There is a trance that is overtaking many of us these days. It seems to be present in most women I talk to. It is the Trance of Unworthiness. We seem to be champions at berating ourselves for our perceived failures – for not being good enough at our jobs or at parenting, for not exercising enough or for eating too much. We have convinced ourselves that we are unworthy of the kindness that we show most other people. And that unkindness and self-criticism is making us sick!
Research shows that accepting our imperfections and being kinder to ourselves can lessen feelings of depression and anxiety, and can also lessen feelings of shame and fear of failure.
People who have greater self-compassion also tend to be happier and more optimistic.
Quieting the nagging self-critic and practicing self-compassion can lead to a healthier immune system and a much better sense of well-being.
Psychologist Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as kindness toward the self, which entails being gentle and supportive. “Rather than harshly judging oneself for personal shortcomings, the self is offered warmth and unconditional acceptance.”
But after years of relentless negative self-talk, how can we break out of this trance of unworthiness? How can we cultivate more self-compassion?
It needs to be intentional – set the intention daily to be kinder to yourself.
Here are some guidelines:
1. Practice Imperfection:
Self-compassion means that we give ourselves the space to be human. And that means we can be flawed sometimes, but we don’t have to define ourselves as being ‘completely flawed and a hopeless case.’ We get to practice imperfection sometimes and not lose sight of our own potential.
2. Practice Mindfulness:
Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that mindfulness has been found to have a positive impact on self-compassion because it has the tendency to lessen self-judgement. When we are stuck in a negative spiral of self-criticism, it’s quite often because we are engaged in ‘negative story-lines’ —stories that we repeat in our heads, criticizing self about past mistakes and failures. This playground of our internal critic, plays on repeat and creates a negative spiral that we can easily get stuck in. Mindfulness, or the state of non-judgmental awareness, can be the antidote.
3. Practice Forgiveness
Refer back to number one, being human means that you sometimes make mistakes. Shit happens. We don’t have to punish ourselves for making mistakes. We get to accept that we’re not perfect and move on. Remember what Anne Lamott says:
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
That goes for self-forgiveness as well.
4. Practice Gratitude
By focussing on gratitude, we over-ride our inner critic and can hear a kinder voice in our head. We can then shift the lazar-focus away from all of our perceived shortcomings and instead appreciate what we can contribute to the world. Robert Emmons reminds us that gratitude is powerful and by focusing on gratitude instead of criticism, we can learn to be more self-compassionate.
Remember self-compassion has to be learned for most of us. I have to remember to practice it daily. It has to be intentional and mindful. But it can be done, and I’ve decided that I’m worth it. And I think you are too.
I’d like to close with a beautiful meditation called ‘Awakening Self-Compassion’ by Tara Brach.
She also has a two part meditation on her own site called “The Healing Power of Self-Compassion” which is also wonderful when you have the time.
I’d love to hear about how you manage to overcome the Trance of Unworthiness.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit. I appreciate it.
I recently had a rather intense conversation about forgiveness with a friend. She was adamant that there are some people that do not deserve forgiveness, ever. She went on to say that serial rapists and pedophiles do not deserve forgiveness period. And although there is very compelling evidence that forgiveness is good for the person who forgives, we came to an impasse.
I think a lot of us get stuck on the idea of what forgiveness actually means. Forgiveness is defined as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether you believe they actually deserve your forgiveness. Remember the act of forgiving is for you the forgiver, not the person you are forgiving.
Forgiveness does not mean that you gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offence against you. It does not mean forgetting nor excusing what has been done. It does not mean you have to reconcile with the person or release them from legal accountability.
As Anne Lamott puts it:
“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare.”
Forgiveness is for the forgiver. It brings the forgiver peace and hopefully freedom from anger.
It took years of therapy to be able to forgive my mother. I was convinced she did not deserve forgiveness. She chose alcohol over her own children, dying and leaving me motherless at the tender age of 16. But when I finally reached a place of letting it go, it was so liberating! I felt lighter and more energized than I had in my entire life. Forgiveness is so freeing. It loosens the knot in my stomach that comes from resentment and anger at another person.
“Forgiveness is, in particular, the capacity to let go, to release the suffering, the sorrows, the burdens of the pains and betrayals of the past, and instead to choose the mystery of love. Forgiveness shifts us from the small separate sense of ourselves to a capacity to renew, to let go, to live in love.”
Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for happiness, health and peace. And studies have shown that forgiveness can lead to better relationships; greater psychological well-being; less stress; lower blood pressure; fewer symptoms of depression and a stronger immune system. Just to name a few of the health benefits.
But as we all know, it’s a helluva lot easier said than done. Fred Luskin is a pioneer in the science and practice of forgiveness. He offers us nine steps toward forgiveness:
1. Understand how you feel about what happened and be able to explain why the situation is not OK. Then discuss it with someone you trust.
2. Commit to yourself to feel better; remember forgiveness is for you and no one else.
3. Remember forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to reconcile with the person who upset you; it does not condone the action. In forgiveness you are seeking peace for yourself.
4. Recognize that the distress now is coming from the hurt feelings and physical upset you are currently suffering, not from what offended you or hurt you when it happened.
5. At the moment you feel upset, practice stress management to soothe your body’s fight or flight response. Take a deep breath.
6. Stop expecting things from other people that they do not choose to give you.
7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you.
8. Remember that living well is the best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving power over you to the person who caused you pain, look for the love, beauty, and kindness around you. Put more energy into appreciating what you have rather than attending to what you do not have.
9. Amend the way you look at your past so you remind yourself of your heroic choice to forgive.
One of the best ways I can get myself to a place of forgiveness when I’m feeling stuck is to journal. I write pages and pages about why I’m angry and resentful and hurt. I write until it’s all out. And then I usually talk about it, and occasionally even write an article about it about because as Anne Lamott tells us:
Now you get to tell it, because then it will become medicine – that we evolve; that life is stunning, wild, gorgeous, weird, brutal, hilarious and full of grace. That our parents were a bit insane, and that healing from this is taking a little bit longer than we had hoped. Tell it.
I’d like to close with a beautiful meditation on forgiveness with Jack Kornfield.
I’d love to hear about how you practice forgiveness.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit. I appreciate it.
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Once again, I have so much to be grateful for, in terms of what my sons have taught me. This time, I am grateful that both of them pushed me to explore the wonders of podcasts. Of course I have listened to podcasts, I’ve even been interviewed on several, but it’s been a half-hearted effort. On their last trip home, over Christmas, they downloaded a podcast playing app and steered me in the direction of several podcasts that they enjoyed. And since then, I have been playing podcasts on every trip I take in my car. I’m hooked! Mind you, as most of you know that have been reading my blog for awhile, I’m an addict at heart, so everything I do, I often overdo! But at this point, I’m loving it and it doesn’t seem to be doing me any harm.
I was so impacted that I bought Ostaseski’s book, The Five Invitations. A wonderful book that I highly recommend.
In an article in Daily Good, Ostaseski describes his journey:
“Over the past thirty years, as the co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project, people who were dying generously invited me into their most vulnerable moments. They made it possible for me to get up close and personal with death. In the process, they taught me how to live. I distilled their wisdom into five heart lessons for living fully and without regret.”
The message in the book has five invitations to us from what Ostaseski has learned from people dying.
1. Don’t Wait.
2. Welcome Everything; Push Away Nothing
3. Bring Your Whole Self to the Experience
4. Find a Place of Rest in the Middle of Things
5. Cultivate “Don’t Know” Mind
The idea of the first invitation, Don’t Wait, seems obvious. If you are dying, you can’t wait to do things, there is an immediacy to everything. But this has a message to all of us:
“This idea can both frighten and inspire us. Yet, embracing the truth of life’s precariousness helps us to appreciate its preciousness. We stop wasting our lives on meaningless activities. We learn to not hold our opinions, our desires, and even our own identities so tightly. Instead of pinning our hopes on a better future, we focus on the present and being grateful for what we have in front of us right now. We say, “I love you” more often. We become kinder, more compassionate and more forgiving.”
When I think about the second invitation, Push Away Nothing, that feels very hard. My logical mind says, but what about the horrible stuff? I don’t want to welcome the bad stuff. Ostaseski explains though:
“In welcoming everything, we don’t have to like what’s arising or necessarily agree with it, but we need to be willing to meet it, to learn from it. The word welcome confronts us; it asks us to temporarily suspend our usual rush to judgment and to be open, to what is showing up at our front door. To receive it in the spirit of hospitality. At the deepest level, this invitation is asking us to cultivate a kind of fearless receptivity.”
Bring Your Whole Self to the Experience is a good invitation for me. I often hold back thinking I have nothing to offer here, I don’t know how to deal with this. I believe if I can’t contribute some kind of knowing to something, then I should not contribute. I know this is from ego, that I want to look good if I’m going to contribute. But Ostaseski explains gently:
“We all like to look good. We long to be seen as capable, strong, intelligent, sensitive, spiritual, or at least well-adjusted. Few of us want to be known for our helplessness, fear, anger, or ignorance. Yet more than once I have found an “undesirable” aspect of myself — one about which I previously had felt ashamed — to be the very quality that allowed me to meet another person’s suffering with compassion instead of fear or pity. It is not only our expertise, but exploration of our own suffering that enables us to build an empathetic bridge and be of real assistance to others. To be whole, we need to include and connect all parts of ourselves. Wholeness does not mean perfection. It means no part left out.”
The fourth invitation, Find a Place of Rest in the Middle of Things, is a wonderful reminder for all of us I think. After listening to the podcast with Tara Brach, I downloaded another app to help remind me to find a place of rest in the middle of thing. The app, Insight Timer, has meditations on my phone to help me find rest in the middle of things, to remind me and aid me to rest.
And the fifth invitation, Cultivate “Don’t Know” Mind is a Zen flavored invite, one that describes a mind that’s open and receptive, one that is not limited by agendas, roles, and expectations.
“It is free to discover. When we are filled with knowing, when our mind is made up, it narrows our vision and limits our capacity to act. We only see what our knowing allows us to see. We don’t abandon our knowledge — it’s always there in the background should we need it — but we let go of fixed ideas. We let go of control. The night before my open-heart surgery, my 26-year-old son Gabe and I had a tender conversation. Our sharing was filled with reminiscing, kindness, and laughter. At one point, Gabe became quite serious and asked, “Dad, are you going to live through this surgery?” Now I love my son beyond words, and like any father, I wanted to reassure him that I would be just fine. I felt into my experience before answering. Then I heard myself say, “I’m not taking sides.” My answer surprised us both. What I meant was that I wasn’t taking sides with life or death. Either way, I trusted that everything would be okay. I don’t know where the words came from; they spilled from me without censorship. I wasn’t trying to appear sage or to be a good Buddhist. Yet we both were reassured by my response. I think it was because we knew we were in the presence of the truth spoken with love.”
These five invitations are a gift to all of us, supportive in our life. They invite us to continue to explore and understand what it means to be alive now; not just to cope with death, but to live. And I whole heartedly agree with Ostaseski, they are relevant guides to living with integrity. Yes, we need to live these invitations, to be truly understood, they need to be lived and realized through action. They indeed are “five invitations for you to be fully present for every aspect of your life.”
The conversation with Tara Brach and Frank Ostaseski is truly inspirational, and I invite you to take the time to watch it now.
Let me know your thoughts on these Five Invitations.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit. I appreciate it.
The holidays are upon us. Tis the season to be jolly and all that. But for many people, this is the season of stress and depression. People tend to push themselves beyond their limits. Overspending is rampant; people overindulge in food and drink; there is increased stress due to travel and obligatory family get togethers. And often, our sleep suffers and we have less time to recharge our batteries. And then to top it all off, most of us beat ourselves up because we haven’t done enough or haven’t done it right. “Are the presents just right?” “Did I make enough pies?” “Did I make a fool of myself at that party?”
This holiday season, I am committing to a whole new approach. In order to be fully present for my loved ones, I need to take care of me. My plan centers around Mindful Self-Compassion; with an added focus of paying attention to what my body needs. I describe this plan in my latest article in Thrive Global.
Thrive Global, by the way, turned One Year Old this month! Congratulations to the founder Arianna Huffington! I have been a contributor since the inaugural edition. If you missed my first article in Thrive Global in December 2016 on Forgiveness, you can read it here.
But back to practicing Mindful Self-Compassion. If you want to learn about this wonderful topic, look no further than Dr. Kristin Neff. Kristin Neff Phd is one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion. She explains that with self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend. This quote by Neff sums it up pretty well:
“You don’t want to beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the vain hope that it will somehow make you stop beating yourself up. Just as hate can’t conquer hate — but only strengthens and reinforces it — self-judgment can’t stop self-judgment.”
This holiday season, by treating myself like I’d treat a loved one, I’m hoping to increase my emotional well-being and resilience. Here’s my plan:
Take time for myself
During the holidays, we are so quick to give our time and energy that we can end up feeling completely depleted. This holiday season, I plan to take the time each day to check in with myself: “How am I feeling?” “Have I done something good for me today?” This will require setting boundaries with others as well as myself. I don’t have to do everything for everyone these holidays. I commit to taking time to just be; to go on walks and to read. I don’t have to bake the cookies and host the community carolling party. I can choose to stay home and read with a cup of tea instead of joining one more holiday party. Self-care and self-compassion bring me peace and joy, which in turn will allow me to bring peace and joy to those around me.
2. Slow down and meditate
Part of my plan to take care of myself will include making sure I have plenty of time for me, and just plenty of time period. The holiday season tends to be a time of rushing around, hurrying from one event to the next. This year I plan to focus on many mini moments of mindfulness as Andy Puddicombe refers to it in his program, Headspace. And I’ll make sure I make time in my busy schedule to meditate. I know that those 15–20 minutes in the morning make all the difference to the other 23 + hours in the day.
I know from experience that when I’m in a place of gratitude everything in my life just works and feels better. Neuroscience has proven that actively practicing gratitude protects your brain from stress and depression. Recent research shows that even just thinking about what I am grateful for increases dopamine and serotonin. But, I’m not just going to think about what I’m grateful for, I commit to writing down three positive things that I’m thankful for every morning in my journal. I have learned that this simple activity trains my brain to be more positive by looking for the good in life rather than the bad. And I plan to share my appreciation too, to articulate my gratitude to others. These simple statements of gratitude to others for who they are and what they are doing are like small gifts, often appreciated more than that box of chocolates.
4. Eat well and not overindulge
We all know it’s common to put on weight during the holiday season, and then to beat oneself up mercilessly for the next few months. I know when I eat healthier, I feel better. I don’t plan to deprive myself of holiday treats, but I will eat in moderation. And when I do put on those extra holiday pounds, I will be kind to myself in the new year, just like I would a good friend. Instead of berating myself and calling myself fat, I will suggest that perhaps a long walk would be a great idea.
5. Stay Active
And speaking of long walks, I know that exercise is essential to my well being. I will make time this holiday season to go on long walks and do plenty of yoga. I know that physical activity reduces stress, improves my mood and prevents depression. I know this from experience, but the research shows it as well; exercise triggers the same hormones (dopamine and serotonin) in my brain that are targeted by anti-depressant medication. So I know that exercise won’t just help me with those few extra pounds this holiday season, but it will greatly help my mood as well. But you know what, if I miss a couple of days of exercise, I won’t beat myself up about it either!
Finally, this holiday season I commit to protecting my sleep. There are few things that mess up my health and well-being like poor sleep. I know that not sleeping well leads to stress, irritability and just feeling like crap. A lot of us lose sleep around the holidays, whether it’s from staying out late, overindulging in food, drink and sugar, or over-caffeinating. But I know that the best way for me to be cheerful this holiday season is to get enough sleep.
So this holiday season, I invite you to follow my plan and make a commitment to yourself. Take care of yourself over the holidays and practice some self-compassion. Let’s all remember Soren Kierkegaard’s wise words:
“Don’t forget to love yourself.”
If you want to learn more about how to practice Mindful Self-Compassion, you can find many videos by Kristin Neff on YouTube.
My reaction was similar to many other people I know when I first saw the hash tag ‘MeToo’ on twitter and on Facebook. I thought ‘Oh another hash tag on social media . . . Ho hum.’ But then in less than an hour, my wall was full of #MeToo from female friends on Facebook. Little did I know at that point how much Actress Alyssa Milano’s post would impact me personally. So personally in fact that I decided I had to get public with it on Thrive.
Of course, what we now know is that Tarana Burke, a native of Harlem, New York, was the original creator of the Me Too movement over a decade ago, before hash tags and social media. But it was Milano’s post, on October 16th that impacted me.
When I saw the original post, I felt vaguely uncomfortable, but ignored it. It wasn’t even when I saw my wall flooded with #MeToo that I really understood it’s impact. It was only later, over coffee with a friend, that it hit me, the full magnitude of how this related to me personally.
What #MeToo did, was to open up a huge, previously taboo, conversation with other women. Looking back at myself in my 20s, I was a ‘party girl’ and a bartender. I had a lifestyle that ‘invited’ that kind of behavior. I had convinced myself that I had deserved and been ‘responsible for’ the intimidation and harassment that I experienced.
Early in my own personal recovery process, I took full responsibility for my actions and my past behavior . . . full and total responsibility. And thus the shame lived on. I first read about this topic in John Bradshaw’s ‘Healing the Shame that Binds You.’ Yes I read the book and yes I talked about the concept. But still, said the little voice in my head, if you hadn’t been that drunk, if you hadn’t put yourself in that situation… I still believed that I was responsible for the treatment on some level because of my own behavior.
What I discovered through conversations with other women is that there are a lot of us who still blame ourselves for what happened to us. “If I hadn’t been that drunk” and “If I had been wearing a bra” and “If I hadn’t been so stoned” then that wouldn’t have happened. And most of us have kept that bottled up inside of us, continuing to blame ourselves for our own ‘reprehensible behavior.’
This campaign has opened up the conversation, opened up the willingness to look at the behavior, not with shame, but with a desire to share the story. We are comparing notes and listening, and we are realizing that we are not alone.
There are so many layers to this problem. Looking at the culture of misogyny and who is in the position of power that enables this to happen. I’m aware of this and of course we still have so far to go. But today, I simply want to express gratitude, gratitude that even after so many years of recovery and therapy, these conversations have helped to heal a part of me that remained buried for over thirty years. I am writing now to say thank you for what was not just another ‘social media craze’ but instead was a catalyst to heal. Healing through deep and nourishing conversations with other women, initiated by a simple comment, ‘Me Too.’
I’ll close with a clip from John Bradshaw
I’d love to hear how the #MeToo campaign impacted you, or how shame itself has impacted your life.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit. I appreciate it.
“Self care is any action you purposefully take to improve your physical, emotional or spiritual well being. Too often, we do not make time for sufficient self care because we’re too busy taking care of others.”
Too often, way too often, we do not make time to take care of ourselves, because we are busy taking care of others. This is especially true for mothers. Brenda Ueland expresses this beautifully:
“In fact that is why the lives of most women are so vaguely unsatisfactory. They are always doing secondary and menial things (that do not require all their gifts and ability) for others and never anything for themselves. Society and husbands praise them for it (when they get too miserable or have nervous breakdowns) though always a little perplexedly and half-heartedly and just to be consoling. The poor wives are reminded that that is just why wives are so splendid — because they are so unselfish and self-sacrificing and that is the wonderful thing about them! But inwardly women know that something is wrong. They sense that if you are always doing something for others, like a servant or nurse, and never anything for yourself, you cannot do others any good. You make them physically more comfortable. But you cannot affect them spiritually in any way at all. For to teach, encourage, cheer up, console, amuse, stimulate or advise a husband or children or friends, you have to be something yourself. […]”If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say; ‘Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!’ you would be surprised how they would respect you. They would probably all become playwrights.”
It’s true, we as mothers tend to put our own needs last, well behind our children’s and our family’s. We are so busy taking care of others, that we tend to lose ourself, our deepest sense of self.
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We are experiencing a lot of pain out there at the moment. A lot of women that I hear from in workshops and via email are going through hard times right now. Children leaving home, friends and children suffering from addiction, dealing with divorce and all sorts of physical and emotional pain.
An article I wrote, Bouncing Back after Divorce was just published in Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington’s wonderful online resources. Although the topic is bouncing back after divorce, the content, I believe, can be useful in coping with a lot of life’s painful events.
The messages are about taking care of YOU, loving yourself through the pain. It’s not always easy to do, especially as women, we seem to have a hard time doing this. But we can move through the pain, shift does happen!
The coping strategies I talk about in the article are ones that I talk about a lot on this blog:
Re-wiring your brain and paying attention to what you think
We don’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how to act and learn from these events. Shift really does happen.
I’d like to close with a TED talk about surviving divorce. But like everything else, the coping mechanisms described by Dr. David Sbarra, are applicable to most ‘What Now’ moments. One of his biggest suggestions is getting enough sleep – always really great suggestion!
I’d love to hear how shift is happening for you. I love learning from all of you.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit. I appreciate it.
I recently published an article in Thrive: You can’t pour from an empty cup. Most of us know that is true, but how many of us actively practice replenishing ourselves? I just returned from a retreat for women, and in speaking to the women individually, what I discovered was that the biggest factor that they had to overcome to go on the retreat was the guilt! Guilt for taking the time for themselves and guilt using money exclusively on themselves.
We, especially women it seems, have difficulty taking time for ourselves and prioritizing self-care. It often takes an illness or an accident to persuade us to give ourselves the time and care we need.
In an article by Dr. Susan Biali in Psychology Today, Biali describes feeling incredibly unwell, but continuing to push herself. She had an epiphany, that although she had been teaching people about stress management and self-care for over a decade, she had not been practicing what she preached. She explained that when she finally took time out for herself, it felt like she had woken up after being asleep for a long time. But it’s only when you wake up that you notice you were sleeping
But when we are stressed out, self-care is often the first thing we let go of.
Why is that? Barbara Markway, Phd explains in a different article in Psychology Today a few reasons that that is the case.
Our brains go into fight-or-flight mode and our perspective narrows.
We’re so busy trying to solve problems that we’re stuck in “doing mode
We may not have a “go to” list of self-care activities.
So once we wake up, so to speak, how do we practice self-care, what can we put on our list of self-care activities. For those of us that can, a retreat is a lovely way to have time and space for self. But if that is not an option at the moment, here are a few suggestions:
Focus on the sensations around you — sights, smells, sounds — this helps you be present in the moment.
· Go for a walk and breathe in fresh air.
· Listen to running water.
· Take a hot shower or a warm bath.
Do something pleasurable for yourself.
· Get creative! Do some art, journal or play some music
· Take yourself out for a nice meal
Give yourself some spiritual space
· Practice gratitude — journal about things your are grateful for
· Light a candle and meditate
· Walk in nature
Connecting with others is an important part of self-care.
· Go on a lunch date with a good friend.
· Call a friend on the phone.
· Join a support group.
Caroline Myss asks us: “How do you define taking care of yourself?” Think about that and then as Myss suggest: Create a new self-care practice, starting today.
Remember what Audre Lorde says — self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation. Take care of yourself, start today, you are worth it!
To close I’d like to put an invitation out there to ignite a self-care revolution!
Do you ever feel like your inner voice is not your best friend? Do you find that voice telling you that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong? My inner chatter is often telling me that I’m not doing ‘it’ right. It doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is – doing a task, helping someone to do something, even just trying to meditate. I used to think that I was alone in this and that I was just flawed and hopeless. Then I started working with other women in workshops and discovered that almost all of us do this one way or another. It is painful to realize how many of us believe these negative voices in our heads. I wrote about this topic recently on Thrive Global.
Most of us received plenty of negative messages growing up, and usually those messages are blindly accepted and believed. These negative messages from our inner critic create new neural pathways which become embedded in our brains. This becomes negative inner chatter creating limiting beliefs which adversely impacts us in many ways.
A neural pathway is the way that information travels through the neurons, or nerve cells of the brain. We create new neural pathways every time we hear or experience something new. The more we experience something, the more embedded this pathway becomes, and unfortunately, a lot of us have some very negative messages firmly rooted in our brains.
Once those neural pathways are deeply embedded, changing them is not an easy task.
Is there a way to overcome the negative stories that we once heard and now continue to tell ourselves? Is there a way to shift those pathways so that they are less destructive? Yes! There is a practice which you can start using right now, which will bring about changes in the neural pathways that keep you stuck. Using Creative Positive Reframing, you can take limiting beliefs and creatively transform them so they become supportive rather than destructive. You can reframe and create a new perspective on how you think by using these seven tools:
Pay attention — Pay attention to your thought process.
Action: A good way to pay attention to your thought process is to pay attention to how your body feels. You can tell if the thoughts are self-defeating and destructive if they negatively impact your body; for example, a knot in your stomach or a lump in your throat, clenched jaw or tight shoulders.
Practice: Scan your body to check in, notice any tight spots or knots. Observe/pay attention to the thoughts that you are focusing on when you feel tight; think about why you want to change those thoughts; what is the negative impact on your life?
Get the negative out — Write out the negative.
Action: Nature abhors a vacuum. When you cannot get out of a negative thought spiral — write it out. Get rid of the negative to make room for the positive.
Practice: Get negative thoughts out of your head by emptying it out on paper. Think of it as an emotional enema! Write about all the negativity spiralling in your head. Allow a stream of consciousness to flow and let it all come out. And then tear the paper up.
Replace the negative with positive — Use positive statements and questions to replace the negative
Action: Negative self-talk can be replaced by positivity with the help of a series of deliberate affirmations and questions. This creates new neural pathways and frees you from the negative spiral. However, sometimes when we use affirmations that do not feel real, our brain does not believe it, and this can embed the negative even more deeply. For example, if you are struggling to pay the rent and you say to yourself: ‘I am wealthy and have plenty of money for all of my needs’, perhaps your thoughts will rebel with: ‘Well, that’s not true’ — and then will go on to prove how wrong you are, throwing you further down the negative spiral.
Practice: Creative positive statements wherever possible; and try creating questions as well. Research shows that the use of questions instead of statements works effectively. Questions work with the brain’s natural inquisitive nature; pose a question and your brain will work to find an answer, creating more positive neural pathways automatically. So if when you say “I am wealthy” and your brain rebels; try asking for its help by saying something like “Money is coming to me easily and effortlessly. What do I need to do to increase my cash flow?”
Think about the ideal and be clear why you want it — Create an ideal scenario and know why it is important to you.
Action: In order to create new neural pathways and escape the negative spiral, it’s important to have a replacement to start thinking about. For example, if you are stuck in fear about money, and in a negative loop, start thinking about the flip side and create a picture of the ideal.
Practice: Describe your ideal financial situation, be as specific as possible. Have fun with this: let your imagination be your guide. You don’t need to write this out, just tell yourself the story. Picture yourself living with plenty of money. See yourself living the life of your dreams; actually feel how good it feels. And then focus on the why; why is it important? For example, allow yourself really examine why having more money would make a difference in your life. What is the deepest reason you want this to manifest? Keep going deeper and deeper into why you want to achieve this until you feel like you have hit the heart of it. You will know it when you have hit it, there will be an emotional charge linked to it. Allow yourself to feel the depth of that emotion.
Creative visualization — Picture the ideal and embed it in your brain
Action: Creative Visualization is a technique which uses your own power of ‘seeing’ or visualizing something to attain that which you most want, or want to change. It involves using the mind to see that which you want to achieve; or using the mind to change the negative into positive. You already use this technique every day. Unfortunately, we often use it in the negative. The key to visualization is to create a mindset that you already have that which you are trying to attain, and to believe that you deserve the positive result.
Practice: Relax and take time to do this. Close your eyes and let the movie of you having your heart’s desire run in your mind. Enjoy the process. The more you do this, the more deeply embedded this vision becomes.
Stay positive in the process — Keep a positive attitude as you practice
Action: The field of Positive Psychology points out many benefits of staying positive and being happy. Happiness brings social rewards, helps people recover faster from illness, and have more resilience. Happy people feel like they are in control and are empowered and therefore usually feel more confidence, optimism, and a sense of well-being. These are all good reasons to try to remain in a positive mindset, but one of the main obstacles to positivity is that our brains are wired to look for and focus on threats. This mechanism was helpful back when we were hunters and gatherers, but now this mindset breeds pessimism and negativity because the mind tends to wander until it finds a threat. But there are many methods to overcome the brain’s negative bias.
Practice: The most straightforward method is to focus on love and compassion, forgiveness and gratitude. These positive mind-sets shift your focus from the negative to the positive. Even simply thinking about someone you love or something you are grateful for, can help you shift from a negative mindset to a positive one.
Be creative — Creativity helps us shift from the negative to the positive
Action: While you are focusing on shifting limiting beliefs into more positive and supportive beliefs, it is helpful to be creative in the process. An expression of creativity, in any form, can be helpful in shifting our mood and removing us from a negative spiral. Not only that, but repressed creativity can have the opposite effect, and can ultimately express itself in unhealthy ways, such as bad relationships, stress, neurotic or addictive behaviors. Perhaps the most common manifestation of repressed creativity in women is depression, which, of course, only increases the negative downward spiral.
Practice: There are so many ways we can get creative, and they all involve play: start journaling and play with words; get some oil pastels and play with color; go outside, garden, and play in the dirt; learn an instrument, dance, and play with music; cook and play with spices. There is no right or wrong way to be creative. The only important thing is to allow ourselves to connect with our own creativity.
The next time you find yourself falling into a negative spiral, use these seven tools to tackle those limiting beliefs, and transform them so that they are supportive rather than destructive.
I want to close with a wonderful video clip with Lisa Nichols and Marci Shimoff, appropriately entitled: ‘How to Stop Negative Self Talk.’
I’d love to hear about how you get your inner critic to shut up. We all need as much help as possible with that negative committee! And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit. I appreciate it.