There is a popular misconception that repeating positive phrases or mantras to yourself can change your life. It’s a good-vibes-only approach but doesn’t foster real change.
If you’ve tried using positive affirmations, you know that they may briefly lift your mood or make you feel like you are starting your day well, but they are really very superficial statements that do little to counter your subconscious mind where your limiting beliefs live. There is no harm in reciting a positive mantra but it won’t prevent your old, ingrained thoughts from drifting back. They have deeply embedded pathways in your brain.
In fact, it’s normal and healthy to experience a range of feelings, from pleasant ones to unpleasant ones like disappointment, embarrassment, sadness or guilt. There is no question that ruminating over negative emotions does not serve anyone well. However, research has shown that programmed positive thinking is simply a temporary fix which can actually trigger a self-defeating spiral. You can tell yourself, “I am successful and attract wealth” all day long but if your deeply held core belief is that you are an imposter, unworthy, or incapable of success, your brain will cling ever tighter to your long standing beliefs that you’re not any of those things.
Your Brain Likes to Be Proven Right
Psychologists call this behavior “confirmation bias,” which is our tendency to only consider information that supports what we already believe to be true. If you tell yourself “I am successful,” when actually, deep down, you struggle with insecurity regarding your skills and accomplishments, your brain will only look for and focus on examples of all the times you’ve failed or have made mistakes to validate that old way of thinking.
But we can’t simply can’t wish ourselves into a sustainable, healthy mindset by repeating positive mantras.
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Ask Yourself Questions
Research shows that our brains respond better to asking ourselves questions rather than taking commands. Here’s what you can do in addition to affirmations to start to retrain your mind.
First, start by identifying any thoughts you tend to repeat that might be holding you down. Write them down. This very simple but sometimes difficult task is called a “thought download” and is a very helpful way to develop self awareness.
Next, pick one self-defeating thought that dominates your mind or troubles you most. Remember, thoughts are not facts. Instead of trying to counter a negative thought with a positive affirmation or trying to drown it out, try asking questions aimed at understanding why you are choosing to think that thought. Is it serving you well? Or holding you back?
“Is that thought true?”
“What evidence supports this thought?”
“What facts don’t support this thought?”
Our Thoughts Create Our Feelings
Every feeling we have is because of a thought we are thinking. It is a powerful exercise to develop awareness of how we create our feelings with our thoughts. For a thought to have impact, you have to truly believe it at both a cognitive and emotional level. Our brains lie to us all the time. It’s called denial, and we know it all too well. But deep down if we get really quiet and practice becoming aware of our thoughts, we can learn to examine them with curiosity instead of judgement. Until we understand that we are choosing what to think and how to view the circumstances of our lives, we are often the creators of our own misery.
Continuing the exercise, ask yourself how the thought you identified above makes you feel. Really pay attention.
“When I think this thought, I feel (discouraged, hurt, sad, angry, betrayed, like a failure…..)”
Now, try a different thought. Instead of simply reciting positive affirmations you may or may not truly believe, try picking a thought that serves you better. Write it down. Say it out loud. How does it make you feel to try a different perspective? It feels different, right?
Notice your brain will try to fight any new thoughts and revert to the old faulty thinking. Recognize that your brain is just thinking what it’s been trained to think for a long time and is now a default, a habit. That’s totally normal. It takes practice to choose new thoughts….but the results in your life will be transformative.
Spend time looking for the evidence for things that have gone right in your life. How did you achieve those? What lucky things happened to you? What did you participate in to get the results you wanted? What role did you have in your blessings?
To effectively reframe your thinking, focus on your daily progress. The small things. Think about the path you’re on that is pointing you toward your big goal. Rushing toward an end game doesn’t generally work, but taking many small, consistent steps every day has a cumulative effect on how you achieve your goals, and how those goals affect your life.
Good Vibes or Good Questions? Final Thoughts
I want you to try this one small exercise every single day for one month, and if you like it, keep going. Each night ask yourself this one question:
What went right today?
Write down your answers, and soon you will see days and weeks and months of things that went right for you. Over time, I promise you will start to notice major changes in your mindset, your productivity, and success.
If you’d like to learn more about resetting your mindset and achieving goals, subscribe to my newsletter and reach out to me for 1:1 life coaching.