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Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. In my desk drawer, I keep a black, leather journal. I’ve had the notebook for the better part of a decade, but the words inside of it aren’t my own. Instead, it holds a collection of affirmation from people who know and appreciate me: colleagues, friends, relatives, even clients.
I pull the journal out of the drawer on two different kinds of occasions:
First, every time I receive positive feedback — a kind word, a compliment, or a fond anecdote or memory — I write it down.
Second, I crack open the journal when I’m feeling forgetful about who I am and what I’m capable of.
Whenever I lose faith in myself to accomplish my goals, I sit down with my positive feedback journal and attempt to revise my thinking.
It’s a simple strategy, but it’s the most effective one I’ve found for quickly shifting my thoughts and, in turn, altering my actions, habits, and routines.
Slumps can be hard to escape. Negative thinking easily snowballs into negative feelings, and negative behavior usually follows close behind. Fortunately, there’s psychological evidence suggesting you don’t have to stay in that pit once you sink into it.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, one of the most-studied, well-regarded forms of psychotherapy, hinges on the idea that by changing your thought patterns, you can also improve your emotional state and behavior.
Paging through a positive feedback journal is an exercise in shifting your self-talk by challenging your negative emotions and beliefs instead of automatically accepting them. When you interrupt a cycle of negativity before it spirals, you can prevent your thoughts from impacting your life in bigger ways.
Related: The Lost Leadership Art of Positive Feedback
You could, of course, rely on your own mental strength to pull yourself out of the negative-thinking slump. But, in my experience, relying on another person’s perspective is the most powerful way to trigger new ways of thinking.
Why? It traces back to neuroscience. Often, when you’re in a compromised emotional state, the prefrontal cortex — the logical part of your brain that can normally talk you out of sulking or motivate you to change direction — is less effective. That means as much as you want to think more positively about yourself, your brain can get “stuck” in a feedback loop.
Adopting another person’s kind-but-logical perspective about you can bring you out of that emotional state, so you’ll be newly motivated to align your actions to your core identity.
There’s no one, black-and-white way to use other people’s positive words to refuel.
Dan Cable, a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, suggests creating a personal highlight reel — a collection of memories of when you were at your very best. His process, which calls the Positive Method, helps people get out of slumps and achieve growth and momentum essentially by asking others to eulogize them.
Here’s the premise: You reach out to people who know you and request that they share memories of “you being the best version of yourself.”
It might feel awkward to ask someone to dish out kind words about you, but that’s the point in addition to building closer bonds with others. Cable believes his method is impactful because it forces people out of their comfort zone. In questioning your thinking and inviting positive feedback, you can “shift your controls from autopilot to manual” and, in so doing, alter your negative self-talk.
Related: Every Business Needs Positive Online Reviews. Here’s How to Find …
Asking your colleagues, friends, and relatives to compliment you isn’t the only way to propel yourself into a new way of thinking about yourself.
You can also collect positive feedback over time, like I do. Anytime a friend writes you a kind note, a customer submits an encouraging comment about your work, or a co-worker speaks up about your hard work, write it down. It could be as simple as creating a “kudos file,” or a folder in your email where you store compliments from coworkers, supervisors, and customers.
Over time, you’ll develop a collection of validating memories about yourself, which you can revisit anytime you need a motivational boost.
Patching together hard evidence of your best qualities (and tangible examples of times you exercised them) is an effective way to alter the way you view yourself.
But it’s not just a quick self-esteem boost — the goal isn’t just to wax poetic about how amazing you are (although recognizing your capability and strength is an important step). Embracing your strengths will empower you to create habits that maximize what you’re good at — and, ultimately, to move toward your goals.
“Once you can see how others perceive you when you make your best impact,” Cable writes in Harvard Business Review, “you’ll be more likely to maximize and build upon the unique strengths that make you exceptional.”
Remember: It’s normal to feel stuck from time to time. But you don’t have to set up camp there.
When you remember who you are — in this case, with a little help from your friends — you can keep becoming the person you want to be.
Related: How to Give Employee Feedback Effectively (and Why It Matters)