Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you could change your negative thoughts and beliefs? Or wondered how it would feel to stop being so self-critical, to stop those feelings of being unworthy or the idea that you just had to put up with whatever life threw at you.
I recognize these thoughts because I experienced them frequently but didn’t have a clue how to change anything.
Of course, I’d read about and tried plenty of ideas, but they didn’t seem to stick. So I ended up thinking that it wasn’t possible to change my thinking or beliefs, and I’d probably need a magic wand to make any change happen, but sadly, I didn’t have one handy. So I stopped trying.
This used to be me in action:
“If I expect the worst, then I can manage it when it happens.”
I tended to expect some catastrophe to befall me, or maybe a betrayal or whatever other negative thought came into my mind. Clearly, managing the worst before it happened would work like a talisman to keep me safe!
Except it didn’t. It made everything worse. Expecting the worst did the opposite of keeping me safe; those beliefs tended to become my reality, and it wasn’t fun. It took something my mum told me to help get past this incredibly stupid way of living in the world.
She told me that I since had no idea what lay ahead for me in life wouldn’t it be better to spend time thinking of what I wanted rather than what I didn’t want?
Yes, it absolutely would. But my negative expectations way of living in the world had become a habit, and habits are notoriously hard to change, or so I thought.
Yet it turned out that it wasn’t particularly hard to switch this particular way of thinking to one that made for a much happier life experience. I simply assumed that I could expect the best and not the worst. So I raised my expectations of what was possible for me. Raised expectations renewed my sense of hope with greater expectations for my future.
And even though I still didn’t have that proverbial magic wand, life certainly began to feel a little more magical to me.
As Ralph Marston says:
Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations.
Try a mental diet to change negative thoughts
Your self-talk is the vehicle that takes you toward your life experiences. Life doesn’t punish us. Life doesn’t reward us. Life merely responds to our energy, and we radiate energy outward by the things we constantly think, believe, and say to ourselves.
Spiritually speaking, two competing thoughts are merely two competing energies, and it’s impossible to experience them simultaneously.
You know this already.
Think about the energy of happiness and that of misery; it’s doubtful that you could feel them both at the same time, and although there’s nothing to stop you from switching between them, life is a whole lot better for you if you don’t!
Give your inner editor a job: to edit all stories of lack and limitation. They are no longer who you have to be.
This is what I did:
My new mental diet began with creating the version of myself that reflected me as someone I wanted to be. I envisioned myself as someone who was no longer hard on herself, rarely self-critical (okay, I confess that’s still a challenge), and recognized that while I wasn’t perfect (who is?) I no longer felt not good enough. As a bonus, the whole process felt good. Really good.
It only took a minute or two, so I would repeat this mental imagery, and after a while, I noticed I began to feel a little more confident in myself.
I’m not saying if you do this one thing, all things will change. But why not give it a whirl and see what changes for you?
Try a mental diet for a week, a week where each time you complain, or you find yourself listening to that inner negative voice that erodes your self-confidence and diminishes your self-worth, you switch it to a better thought. One that increases your self-respect and value.
And if you can’t manage it for a week, try a day. And if you can’t manage that, try it for an hour here and there.
Self-kindness, compassion, and beliefs
To quote Christopher Germer:
Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.
How does self-kindness help to stop and change negative thoughts and beliefs, you might well be asking?
Dr. David Hamilton, the author of numerous best-selling books, explains that when we are unkind to ourselves, we put our nervous system into almost continual stress mode and create psychological and physical stress.
Feeling that much stress is ruining our minds. No wonder we’re filled to the gills with negative thoughts and beliefs.
So try a little self-kindness. Not just now and then when you can fit it in. That’s not good enough. Instead, put ‘me’ time in your journal or calendar and do something that feels good. I know it feels good to be kind to others, but that doesn’t count here. It’s personal kindness that matters.
Acting on the idea that you are important begins to create that belief, and voila, a new, more positive feeling becomes a part of who you are.
Negative thoughts, beliefs, and cherries
I’ve written before about the intense pain I’ve been in because of damage to a facial nerve. This disease used to be called the ‘suicide disease’ because in times gone by they had no medication to help manage such severe pain: pain that’s triggered by everyday things like brushing teeth, eating, talking, even walking, at least in my case.
I think you get the picture. It’s incredibly painful. Eating was one of my biggest challenges; just putting food in my mouth could trigger an episode, then getting around to chewing it might mean another pain-filled episode.
Forget about eating my favorite food; eating any food could be unbearable.
And last year, when the cherry season began, being one of my favorite fruits, I decided to eat some cherries. After all, they were small and soft. But, unfortunately, it turned out that it wasn’t one of the best choices of all time. The only way I could eat them was to cut small pieces off around the pips, and even then, the pain of trying to eat them made it not worth it, so I gave up on that idea.
Here we are a year later, and cherry season is back, and I’m enjoying them as much as I used to. Not cutting teensy pieces, not worrying about putting them in my mouth…just eating them more commonly.
How did that happen?
And what does it have to do with negative thoughts and beliefs?
Consider this. How many thoughts do you have that stem from outer experiences? Most of them, right? This is especially true when you experience physical pain that’s so constant it’s hard to ignore.
But instead of waiting for a magical wand to appear, I wanted to support quicker healing to take place. But unfortunately, the promise of a better future isn’t free. And the price of admission to that better future involves the discipline of not accepting every thought about how bad things are or, in my particular case, how painful ordinary habits could be.
We must see and believe deep in our souls that we can achieve the future we want.
And so I locked in on the target of a future where I could eat cherries or anything else if I wanted to. I chose to go in, around, over, or under all the thoughts and beliefs that my mind threw at me.
I mentally saw myself eating those cherries, happily munching away at them, and felt the relief that the image provided
I didn’t succeed overnight. But the frequent acts of switching from the thoughts that pain gave me to the idea of my happier, pain-free future led me to make new decisions on managing the pain. It led me to build a solid foundation to support this vision and make different choices. And it finally led me to this day where I have just experienced the excitement of eating some cherries like everyone else manages to do.
With all of this said, I want to make something very clear, I am not suggesting for a minute that we can remove every negative thought and belief, but understanding that they are just energy zooming about in our head helps to get a grip on what can be done to change those thoughts and beliefs and dance to some new and better tune! And yes, even to the pain-free eating of cherries.
Encourage one another.