrun by Self-Criticism and Negativity? Do This. It Works.

This past month I was SO blessed to have the opportunity to speak to teens and young adults at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. Our Church is alive and vibrant and full of 22,000 teenagers wearing a variety of silly hats. Hallelujah! The message that I spoke and heard over and over again through the course of the conference was clear- you are loved, you are wanted, you are enough. God desires you, just as you are.

Hard to believe sometimes? Yup, me too.

In fact, knowing that I would be up on stage in front of thousands of teens gave me jitters for months and caused me to ask "am I really enough? What if they don't like me? What if I FAIL?" After all, I find it dang near impossible to stick to a workout routine or a prayer schedule! I wasn't very good about running to God every time I doubted. Sometimes I resisted and let myself get in a funk. But then next time I found myself in mass, Jesus was always waiting to break down my walls and reassure me...that is, when I could get my 7-month-old son to calm down enough for me to concentrate on prayer for five minutes. I was riding the struggle bus, hard. And I have for a long time.

Are you distracted, stressed, and secretly unsure of whether you're good enough too? Do you ever feel like you don't feel on the inside as confident as your facebook/twitter/instagram/snapchat pics project you to be? I'm with you. The carefree-looking gal in the pic below was secretly about to throw up from nervousness before delivering two talks.

For the next month, I challenge you to retrain negative patterns of self-doubt. Science shows us that we can literally re-shape our brains when we refuse to give in to negative thinking, and train ourselves to be more positive and loving to ourselves and those around us. (Read "My Stroke of Insight" by Jill Bolte Taylor for an incredible look at this topic!) Picture this: Imagine yourself giving people the benefit of the doubt and speaking kindly to yourself in your own mind. Imagine yourself letting go of things that bother you and instead fully enjoying and fully living each moment. Imagine never hearing that voice in your head again that says "You'll never be good enough." Imagine being genuinely more interested in others than in yourself. Sounds like a more virtuous, happier, freer version of you, eh?

You can be that.

Maybe we won't succeed at something, but maybe it's because God has something else in mind for us, NOT because we're not good enough. Maybe the things we want won't work out, but if they don't you can bet your bottom dollar it's because God is working to give us something better. When it comes down to it, we have no reason to fear that we are not enough or unloved. Join me in surrendering the stress, the fear, and the doubt to Jesus's loving, tender heart.

Here's the secret: Every time you feel a negative train of thought coming upon you, give it over to him. When the pesky little voice of doubt whispers sarcastic and negative things in your ear, let Jesus take it away. I think of literally throwing my hands up in the air to him and asking him to take it...and you know what? He steps in to be my hero. Every. Single. Time. I have seen the proof of this method in my life when I was recovering from the addiction of an eating disorder and body image anxiety that stole my joy for nine years. This method helped me overcome it more than anything else. It is powerful and I am a living testimony that it can make you a happier person with a stronger, more trusting relationship with the Lord. (Note: in that extreme instance, it took more like six months to see full results, but after a month I could already see incredible results in my life.)

Be sure to read my list of tips at the end of the post to make the resolution last, because I know doing something totally new for 30 days is HARD! I re-trained my brain about five years ago in growing a healthy body image, but five years later I have new challenges as a wife, mom, speaker, and manager of a household. It's time to stop making excuses, buckle down, and make it happen. I owe it to myself.

It won't be easy to break habits. It takes time. There will be setbacks. But I guarantee the hard work is WORTH IT! Don't wait until New Year's to start. If you commit to this challenge with me now, you can be a happier, more virtuous, and more fully alive person in 30 days.

After you've tried this for 30 days, I want to hear how it went. (Even if you only try it for a week and see, results, lemme hear about it!) Come on over to my website and leave a comment. What is one thing that changed for you while doing this challenge? What did you learn that surprised you the most? (Oh btw I also want to mention that this challenge is in no way a substitute for professional help when it is needed!)

Here are my top 10 tips for persisting for the full 30 days of this challenge:

1. Write down the words SURRENDER THE _______________ (insert name of what you're working to change- negativity, self-abuse, self-doubt, etc.) in all caps and put the note in places where you will see it every day like your mirror or bathroom sink. Don't trust yourself to just remember.

2. Tell a friend and commit to the challenge together. I call this an "accountabilibuddy." You can help keep each other strong.

3. Journal about it, if you keep a journal already. If not, now's a great time to start although you may struggle with consistency if you aren't used to writing your thoughts already.

4. Be gentle with yourself. The point is to STOP judging yourself and others, not to judge yourself for not stopping judging yourself and others perfectly. It's all about surrender. It's all about telling Jesus "you're stronger than I am, and I need help."

5. Say a prayer of thanksgiving every time Jesus takes away a negative train of thought. Gratitude will make you so much happier immediately! You'll be able to experience the difference right away and it'll fuel you to keep going.

6. Turn off whatever triggers negative thoughts, insofar as you are able. Does Cosmopolitan magazine make you compare yourself to models? Throw it out and don't buy it again. Does scrolling through your social media newsfeeds make you depressed about your life and make you unhappy, kicking off the cycle of negativity? Delete the app on your phone and limit yourself STRICTLY to no more than 5 minutes a day.

7. Write out a description of the kind of person you want to be. Don't limit yourself with "I can't do/be that." Focus on virtue and good qualities that will last rather than on appearance, career goals, or other externals. Notice how thinking of yourself as that kind of person makes you feel.

8. When you are able to release a negative train of thought to the Lord and he takes it away, go do something productive, something that makes you happy, and/or something that makes someone else happy. Do something that will contribute to the future person of virtue that you want to be.

9. Adoration, adoration, adoration. Go spend time with the Lord and tell him everything. Let him tell you what he thinks of you.

10. Set a reward for yourself for attempting this for 30 days (notice I said attempt, not succeed! It is always an ongoing process.) Make the reward something that contributes to the kind of person you want to become. For example, reward yourself by taking yourself and a friend out for lunch and paying for both lunches. Or, buying that beautiful prayer journal you've been wanting that's just a little outside your budget normally.

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