“Change your mind, change your life” is my personal motto, the motto of my company and is a briefly stated reminder that anyone can control their thoughts, emotions and actions.
As long as you have the ability to perceive, understand and label your emotions (those suffering from alexithymia, aka. emotional blindness lack this ability) you can control them and subsequently the thoughts related to and resulting from those emotions.
For instance if you are feeling happy, you would refuse to hold a thought such as “nothing good ever happens to me”. But if you are feeling sad or depressed you might be willing to sit with that notion for a while. Thoughts and emotions are circuitous in that thoughts you hold can endorse and prolong the emotional state you are currently in and the emotional state you are in can trigger thoughts that support and maintain your emotional state.
This relationship has a maladaptive dark side where negative thoughts and affect are concerned. Negative states and thoughts can not only perpetuate themselves but can cause other negative states. For example, you can feel anger triggered by some life event.
Anger is a heightened state of emotion. At some point your brain will become fatigued from that level of emotion and may switch to a related state of sadness or depression- lower level negative states that demand far less energy to be maintained.
In fact, you can swing back and forth between these two states in a pendulum fashion. These states may even be externally reinforced for you by friends who get angry with you and commiserate with your depression. Friends and family are often better at supporting you in your negative states (especially women who tend to be natural nurturers) than they are at showing you the positive side of the situation or just telling you to “snap out of it” when you have indulged too long.
The good news is that, in a manner similar to choosing thoughts that support your current state, you can choose thoughts that obliterate it.
1. Acknowledge your thoughts. Pay attention to disempowering thoughts that may be maintaining a negative state of emotion. You can refuse to hold the thoughts that are not serving you well. Put the thought in a balloon and pop it, show the thought a bright red stop sign, put it on a train out of your mind or whatever works for you. Replace it with an empowering thought even if you don’t believe the new thought at first.
2. Interrupt the pattern. If you find yourself vacillating between negative states as described above, you need pattern interruption. If you are holding those states, you are benefitting from them in some way. You might be getting attention, empathy, and taking the easy way out by saying there is no way out. Lift yourself out of this by challenging yourself to change your posture, tone of voice and breath. We slump, speak slowly with depressed intonation and breathe more shallowly when we are unhappy. Stand up straight, speak faster and with a more elevated intonation like you did the last time you were happy and breathe deeply over and over. Acknowledge where you are now and that you are willing to let it go. Focus on getting attention, support and significance for achieving a new goal.
3. Reframe the problem. It isn’t what you think it is. We tend to generalize problems and make them much bigger than they really are. We may even associate it with other problems or bad things that have happened to us in our lives and arrive at a perception that life is unfair, others have it better than you, you can’t win and other really disempowering mindsets. Events in life are generally unrelated to each other and good things and bad things happen to everyone. Really. Everyone. The difference between people lies in how much and what kind of attention is given to an adverse event. Just as you can make it very big and find others who will endorse the enormity and awfulness of the situation, you can make the adverse situation very small. Define the best and worst outcome of the situation. You can decide that you will do something very positive despite it. Go to the gym and workout the frustration and release endorphins that will help you deal with it. You can do a random act of kindness as a sign that you are moving forward in a positive way.
4. Recall and associate with past successes. Think how you have handled a similar obstacle or situation when it happened before. You have undoubtedly faced obstacles, problems, setbacks and other adverse events maybe even similar to the current one. How did you handle the last one? This technique helps you to realize that you have gotten through past problems and it can speed you forward to the action plan rather than permitting you to linger with the problem.
5. Stop, drop and document. Find the positives. Finding the positives of the situation and life in general can help change your mind. Document the things you are grateful for today, right in the midst of this negative emotional state you are in, dealing with the issues you are facing. You can’t generalize the problem to a place of “I can’t win” or “bad things always happen to me” if you are looking at your list of the good things in your life.
6. Announce your plan. Announcing your plan will not only cement your next steps in your own mind, but will help you gain attention and support for the solution instead of attention and support for the problem from your friends and family. You are then positioning yourself as a leader and positive role model. Your friends and family will support you if you revel in the problem but will eventually grow weary. It will be much easier for them to support an upbeat solution-focused you and they may actually reference your strength and power when they encounter issues that would otherwise weigh them down. The student becomes the coach in this version of the story.
Some people are naturally in more positive emotional states and hold thoughts that support it.
There are research studies that link emotional states with personality traits such as neuroticism and extroversion and also with adverse life events particularly those that happen in early childhood.
Personality traits, what was role modeled for us, and early life events affect our perception of emotion and our view of the world. And while the research community is fairly unanimous that personality traits are stable over the lifespan and that the brain is hardwired by age three either for stress and anxiety or a rosier world view where your needs are met predictably and with associated reactivity patterns, this just serves to explain why some may have to work harder than others to maintain positive states of emotion and to banish disempowering thoughts. Some people have to work harder than others to maintain the body they want and the same is true for your mind, thoughts and emotions.
But just as when you exercise regularly and your body responds to the work you put into it, practicing thought control will make it easier over time for you to maintain the mindset you want.
You are worth the work.
Every day matters and you matter. You are more powerful than your brain circuitry, your personality traits and your past. Change your mind, write a powerful story for yourself and be the happiest version of you.
You are already as amazing as everyone you look up to and then some.