What you believe and tell yourself consciously and unconsciously affects your life. You actively create your world. But, you are not doomed. You can identify the beliefs that imprison you and reprogram your negative brain circuits. You can literally change your brain to change your life!
If, for years, you've been telling yourself: "my needs aren't important," you have that thought fixed in your brain. You can change it by saying something different. You keep telling yourself the new message even if you don't believe it. Eventually it will become so. You will believe it instead!
Your thoughts affect you minute-to-minute! Whenever you encourage yourself with positive messages, your brain releases chemicals that calm the deep limbic system of your brain. You feel happy and relaxed. When you focus on angry, critical thoughts, your brain releases chemicals that activate your deep limbic system. You feel anxious and unsettled. Minute-to-minute, you harm or heal yourself by what you say.
Most imprisoning thoughts are the result of fear, self-devaluation, guilt, pessimism, over-generalizing and catastrophizing. Examine each of these categories to find your inner demons.
Fear can cripple the most mighty! It's the greatest cognitive distorter. We can't think straight when we are anxious. What are you afraid of? Is this an area of stuck thinking for you? What do you say to yourself?
Self-devaluation is very common. You might call yourself names-I am a failure or a jerk. Or perhaps you compare yourself unfavorably to others-I am not as smart as Sally, or as funny as Jon. How do you devalue, criticize, label or belittle yourself? What do you say?
How about guilt? You feel guilty when you neglect to say or do something you believe you should do, or when you say or do something you believe you shouldn't. "Should" word statements involve holding yourself to someone else's standard. How active is guilt in your internal dialogue? Do you fault yourself for should or shouldn't behavior? What do you say?
Pessimistic thinking, seeing the cup half empty when it's half full, is a powerful warden. Think of the self-fulfilling prophesy. Smart kids who are treated as limited, perform poorly in school. Average children approached with high expectations, perform extremely well. Are you pessimistic at times? Do you expect the worst? What do you say?
We all over-generalize at times. When we use words like always and never, we are over-generalizing. Saying "I'll never get promoted," "I will always be abandoned," or "No one could possibly love me," keeps us stuck. Saying "I can't change my life now," or "You never listen to me," or "Everyone is out to get me," does too. How do you over-generalize? Is it mostly about yourself, others or both? Perhaps the most crippling series of thought emerge when we catastrophize. Both fear and pessimism are characteristic of this kind of thinking, and we assume the worst. Here are some examples: Our your spouse is late from work do you automatically think she/he is being unfaithful? Or, if your friend needs to talk to you about something very important, do you think it's so serious it may mean the end of your friendship? If you get a letter from the IRS, before you open it, do you automatically think you're going to be audited or going to jail for back-taxes?
Now that you've thought about the beliefs that imprison you, list them. Remember to include your fearful, self-criticizing, guilt-ridden, pessimistic, over-generalizing and catastrophic thought processes.
Now, create a positive statement or antidote in response to each negative thought or idea on your list. What sort of positive statements work? Here are guidelines. First, all affirmations are in the present tense, are truly attainable (notice how I didn't say "believable") and are realistic goals. So, if the negative statement on your list is "I am a failure," don't say "I will be successful" because all the years of negative programming won't make you believe you are a success. Say, "I am becoming more and more successful day by day," or "My best is good enough."
Remember, affirmations are positive rather than negative. So, if your imprisoning thought is "No one will ever love me," your antidote might be "I am lovable and loved" as opposed to "I am not going to be abandoned." Finally, your validating statement need not be believable. In fact, it probably won't be or you wouldn't need to create and say it. But the more you say it to yourself over and over, you will come to believe it and it's better to believe a positive thought that carries tremendous potential rather than a negative thought that keeps us imprisoned.
Once you have created affirmations for each of your negative ideas, write your positive statements on index cards. Each morning and evening, read the statements on your cards out loud three times. Let the words sink into your being. When you have finished, thank the universe for supporting you, and go on with your day.
Read your affirmation statements regularly. You will immediately feel the self-soothing benefit. Over time, you will alter your mind-set loops and dramatically change your life.
Eve A. Wood, M.D. is a psychiatrist, professor and the award-winning author of "There's Always Help; There's Always Hope (Hay House) and the new book "10 Steps to Take Charge of Your Emotional Life" (Hay House). Dr. Wood lectures and teaches workshops across the country, and hosts a weekly call-in radio show on www.HayHouseRadio.com. For more information, visit www.DrEveWood.com.