A few months ago, my friend and professional happiness guru, Jessica McKinley, posted an article on her blog titled “Four Ways to Interrupt Automatic Thoughts.”
Jessica’s blog focuses on providing inspiration and experiments for happiness in your twenties and beyond. Jessica outlines twelve areas that she considers equally balanced when it comes to developing a balanced and healthy life. These twelve areas are: (1) Identity & Purpose; (2) Body; (3) Career & Money; (4) Family & Friends; (5) Love & Sex; (6) Spirit; (7) Habits; (8) Attitude & Gratitude; (9) Knowledge & Perspective; (10) Home & Organization; (11) Passion Projects; and (12) Community & Giving Back. While I highly recommend you all check out her site for some real, honest, and heartfelt inspiration and advice, today I want to focus on one of these areas that I personally believe is instrumental in developing, living and maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle – habits.
In her article, “Four Ways to Interrupt Automatic Thoughts” Jessica focuses on habit in a different way than many of us are used to using the term when it comes developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Personally, when I used to think of “habit” in the health and fitness context I only considered how to make a habit out of scheduling my workouts, meal prepping, eating healthy (at least some of the time), and generally learning to prioritize my health and wellbeing. However, Jessica shows that habit is so much more than that. As you will see from her article, Jessica explains and breaks down how habit controls many of our self-defeating thoughts and then provides practical solutions for breaking the habit of listening to and being controlled by these thoughts.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung
Research has shown that 80-90% of what you think today is what you thought yesterday. More importantly, you think about those things in the same way. The thoughts aren’t evolved, they are solidified.
Only 10% of my thoughts are new? Yikes! But we can’t get so down on ourselves. There is a reason this keeps happening.
Let’s say you have a new idea, dream or goal… “Should I start my own business?”
Your brain sifts that thought, along with the other mundane thoughts like “I’m thirsty. I need some water.” through an automatic filter. This filter is a survival tool. It tells us whether we should continue on with the idea, or avoid it based on past experiences. The problem with this filter is that it is designed to keep us SAFE but in reality, it is keeping us from taking all risk. Even GOOD risk!
It used to say, “Don’t go outside!” because it was keeping you from getting eaten by a Saber-toothed Tiger. Today, it may keep us from crossing the street without looking both ways, but it is ALSO keeping you from living your greatest adventure!
In other words, our mind doesn’t want us to experience pain, so for the sake of safety, it puts up roadblocks on any avenue that is unfamiliar, difficult, or uncertain.
So, when your inexperienced brain comes across a thought as scary as “I want to start my own business.” It sends you it’s go-to caution signs:
"What if your business fails?”
“What do you know about starting a new business?”
“Do you know what the rate of success is for new entrepreneurs? Like 1%” (I don’t know about your brain, but mine likes to exaggerate the facts to sway me.)
“Where are you going to get the money to do this?”
“Look at all the clothes on your floor. You think you’re organized enough to run a whole COMPANY?”
And so on.
The encouraging part? You’re not alone. Everyone has this filter. It’s automatic. The mega-millionaires on SharkTank had these same thoughts pop-up when their brilliant ideas first hatched. But, they took a radical approach with these caution signs. They drove around them.
Not because they were reckless or gluttons for punishment, but because they saw a key difference.
Successful people train their brains to see the difference between RISK and DANGER.
“Should I go down this dark alley?” ← DANGER
“Should I ask out Sara Jane?” ← RISK
In order to grow and be successful, this distinction needs to be made into a habit. The same way the automatic-filter is habitually telling you CAUTION, you need to habitually identify your fears and turn them into POSITIVE reinforcement.
When your ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) come up, you have to ask yourself. Is this dangerous? Or is this risky?
Here are FOUR ways to interrupt your automatic thoughts:
1. Positive affirmations- These are positive and present-tense statements which you repeat to yourself, describing how you want to be. This is one technique you can use to train your brain to override any conflicting negative thoughts intervening with your success. For example, to continue with the theme of starting your own business, your affirmation might be: “I am so grateful that I decided to start my own business. My business is thriving and a source of success for all of my employees.” Or “I am so happy that I chose to become my own boss. My company is wildly successful under my competent supervision.”
Your brain is constantly trying to streamline the way that you think. It is an incredibly powerful system. Train it! If you tell your brain that something is true, it believes it to be true and conditions the rest of your behaviors to align with what it believes to be your reality. For more information on using affirmations to attract your desired reality, read “Using the Law of Attraction.”
2. Get Up and Flip your Limiting Beliefs! If you catch yourself ruminating on a negative thought(s), GET THE HELL OUTTA THERE. I mean that both literally and figuratively. Stand up and remove yourself from where you are. There is a great metaphor, “You can’t turn a parked car.” You need to be driving to change your direction so you MUST take action. Starting with changing your physical surroundings. Step outside. Go for a drive. Then turn that negative thought upside down and repeat it to yourself. If your ANT is “I have way too much competition to succeed.” Instead, repeat to yourself: “I am the only person who determines my success. If I want to succeed, all I have to do is decide that I will and it will happen.”
3. Set up triggers. These ideas are great, but if you don’t set up triggers for you to actually THINK about your thoughts, they are pointless. Set up triggers to remind you to be intentional about your thoughts. Check out Trigger Happy for ideas about what kind of triggers you can use.
4. RWID (Relative Weight of Importance and Duration) In order to condition your mind to expect positive outcomes, High-Performance coach, Brendon Burchard, recommends we assign intense positive emotion to our thoughts. He calls this technique RWID. Focus and apply attention, sensation and duration to your thoughts because over time you can BUILD a capacity for positive expectation INSTEAD of the constant negative reinforcements that you fight against daily.
You can find Jessica’s original article at: http://www.whatshappyning.com/2016/01/habits-experiment-2-interrupting-automatic-negative-thoughts/
Although Jessica uses examples of business building and entrepreneurship, her article makes it obvious that these habits affect every area of our lives. In the fitness and wellness context, it is so easy to see how this four step system can also be implemented.
An example would be the negative self-limiting thought that may enter your head when you think about entering a road race or obstacle course race, “Why do I think I can finish this race? There is no way I am as fast/strong,/skilled . . . . blah blah blah . . . as the other competitors.”
Positive Affirmation: “Everyone starts somewhere, I am just as capable as they are even if I am starting later “ or “I have come so far already, imagine how fast/strong/skilled I will be in a few short months.”
Get up and flip your limiting beliefs: Change your negative self-limiting thought to “If I train hard and focus on preparing for this race, I will do the best that I can and that is good enough for me.”
Set up triggers: Develop triggers or set alarms to remind you to be intentional about your thoughts. This will trail you to think about the thoughts that enter your head, rather than just believe them.
Relative Weight of Importance and Duration: Remember, Focus and apply attention, sensation and duration to your thoughts because over time you can build and develop a capacity for positive expectation instead of the constant negative reinforcements that you fight against daily.
I know this all appears easier said than done, but I encourage you all to try and re-frame your thoughts and take control of your habits, and I promise to do the same.