How to CHANGE our thinking??
Last week I talked about optimism vs pessimism, and the fascinating health outcomes that can be associated with each!
I left the email encouraging you to notice your self-talk tone… what did you find when you noticed your thoughts?
Do you beat yourself up?
Do you put pressure on yourself with “shoulds”?
Our thoughts create our feelings, feelings create our actions, and actions create our results—mentally, emotionally, and physically.
We can hear it over and over again—“negative thinking doesn’t serve you, think positive!”
But HOW do I do it?
HOW do I CHANGE from thinking negatively to positively?
From having a fixed to a growth mindset?
Don’t you think I WANT to think that way? I just don’t!
I think this is a great example of trying to go AROUND a problem, rather than through it. Let’s break it down.
The problem we are dealing with: changing negative thinking to positive (or realistic/growth) thinking.
But trying to go from thinking one thing to thinking the opposite isn’t going to happen just because we tell ourselves to.
In fact, telling ourselves that, telling ourselves we “should”—it’s judgment that not only doesn’t serve us, it keeps us stuck in the same old cycle.
It’s like trying to force yourself to like something you just don’t.
Stay with me for a quick story back to my childhood—I detested the taste of cough syrup. I refused to consume it no matter how sick I was. My mom, trying to help, bought a honey-flavored cough syrup thinking it might sway me. It looked like honey—but holy moly… the taste… I can still taste that disgusting gloop.
It RUINED the taste of honey for me. Combining honey and bitter cough syrup should be illegal. Seriously, for about 10 years I would NOT consume honey at all—partially because the taste triggered the memory, but partially because it became a part of “me”—my identity.
Our brains reinforce the thought, and it becomes easier and easier to come back to.
“I’m Alyssia, and I hate honey.” Or I was…
One day at a pizza place in Colorado, they put honey on the table as a condiment—like ketchup or mustard at a burger place. This strangeness intrigued me enough to challenge my identity and drizzle a little on my pizza.
BLIMEY! I don’t think a better combination exists (if you haven’t tried it, now is the time).
Now, it didn’t make me become a “person who likes honey,” but it did open me up to the idea of consuming it on occasion.
For a while, it was only on pizza. But then I started to consider baking or cooking with it, and eventually, over time and exposure, my aversion *mostly* disappeared.
The transition phase is key to any change. Whether it’s a change in our bodies, our lifestyles, our preferences, or our thinking.
So what does that transition look like in real life when it comes to changing our thoughts?
I call them intermediary thoughts.
I first heard about this concept from Brooke Castillo’s podcast, so I can’t take credit for the example but it’s a good one so I’m going to share it here, and I hope it will shift your perspective.
Let’s say you want to go from thinking “I am ugly” to “I am beautiful.” If you don’t actually believe that you’re beautiful, that thought isn’t going to change. This is why affirmations don’t work for some people.
If you don’t actually believe the thought or affirmation (at least somewhat), it’s not going to stick—and in fact, it might do more harm than good because you’re trying to force yourself to believe something you don’t, which only further encourages the judgment and shame.
But what if there was a thought BETWEEN “I am ugly” and “I am beautiful?”
We have to accept the truth of where we’re at before I can really change.
I might not believe that “I am beautiful,” but what about “I have a body?” It’s true, isn’t it? I do have a body! There’s no denying it, but there’s also no emotional charge with it one way or another—making room for acceptance. Making room for transition—a small tick of the needle further to the center.
Rather than trying to go from “negative” to “positive,” that intermediary thought lets you find a middle range thought you actually believe.
Baby steps, remember!?
So how do we change the thinking from “I’m ugly” to “I’m beautiful?” Slowly. Through transition.
Whenever the thought “I’m ugly” comes up, notice it. Be curious about it coming up, instead of angry—and if you’re angry, just notice that.
Then, consider replacing that thought with the intermediary, “I have a body.” Say it to yourself, and believe it, because it’s true.
Continue on this path—with compassion, and without judgment—and eventually “I have a body” will be the new thought you’re trying to change. And it may not be right to jump straight to “I am beautiful” from there—there may be another intermediary thought, something like “There are some qualities I like about myself,” for example.
Keep moving, transitioning, that needle—a little at a time.
If you want to start thinking more positively, you’ve got to outsmart your brain.
It’s used to thinking negatively and wants to continue doing what’s familiar.
So when a negative thought comes, don’t let your brain take over and run with it, and don’t fight it or force it to be something it’s not.
Instead, just notice. Be curious. Accept.
If you can do that, then, believe it or not, the rest will start to happen without you even trying.
Notice the negative thoughts, without judging them.
Notice if you’re clinging to any sense of “identity” or “way” that you are or must be. Be curious about those parts of you, and some interesting things might happen…
I’d love it if you’d try this exercise on your own today or this week—and feel free to reply to my email and share with me if you’d like:
- What is one negative thought you have that you’d like to change?
- What is an intermediary thought you can start with to move the needle?
I journal about these intermediary thoughts regularly to work with them. Here’s one I’ve been working with lately:
A thought I’d like to change is “I’m not a good writer.”
My intermediary thought: “Writing is a skill that can be learned, and I’m practicing writing every day.”
I hope you found this helpful. Perspective is everything.
Sending lots of light and love your way,