If you want to succeed in anything in life you need to know how to influence your mind. You need to know how to make your mind do what you want it to do, not what you don’t.
Have you ever noticed how we are surrounded by messages like 'Don't drink and drive' 'Don't forget your passport' 'Don't touch the button! 'Don't eat junk!' And how many times have you have ended up doing the very thing you were told not to? Why is that? The answer lies in understanding how the mind processes information.
For many years I have tried to explain to my clients how to successfully influence their mind but only recently I have come across an explanation that is both simple and accurate. I will borrow and adapt Marisa Peer's framework to make it very clear how to effectively communicate with your own mind.
If you are depressed chances are you have been told at least one of the following:
Your mother or father might have been depressed, your antidepressants may not be working, you may have been told you just have a chemical imbalance and there is nothing you can do to help yourself. I have encountered many people with depression in both my practice and in my personal life and having suffered from it myself and having been close to suicide at one point, I know what it is like to feel trapped in a nightmare with no end in sight.
The good new is it is possible to overcome depression, no matter how long you've had it or what anybody else has said to you about it. Although depression causes a chemical imbalance, that is the consequence and not the cause of it. Although it is more likely that you will suffer from it if someone close to you has had it that is not because it is a genetic disease but because you have learnt how to think in a depressive way from those who are close to you.
The truth about depression is that you can beat it. It may not be an easy peasy process but it is most certainly possible and the first step is to choose to believe that you can.
You care. And yet sometimes it doesn't seem like people know that. You don't want to feel alone and isolated but that's how you end up feeling a little too often. You don't understand how it seems to easy for some to make friends and have great relationships and so hard for you. Do they know something you don't or are they simply born that way?
It may be easier for some to forge new relationships than for others. Perhaps they are less shy and more extroverted. However this does not predict whether those relationships will last long term or whether they would be truly satisfying to those involved. The quality of your relationships in the long run is more important than their quantity. And the quality of a relationship is measured by the quality of the connection you have together.
A true connection with someone is a vital experience that you feel in your whole being. Cultivating connection takes skill, and skills take time effort and commitment to develop. Let's have a look at what gets in the way of true connection and what enhances it.
Perhaps you have a habit of going in one direction only to give up halfway and try something else or maybe you stay put and don't venture into the new because you're not sure if it'd be the right thing for you. You wish you were like those people that knew what they wanted to do in life since childhood. You wonder if perhaps you are just different from everyone else and there is no point in even trying but you don't want to give up just yet.
You are aware that it's important to set goals but the idea of doing that makes you feel anxious or perhaps even angry. How do you set a goal if you haven't got a clue what you want? Goals may seem arbitrary or superficial or you worry you would get it wrong and then find yourself hating the direction you've chosen. Maybe you want to have no doubts before you start so you risk failure less. If only there was something you could do to clear the brain fog and actually be sure of yourself...
You may think you are alone in this but the truth is a lot of people go through this before finding clarity. So how did they find the answer that allowed them to move on? They stopped trying to find their direction in a rational way and instead connected to their heart's desire. Here's how.
Do you set goals but give up as soon as the going gets tough? Do you find it difficult to stay motivated and give up on yourself as soon as you hit an obstacle?
Perhaps you have decided to learn a language or maybe you want to lose weight or you want to save money for a trip. Maybe you want to write a book or kick a bad habit or have a better social life. No matter what your goal is though, as soon as you encounter a difficulty you feel deflated and find it hard to stay the course.
Maybe you are excited about finally writing that book but when you look at the blank page nothing seems to come out and you feel deflated. Or maybe you want to get fit but you haven't been to the gym for so long that the exercises seem way too hard so you never go back. Or maybe you decide to learn to play guitar but after the first few lessons you realise there is so much more to learn than you expected and it feels just too overwhelming to continue.
It doesn't matter what the goal is. Sometimes you take a few steps forward but end up stalling. Other times you don't start at all. You say to yourself: "maybe I just don't have what it takes... I am too lazy, old, unfit, stupid etc. Other people seem to have it so much easier than you and you don't know why. You wish there was an easy way to just skip ahead and get it done but you don't know how.
After a few times of going through this pattern you start to feel nervous about trying something new, worrying that you might fail again. If you soon don't stick to your goals you will never achieve anything of value - you say to yourself. You will never be able to learn French, run that marathon, start your own business, ask a woman out. You are afraid you might never make that dream come true and that just feels depressing.
You know what? You aren't alone. Believe me, I have been there, plenty of times. The good news is there is a way to get past your struggle. Your goal may at times feel like an unattainable dream but they may be closer than you think. Let me show you how to stick to your decisions and overcome challenges even when it feels like an impossible feat.
Have you ever thought: "if I stop comparing myself to others then I'll never improve?" Me too. It makes sense right? The problem with this line of reasoning is that when you try to better yourself by comparing yourself to others, you will always end up finding an area in which you fall short. We tend to see what we are looking for and even if you didn't fall in the trap of assuming others are better than you without checking there's bound to be something another is better than you at.
As a result, you can feel deflated, demotivated and even give up before trying. Even in the best case scenario, you will spend the energy you could have put to good use by improving your skills feeling sorry for yourself instead. It sounds like a losing game doesn't it?
So do yourself a favor: only compare yourself to yourself yesterday, a week ago, last year. And here's the trick: focus on where you have improved, not where you fall short.
Whether you are an actor, a musician, a comedian or simply need to give a talk or a presentation at work, sometimes you may feel so nervous about performing or speaking in front of an audience that even the thought produces fear in you and you'd do anything to avoid it. Even the most seasoned performers can experience this, and it is due to the emergency part of our brains (the "amygdala") interpreting your circumstance as a threat and switching on the fight or flight response.
One of the things that I have been noticing in my practice is how often people come to see me for social anxiety problems. I also have been aware of how reports seem to indicate this malady to be on the rise in recent times in the western world. So what can we make of this? I have started to question how much of this excessive amount of anxiety is societal and how much is learned behavior coupled with a genetic predisposition.
Even without delving into how our societal values vastly influence the importance of social status and its representation through social and traditional media, and even putting aside personal history I am starting to think that a fundamental part of the problem comes from being stuck in the teenage developmental error of assuming and believing that while everyone else is worth knowing and/or has a wonderful life we are not. This makes us feel insecure (and deepens our preexisting insecurities) and puts us in a position of being at -1 in social situations.
Let me explain: if we all realized that we are in the same boat and that everyone is as ‘messed up’ and as fundamentally OK as everyone else the way we relate would change. We would stop trying to impress others or being impressed by their seeming social success and we would relate to them as equals; as a result, when talking/meeting a new person we would both start at level 0, not level +1 or -1 (better or worse than them).
Step number one then would be to question the fundamental assumption that others are better than us and decide to take a position of fundamental equality. Every time you realize you are putting yourself down when comparing yourself to someone else ask yourself the question: how do I know this is true? Can I prove it? What is the evidence against it? And actively look beyond the surface.
Question your own values. What makes you worth knowing is not how much money you have or how thin you are (among other common concerns) but the unique flavor of the way you experience the world. There is no right or wrong way to experience it. There is only genuine communication of your experience and genuine interest in other people’s experience. When we genuinely tell others how we feel about anything we connect as equals, it is easier for others to accept us and as a result, our anxiety assuages.
Finally: think about someone who seems at genuine ease with others. What are they doing? Model yourself after their positive qualities you wish to acquire. And when in a difficult situation ask yourself: what would this person do? Now take a leap of faith and do it. Notice what’s different. Persist. Change takes time and effort. You will get out of it as much as you put into it.
In a previous article, I have explored how our negative core beliefs keep us stuck. If you are not familiar with this I suggest you read “How to get Unstuck” first.
Now before going ahead make yourself comfortable. Take a pen and paper and get ready to do some very valuable work that will make a real difference in your life. Take your time with this. The more you put into it the more you will get out of it.
Ok, let’s get down to work: start by writing down the first restrictive negative belief you want to change. Then proceed with the following steps:
1) On a scale of 1-10, how true does this belief subjectively feel?
2) On a scale of 1-1- how true is this belief in reality? (be as neutral and objective as possible)
3) When does this belief the most emotionally convincing?
4) When does it feel the least emotionally convincing? Take your time answering this question as this will reveal to you what conditions exasperate the issue and what makes it better.
5) What actual evidence do you have for this belief? what supports it? Be realistic and as neutral as possible
6) What actual evidence contradicts and challenges this belief? What evidence is there to show you it might not be necessarily true?
7) What possible advantages are making you want to hold on to it? In what way could this belief be serving you beneficially in some perverse way?
8) What disadvantages are there in holding on to it?
9) Now remind yourself of a circumstance in the past when you had doubts about a belief. Go back to that time and recall what it felt like to experience doubt. How did you know you were doubting your previously firm beliefs? what were you experiencing? what made you change your mind?
10) Recalling and staying with this doubting state start doubting your current belief. Ask yourself those questions again: does this belief really fit with what is truly important to me? In the past, when did this belief interfere with what I wanted to do? What would it be like to be free of this old belief?
11) After rolling these questions in your mind for a while focus again.
Is this negative belief an over-generalization? Is it the result of catastrophizing? Is it just a personal attack against your person or others? Does it label you or others into something fixed? Is it the result of demanding of yourself something unreasonable, such as ‘you SHOULD be or do such and such”?
12) After careful consideration how true does your old belief feel now on a scale of 1-10? Now comes the fun part: relax, take a few deep breathes and close your eyes. Imagine that there’s a furnace somewhere deep inside yourself.
If you really want to permanently destroy that old belief imagine throwing it into that fire and watch it burn away into ashes. Take pleasure in doing this.
13) Now ask yourself: what would be a more helpful and realistic alternative belief to have? State it positively (say what you want not what you don’t want!).
Make sure you are happy with it. Word it in the present tense, as if it was happening now. (i.e. I believe I am good enough as I am, or, I believe I deserve love just as I am)
14) On a scale of 1-10, how true does it feel right now?
15) As you did before ask yourself, when does the new belief feel the least and the most emotionally convincing.
16) Examine the evidence against this new belief? Is there any problem with it? Then find evidence that proves its correctness and usefulness. Write it down
17) Write down any disadvantages there may be for holding this new positive belief. Be as objective as possible
18) Write down all the advantages of holding this new positive belief now.
19) Now go inside yourself again. Recall a time in the past when you felt receptive and willing to learn. Remember what it was like to be open to change and new beliefs. How did it feel? Re-live that time in as much detail as possible. Where in your body did you feel those feelings? What were you telling yourself? Do all it is possible now to achieve that same state again now.
20) Staying with that memory of feeling receptive and open focus on your new belief. How would it feel to accept this new belief? How is it better than the previous one? How different would your life be if you held this new belief as your own? What would you be doing that you were doing before? What could you achieve and overcome that you weren’t able to before? Think about all this and engage with your new belief.
21) Now evaluate your new belief. Do you need to make any changes? Can you improve on it in any way? How good do you feel holding it? On a scale of 1-10, how true does it feel now?
Now decide to take some action. What can you do differently right now, today, as a result of having acquired this new belief? If you truly believed in it, what would you do differently? Set yourself a task based on this belief being true and decide what action you would take.
Start doing things differently right now so that your new belief gets empirical support and you experience it in your life. This way it gets verified, enhanced and supported and therefore embedded in your new behavior patterns.
Have fun with it, experiment and watch your life change and feel great as a result!
When we are blocked in an area of our lives it often is due to the fact that we feel safer that way. We may feel unhappy but that is easier to deal with than our fear of the unknown. We begin to change when the pain we experience in staying stuck is bigger than the anticipated pain of change.
A lot of fear comes down to our negative core beliefs : deeply held beliefs acquired some time in the past due to painful experiences. Becoming conscious and challenging these beliefs is the first step in the process of change.
For a moment, think about something you would really like to do or be right now but don’t feel able to. When you’ve got that, write it down. Do that now. Maybe you have always wanted to be an artist so write down “I am a capable and talented artist”.
Now, in all probability a voice in your head has just emerged to criticize this statement bringing up all sorts of reasons why this is either impossible or a bad idea. Positive affirmations can give us a sense of safety and hope if we let them but at first you will probably feel they sound fake, embarassing or not right. No surprise there. If you have spent all your life bludgeoning yourself with negative beliefs such as “I am worthless” or “I am not good enough” or “I must be perfect to deserve success” anything else will sound unfamiliar and syrupy or cheesy . So saying to yourself ” I am lovable just as I am” or “I am capable and confident” will surely sound untrue at first.
The problem with not accepting a belief because it doesn’ t sound right though is that feelings are a result of thoughts and if you want to change a feeling you have got to change the thought first. It’s a bit like the idea of “fake it til you make it”. You can’t wait to feel it to believe it, you gotta believe it to feel it! Luckily there are some ways to get around this obstacle, but all of these do involve a certain willingness to suspend judgement and take a leap of faith, as well as engage our rational mind doubting limiting old beliefs.
So what is that critical monster in your head saying when you tell it you already are what you want to be ?( After saying your affirmation: i.e. “I am ok just as I am” )
Listen to the objections that come your way. What s the cruel voice saying inside your head ? “so you’re ok as you are… ah ah sure you are!”, “who are you kidding?”, “You are ugly”, “You will never change”, “You can’t do anything right”, “No-one will ever love you unless you are perfect”, etc etc… You will be amazed at the rotten things you can come up with. Write them down. These are your personal negative core beliefs.
Once you have written them down you can start having a good look at where these beliefs come from: Mom and dad? Your school bully? The boy/girl you were in love with when you were ten? Teachers that pushed you too hard? Your little jealous sister ? Scan your blurts for possible sources. Time travel back into your life in five year increments and list by name who influenced you the most in each block of time.
Once you have identified these challenge their opinions. What self serving reason could they have had to have done or said what they did do or say? How did their own worldview influence them ? What did they believe about themselves ? What messages did they grow up with ? Remember this is not about blaming or condoning, just understanding and distinguishing their beliefs from what yours would be if you hadn’t accepted theirs as true. If there is still a lot of emotional energy involved in recalling these memories you might have to release it first so you can forgive them and yourself and move on.
Keep in mind that it is also possible your negative beliefs may come from subtle non direct messages received from your environment or from an experience of something that happened to you where others were not directly involved:
Maybe you felt different because of a situation you found yourself in; maybe you were abandoned by a significant other; maybe you fell ill and became isolated; maybe you were born with something that set you apart from others and you yourself came up with the negative conclusion that you were not Ok just as you were: the possibilities are endless and very personal.
Whatever your monster is, after it has been brought up to the light of day you can start working on challenging its critical voice and changing those negative beliefs that keep you stuck and unhappy. If you would like help with a practical cognitive behavioral approach to this, read this article about “how to get rid of negative core beliefs”.