If life, your appearance or the unkind words of others have you feeling down, science has uncovered ways to feel better. Here’s one of the most effective:
Editor’s Note: Dr. Brian Machida served for years as a clinical professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. He has an exceptional level of experience, having performed thousands of facial rejuvenation procedures in his career.
Research published in Clinical Psychological Science proves what my colleagues and I have observed for many years. After comparing some 550 patients who had plastic surgery with 1,260 mentally and emotionally similar people who had not, the study concluded:
When comparing the results of the psychological tests of the surgical patients to those who had not had plastic surgery, people who went under the knife had higher self-esteem, experienced less anxiety and felt healthier overall.
Clearly, knowing that you look younger and more attractive can cause you to feel better about yourself. However, it’s important to note that several other proven factors are involved in how happy, confident and satisfied you feel. Since my goal is to genuinely improve my patients’ lives, I’d like to share one of them here.
Don’t let ANTs ruin your picnic
One of the most important discoveries of psychology research is that what we think strongly affects how we feel. Psychologists have discovered a group of common mistakes people make when thinking – automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that can ruin the moment or your whole day. According to Dr. David Burns’ classic, Feeling Good – The New Mood Therapy, these include:
- All-or-nothing thinking: You see things as black or white. If your performance falls short of perfection, you see yourself as a total failure. If you don’t look perfect, you’re ugly.
- Jumping to conclusions: When someone reacts negatively to you, you assume that they don’t like you. But you don’t verify that or consider the circumstances. Another example is assuming that things will turn out badly.
- Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as part of a never-ending pattern of losing. A bad result at work might make you think “I’m a failure – I never get things right.”
- Disqualifying the positive: You feel that positive experiences “don’t count” or, “I won, but I didn’t deserve it.” Or, you focus on the one thing you didn’t do so well instead of the many things you did.
- Magnification or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your own mistakes or someone else’s achievements) or play down your own desirable qualities or the other person’s imperfections. You make disasters out of everyday negative events.
- Personalization: When something bad happens, you automatically blame yourself when in fact you were not the primary cause.
Stepping on the ANTs
Years of research and practical results show that people can “step on the ANTs” and change their way of thinking. If you find that these common, automatic (but incorrect) negative thoughts are regular visitors in your life, you’re not stuck with them forever. Naturally, if you’re experiencing depression, you should seek the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist. This article is no substitute for a doctor’s help if you need it.
For the rest of us, eminent psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman recommended this procedure:
- Recognize the negative thought that is causing you to feel badly
- Identify what kind of ANT it is (jumping to a conclusion, all or nothing thinking, etc.)
- Dispute it – is what you’re thinking really true?
- What indisputable evidence leads inevitably to this conclusion?
- Is there a valid alternative explanation?
- If it is true, what is the likely result?
- Reschedule it – Is there a better time to think about it that might produce more useful conclusions?
Doing this in writing can be particularly effective. If you often find ANTs ruining your picnic, why not carry a small notebook where you can identify and dispute your ANTs in writing. Research finds that writing things down can have a greater impact on your feelings.
There are several other strategies that can help you feel better. This will put you in position to truly benefit if you decide to improve your appearance.