Welcome to the final post of my three-part series on the 3 Keys to Successfully Making a Change.
In our first post, we talked about getting into the right mindset and creating a framework. In part 2, we discussed thoughts and emotions and how to bring awareness to them, clarify their meaning, and understand their role as we work to make changes in our lives.
In this post, we’ll discuss some solutions and techniques for better managing our thoughts and emotions and learn how to turn them into an advantage in reaching our goals.
Step #3 Skills & Techniques to Keep You Focused
When we feel empowered, we are given the authority or power to do something, to take charge.
This is how we need to think about change. We are in charge. And we shouldn’t have to feel like the victim of our thoughts and emotions all the time. Those things are a part of us, but they are not in the driver’s seat.
We need to make a shift from “This is happening to me” to “I’m making a choice.” You are in control over your own thoughts and can choose to change them, just like going to the gym & lifting weights to get stronger, we can make our minds stronger and more positive.
This is empowering. We now have agency to do the things we want to do and be the person we want to be.
But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. We must be determined and persistent in our efforts to take control because we will need to do it over and over again. After all, humans have thousands of thoughts per day. The good and bad will keep showing up, so we should too.
But how do we turn them into a strategic advantage so they help us stay dedicated to our goals? Here are some tools and techniques you can use individually or together to keep moving forward.
Awareness & Language
First, we use our awareness to bring attention to the negativity our thoughts and feelings might be bringing to the surface. Allowing time for reflection and insight helps us better understand the deeper meanings behind these thoughts and emotions.
Then, we want to give language to them. This expression will help us process and reclaim our power. Journaling can be helpful to work through this process. From this place of understanding, we can make a conscious choice to shift to more positive thoughts to support our efforts.
To help you stay focused, look back to why you wanted to make the change in the first place. Knowing our “why” is what enables us to be persistent; to try & try again; to pick ourselves up after we’ve fallen down or failed.
Mantras & Positive Reframing
Using mantras or phrases to re-frame a negative thought into a positive one can be powerful. Instead of saying “I don’t eat healthy food”, or “I don’t get enough exercise”, say “I am a healthy person” or “I take care of my body”.
Saying these things aloud forces your brain to “think” the thought, reinforcing it. Over time, this can be an effective way to “reprogram” your negative thoughts into positive ones.
To help you feel even more empowered, try standing like a superhero, with your legs apart and your hands on your hips. Hold this pose for at least 30 sec. This may sound kind of silly, but it really works!
You can also think of someone you admire & respect who exhibits the quality you want. What would they do/think in your situation?
Moving our bodies shifts our energy. One of the easiest ways to shift our energy is through your breath. A few intentional deep breaths can do wonders to reset your nervous system. Click here to experience a breathwork exercise you can do anytime.
You can also try taking a walk or a run, doing yoga, getting out into nature, or just having a dance party in your living room! The point is to move your body. How you do it is up to you.
Do a Body Scan
What the heck is a body scan you ask? A body scan allows us to get still for a short time and really tune in to the sensations we have in each part of our body. It keeps our minds focused on the physical. Yes, your mind will wander, but over time, you can literally “train” your brain and build new neural pathways in the process. Click here to experience a body scan and see what it’s all about.
We are so busy with our “doing” in the world, that we rarely just sit with our thoughts and feelings. Simply taking time to acknowledge them, notice the negative and the positive, and most importantly, celebrate our wins is a powerful way to ground us in the present and appreciate all we have achieved so far.
One way to do this is by using a gratitude journal and making time to reflect every day. You can do this in the morning before your day starts or in the evening before you go to bed. All you need to do is write down a few things you’re thankful for and whatever else you would like. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Not sure what to write? Just write. The thoughts will come.
Making changes in our lives is never easy, but we can learn skills and techniques to help us along the way. If you need more help, please reach out to set up a discovery call.
I hope this series has been helpful to you on your journey through change. If you didn’t read part 1 or part 2, please go back and do so and tell us what you’ve learned.
And please let me know how it’s going! What change are you trying to make? What have been your challenges and what is working for you?
Oftentimes, we ourselves are not clear on our own thoughts and feelings, but they are there. The more awareness we can bring to our thoughts and emotions, the greater likelihood we have of making the change we wish to make.
When it comes to our thoughts, there are generally two issues that come up, lack of awareness and negativity bias. Let’s look at both.
Many times, our thoughts just “appear” in our heads without us even trying, showing up without warning, and often we take them as truths even though we know better.
Maybe we don’t speak up in a meeting, not really knowing why. Later we realize we were actually thinking something like “maybe my idea wasn’t a good one” or “they won’t be interested in what I have to say.”
Becoming aware of our thoughts is an important first step, because our thoughts become our beliefs, and our beliefs drive our actions.
Take some quiet time to reflect and ask yourself these questions:
- What thoughts am I having that are not helping me make the change I want?
- When do these thoughts occur? Am I doing a specific activity? Spending time with a particular person?
- What are the patterns within these thoughts? (i.e. I have this thought when I am in certain situations, etc)
Negativity bias is a sneaky thought pattern we all have but don’t really think about consciously. It’s when the pain of losing something, say, a $20 bill, is greater than the excitement of finding a $20 bill on the street.
“The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences,” psychologist Rick Hanson is fond of saying, “and Teflon for positive ones.”
We are all like this. Our brains are constantly scanning our environment for threats, and our mind is much more attuned to them. We see things or circumstances as either a threat or a reward. Credit that to our caveman days when you had to watch out for sabertooth tigers, lest you get eaten!
In today’s world, many threats are more social than physical. We’re not usually threatened with being eaten by a lion or a bear, but having our idea shot down in a meeting or being excluded from the group can feel like our tribe has cast us out. We are left feeling uncertain and small.
As we work to create change, we may be faced with some of these social threats. The naysayers in our lives may come out of the woodwork. There will be times of discomfort, even failure. The first time we try something new and don’t excel, negative thoughts will come up.
To keep moving forward, it’s important to take stock of your thoughts, and become aware of what they are, when they show up, and any associated patterns. Once we do this, we can begin the work of reframing them into more positive and supportive ones.
As with thoughts, similar issues arise when it comes to our emotions. Only this time, the lack of awareness regarding our feelings is paired with a lack of language to express them.
Emotions can come up faster and stronger than even thoughts, causing us to feel strongly and sometimes leading us to lash out at others or ourselves. To bring awareness to them, we must take a step back and go through the same process as we do with our thoughts.
When strong emotions come up, take a moment to pause, breathe, and ask yourself these questions:
- What emotions am I having and why? Really peel back the layers here by asking “why” more than once or twice to get to the root of the issue.
- When do these emotions occur? Am I doing a specific activity? Spending time with a particular person? What triggered them?
- What are the patterns with these emotions? (i.e. I always get angry/sad/frustrated when…”
Being aware of our emotions is one thing, but we really need to be able to give them a name. Since 2006, Brene Brown and her team have done research asking people to write down the names of emotions they can recognize in themselves and others. Shockingly, the average number of emotions that people could identify is three; commonly, “bad, sad, and glad”.
Even if we are aware that we have an emotion (in the moment), we often don’t have the ability to label it. Therefore we can’t understand it or deal with it effectively.
With “bad” or “sad” being two out of the three most people can name, what does that say about how we might feel as we try to institute change in our lives? If we don’t realize success right away, it can feel like an uphill battle. But it doesn’t have to be.
When we give language to something, we shift the power back to ourselves and can address the emotion head-on. Words are powerful. And for emotions, words can actually have a calming effect on the brain.
Try it next time you feel strongly and see what happens. Say “I feel <insert emotion>”. Talk it through. Notice how you feel after saying it out loud. Did it change the intensity of the feeling?
In the last post of this series, we’ll learn some techniques to help us learn to manage our thoughts and emotions and turn them into an advantage. We can use them to help us make changes. Having the right tools makes all the difference.