Photo: Ferguson & Katzman Photography/GettyImages
"I'm saving up my vacation days for a trip to India (next year)!"
Saving up your vacation days for a dream trip to India, Hawaii or anywhere else can infuse all those days you spend at the office with a sense of expectation—if not minor triumph. You're working toward a goal (later)! You're rewarding yourself (soon)! Except that little phrase hidden in parentheses often gets ignored. Sure, you're saving up, but if you get really busy and next year doesn't work out, you'll do the year after that. By then, of course, you're totally burned out from not taking any vacation, or you've lost your days. This time, slap a specific date on it—"I'm saving up for a trip in 2015!" Then add the following sentence: "And I just bought the nonrefundable airplane ticket!"
"Ted is so incompetent."
Here's what leads you to this sentence: Ted doesn't spell check his emails before sending them to clients! Ted also breaks the printer every time he uses it! Which means: Ted is incompetent! This conclusion usually leads you to other conclusions, such as: Ted can't be trusted to do the smallest things; so, Ted can't be trusted with the big things, either. I can't work another day with incompetent Ted!!! Of course, you can't say any of this to Ted. It's mean and unprofessional. So you sit there fuming for months, repeating these thoughts to yourself. Instead, consider going back to what caused you to come up with this idea in the first place: Ted doesn't spell check his emails before sending them to clients! Ted also breaks the printer every time he uses it! Then, get up and talk to Ted about how to solve these problems, not how to solve Ted—preferably without using your internal exclamation point.
Which you can still say, just not to yourself. Even the quietest "Help me!" needs to be communicated to someone else.
"I know I can do this and this, if I just don't sleep."
Amazing opportunities occasionally come up, sometimes at the same time. Let's say you get into a master's program in hotel management and get a great-paying full-time internship at the Four Seasons. Let's say you get asked to be class parent at your daughter's nursery school and your son's elementary school, as well as being voted head of the PTA. The conversation with yourself that follows usually has more to do with how much you want to do both things and less to do with how you can actually do them. You may want to do them so much, that you decide to forgo sleep. Further, you may even admit to yourself that nobody can go without sleep—forever. Which is why you will only be doing it for a little while! Just until...say...you get it all done! What you are forgetting is that skipping sleep makes you less capable, meaning those amazing opportunities may turn into disappointing and possibly even embarrassing ones. Sleep is not a choice; it's a requirement for life and sanity.
"I don't have enough time to read."
I often say this to myself. Interestingly, I have time to loofah my elbows, vacuum the car and stand there on the sidewalk silently cursing my neighbors who leave dog poop in my trash cans—none of which are activities that I even enjoy. Add up the time it takes to do all that and I could have finished a chapter of the smart, juicy novel The Luminaries
, as well as sharpened my empathy and emotional intelligence, qualities that researchers at The New School for Social Science found increase after reading literary fiction
"If I do this, that will happen."
Chronologically speaking, events in your brain make sense. For example, late at night, you may lie in bed saying, "If I move to the country, things will be less stressful and I will have more time. If things are less stressful and I have more time, I will finally have the energy to paint again." This usually feels good. You have a plan. But just because you do something, doesn't mean you can count on or predict what will happen next. You might have the energy to paint, or you might be so exhausted from milking cows and growing organic vegetables that you drop in bed exhausted every night. No longer saying this to yourself relieves you of the responsibility of predicting the future—an activity that will relieve you of stress far faster and more easily than any change in geography.
"Darn! I meant to give $100 to Heifer International last year!"
There are a few things mandatory for life enjoyment. One of them is dill-pickle-flavored popcorn
. (Okay, maybe that's just me.) Another is giving back, which not only makes you feel sparkly but also can improve your health
. The tricky thing about it is that we want to do it (because it feels good), and for various reasons (because we're busy, we're overwhelmed, we're facing a big stack of bills), we somehow never quite remember to send the check—and that may just reduce your happiness levels, according to a study of 200,000 adults, in 136 countries, which found giving donations boosted a feeling of well-being
. So indulge your highest—and happiest—self, and strike this sentence from your vocabulary in 2014...and every year to come.
Leigh Newman is the deputy editor of Oprah.com and the author of Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-Up World, One Long Journey Home
Next: Banish a bad thought before it takes over your life