Your thoughts today are the beginning of who you will be tomorrow. What you thought yesterday, last week, last month makes you who you are today. I used to think, “I need to struggle to keep my weight off,” and that was who I was. Isn’t that amazing?
One of the hardest perceptions for me to change was my view of my physical self after I lost the weight. I had lost 25 pounds, I had done multiple treatments to help with cellulite, and the before and after pictures were amazing. I was eager to try on bathing suits for my honeymoon. I had arrived, but instead of thinking, “Wow! I look amazing!” I was focusing on the flaws. I had exactly the same speech in my head as I had before I lost the weight. My solution? Lose another 10 pounds! Brilliant! But would I accept myself after I’d lost an additional 10 pounds? No. I can tell you, I would not feel better about myself even if I lost another 10 more pounds. I needed to drastically change my perception of myself and more specifically, my thoughts.
Many people have told me that they find me beautiful, and some tell me that I look easily 10 years younger than I am, but I feel like they there are talking about someone else. I did not relate to what they were saying. That’s not me! Then I realized that this speech in my head was the speech of my teenage self when I was perceived by others as an ugly duck compared to my sister (and she pounded me with that perception, too!). Boy was I tired of carrying around voices from 30 years ago. It helped to think about where those nasty thoughts and voices came from. Knowing it came from mostly siblings who were insecure about themselves and brought me down to raise themselves up shone a new light on things. I was at the point where I wanted to give those thoughts back to them! You can keep ’em! I am beautiful, and I look young because I am crazy about facials and non-surgical treatments like redness reduction, skin tightening, and a disciplined face-cleansing regimen and sun block. I am also crazy about cellulite treatments, creams, and massages. I work out regularly, I eat healthy, and I restrict dessert, alcohol, and bad carbs. That is why I look good, and that is why I am proud when my husband tells me I look amazing.
Everyone has thousands and thousands of thoughts per day. I am not asking you to monitor them all. That would be a full-time job. But you can monitor the dominant ones. When you have been doing something for ten or twenty years how do you change it?.
Step 1: For three full days, monitor your thoughts. Include one day off in there (one week-end day). And really do it. Write down or record everything that passes through your head. It is arduous, but it is necessary to be able to move on to the next step. As the saying goes, how do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are! Where you are, is who you are today with your current thoughts and the thoughts of the past months and years. So go on and log them. Pay attention to how you are feeling. Your emotions will help identify if it is a rewarding thought or not. My therapist thought writing down everything might be dangerous because it might put me in a depressive mood to discover all the negative thoughts in my head. My thinking, however, was that it was already there and it was affecting my life negatively, so why not face it? So I did. And I still do.
Step 2: The next step is to replace those thoughts. But how do you get rid of a thought? Replace it with another one, a stronger one. Don’t just mumble your new thought; attach positive and strong emotions to it.
Let’s do an example:
I used to wake up and anything and everything that could happen to me during the day, I perceived in a negative way. Whether it was a meeting, an encounter with someone I did not particularly like, or the numbers of things that could or would go wrong during events happening that day. I imagined all the bad things that could happen. When I started logging my thoughts, I could not believe how many negative thoughts I had going on in there, totally unmonitored. No wonder I went through life anxious all the time: I was living with negativity day in and day out! The thing is, I knew I could manage those thoughts and have an amazing, relaxing day. Do you remember the last time you had one of those? Do you remember waking up feeling amazing and having that feeling last all day? Do you remember when you were relaxed, people were relaxed around you, and everything went the right way? Why not aim at living every day like that!
THOUGHTS TO LISTEN TO
One note about the difference between a negative thought and a warning thought: You need to be able to differentiate between the two and pay attention to the latter. Let’s say, for example, you need to go in front of a board of directors to ask and get approval on financing for a special project. You prepare everything and when you practice your speech, you have those annoying voices that tell you this or that might go wrong, or that you have to prepare your answers in case someone in the group does not agree with your points. Play the devil’s advocate, and go ahead and prepare answers to the worst possible objections or questions you can imagine. It is basic preparation. Those thoughts are OK since they help you be more ready for a big event.
Monitoring your thoughts so they are rewarding instead of punishing does not mean you shouldn’t listen to your intuition. You have to listen to your intuition at all times because it can be useful. But, if a thought that is not rewarding or not helping you reach your goal keeps coming back, it may be worthwhile to pounder it a bit. Don’t be mechanical in changing your thoughts, although for some of them you can be mechanical. For little things, for example, such as “I will miss the bus and get all upset.” You can change it for, “I will be smart and organize appropriately and leave early and take a peaceful walk to the bus instead of rushing to catch the bus.”
HOW DID I DO IT?
After three days of logging all my negative thoughts, I knew my pattern. And instead of waking up feeling negative about my day, I started to feel grateful. I’d lie in bed a bit longer and I’d go through everything I enjoyed about my life: my husband, my health, a good paying job, nice colleagues and friends, etc. This set the tone for the day. Then I got up and worked out most days, and then I’d meditate. At the end of my meditation, I spent some time visualizing my day. If I had to do something I didn’t like that day, I’d put a positive spin on it. I’d visualize myself as calm, relaxed, and centered throughout the day. This is exactly what I did when I visualized my wedding. I did not allow any negative thoughts to enter. Negative thoughts are like weeds: if you let one in, more and more will grow. Every time I had a negative thought, I replaced it consciously with a positive one and attached feelings to the new thought. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to add feelings (joy, happiness, contentment, satisfaction, etc.) to your new thought. At first, it is a process that will require a lot of focus. I found that when I did something habitual like brushing my teeth, I had to focus more and not let my mind wander. I wanted to use that time to improve my well-being. More and more the new thinking pattern became a habit. Now, the days that I get up and don’t do what I have outlined here, I don’t feel as good and my day is most definitely not as rewarding.
If you ever wonder if a thought is good or bad, here’s a test. Imagine yourself saying that thought to your daughter, son, best friend, or your partner. Would you say it? Or, would you say something nicer, more rewarding, and more positive? If the answer is yes, then don’t you think you deserve the same? YES, you do.
Smile. When you are just having a bad day, push your shoulders back, take a deep breath, and smile even if you don’t feel like it. I had read that but never quite understood how a smile could impact your mood until I started doing it on a regular basis. Natalie Cole sings a song “Smile.” I love that song. When I am feeling down or my mind wants to keep focusing on bad things, I listen to it and I do it-I smile.
I also like to remind myself that what is making me sad or mad or anxious today will mean nothing in a week, a month, or a year. I say the phrase, “This too shall pass.” Most things are not worth me losing my calm, my happiness, and my joy.
Eventually, the negative thoughts will disappear.
WHAT DO I DO EXACTLY?
On a day-to-day basis, what does all this mean?
1. Log your negative thoughts for three days.
2. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones and feel them.
a. I am a success
b. I am a winner
c. I am a kind person
d. I am successfully achieving this goal
e. I deserve wealth
3. Your old self will fight this all it can, but speak kindly to yourself and tell yourself that you are ready to move on. In fact, act as if you have already achieved your goal. When you visualize, look at yourself having succeeded in six months, one year, five years, 10 years, and 20 years. It will help you focus your thoughts.
4. What helps me is looking at myself in the mirror. When my little voice is screaming with fear and anxiety, it calms me to look at myself. I am not an eight year old but a forty-something year old who is in control. Look into your eyes. Let the emotions come up if they are ready. Don’t stop them from coming out, use it as an opportunity to manage them. But don’t force them. Sometimes I find they are not ready, and my younger one just quiets down.
5. Exercise discipline. Your old self will try everything to get you to do things the old way, to stay in the comfort zone. Just say no. Do not leave any doors open.
6. Open your heart. What I mean by that is, be open to good things happening in your life. I know why none of the things I wanted happened earlier: I was not ready to receive them. When I started putting into practice the things I mention here, one day very early on, I got a call from a publishing consulting firm. Would you believe that my reaction was frustration that the publisher was disturbing me at my work? Why couldn’t they write me or send me the information through email so I could read it when I had time? And that happened on a slow day. The Universe was answering my prayer to become a published author, and I refused to see it and welcome it. I wonder how many of these I refused to see or never even noticed. Open your heart. Believe it can happen. By the way, I called back the publisher the same day and got all kinds of great information.
7. This step is very important: act as-if. If your old self and your old thoughts brought you to where you are today, imagine where you want to be and start thinking and acting as if you were there already. My husband and I got fed up, seriously fed up, with the harsh winters in Canada. We love San Diego, and we try to go there every year on vacation. One year I said that we should look at condos there even if we were not ready to move there yet. And I wanted to look at high-end condos as if we could afford it. I explained to him the concept of acting as-if. It is a great tool for everything you want to accomplish in your life. It also helps to establish if you are heading in the right direction. You know you are heading in the right direction when it feels good. We are so good at hiding how we feel with food and alcohol that we don’t recognize how we feel anymore. Imagine you have this dream of being a boss, a leader. You start acting as-if, you start dressing like an executive, you start taking your place and speaking up at meetings. You start helping and coaching people but then realize that you are getting increasingly uncomfortable. You realize that maybe leading people is not for you; maybe your focus should be to excel and be the best at something else. Look deeper and work at identifying your talent and start developing it and be the best at that instead. Listen and feel. Your body, your heart, and your soul have all the answers for you. You just have to listen.
These are the tricks that I have used to help me change my thoughts. The old me still peeps up every once in a while, don’t get me wrong. It takes consistent focus for a long time to settle into your real self and let go of all those layers of faux self that got added on to you through the different experiences you went through in life and through the different people you met.
It is important to emphasize that nothing will change unless you change your thoughts. I notice that I have a harder time focusing on good and positive thoughts when I am tired or sick. This is when mantras are useful. Keep your mantra positive, powerful, and simple. It is better to repeat a mantra then to let your mind wander in places you don’t want it to go.
Have fun with change. Make fun of your negative thoughts and sometimes change them with a joke. It removes the feeling of drama that often accompanies negative thoughts.” Also, use your affirmations-positive, rewarding, and with great feelings-to replace lingering negative thoughts.
You probably want to know how long it will take. The only possible answer is “as long as it needs to.” It depends on how strong or thick the wall is; the one you are tearing down. How long did it take you to be where you are today? How ready are you to make a change? At the very least, it will take consistent daily efforts for months for your negative thoughts to change into positive, rewarding ones. You will run into roadblocks and serious resistance. You will encounter your own obstacles and life’s obstacles as well. Just keep in mind that life’s roadblocks or obstacles are tests. They will test you to see if you are ready to move on to the next stage. Just by knowing that, your attitude towards them should change. You should welcome them and scream out loud, “Yes! I am ready for them. I am ready to get through them and move on to my higher self.” If you don’t face your obstacles, they will keep coming back until you do. I am a firm believer that they show up when we are ready to deal with them. Keep in mind that you cannot grow if you don’t go through these events. If you think you have solved a negative aspect of yourself that you wanted to get rid of, I can guarantee life will test you to make sure you have.
Maria Angelou wrote that words are things. Well, your thoughts are things, too. They are real: they create your life. I was literally at a crossroads. I knew I had to change my thoughts if I wanted my life to change. By some standards, I had already managed to succeed in my life. I had come from a poor family to take two major degrees and become vice-president of a major IT consulting firm. And most importantly, having attracted in my life the most amazing, gorgeous man who is kind, funny, hugely smart, and loving. So I must have done something right! But somewhere in me, there were old voices that stated that I did not believe I deserved any of it. It all belonged to someone else, and it was just a matter of time before I lost it all, self-sabotage you know. It took me 20 years to achieve everything I had and those were my thoughts. Imagine! It had been so hard and painful to achieve, but I had managed it because somewhere I believed in me and I invested in long-term psychoanalytical therapy. But only recently, with the help of that therapy, did I start believing I deserved what I had. I still had the odd thought that I did not deserve it, but by controlling my thoughts and reinforcing my belief in myself those thoughts were fewer and farther between.
I didn’t want to take another 20 years to get a point where I 100% believed that I deserved it. This was when I realized that I had to completely and irrevocably change how I perceived myself. And it started with my thoughts. Out with the old and in with the new.
What amazes me is that I have succeeded in life despite recurring negative thoughts. But those thoughts were starting to weigh heavier than ever on me. I really wanted them gone and I didn’t want to be split in two all the time. I want all my selves to go into one direction; I want to be one, a strong core. I look at pictures of me as a kid and I see that I actually was gorgeous. If I had lived in a nurturing environment, God knows how different my life could have been. Well, as an adult, I have the power to change all that. That is the power of thoughts, the power of words, and, therefore, the power of who I become. I can change, one slow moment at a time. I don’t think there are any magic tricks. You might try hypnosis, if you believe in it, but, personally, I think the process is so much more important than the result. The idea is to reconnect with your self and to heal. No quick fix solution can do that. You need to do it yourself; no healer or therapist can do that for you. They can only guide you. My point is, you only need you. You have the power to rediscover love for yourself. You lost it a while back and that is okay. You are where you are now; just go from there.
Don’t look for love outside of you. (Easier said than done when your entire life you have looked outside for validation as I have.) Don’t look for it in your mom, dad, siblings, friends, or life partner. If your thoughts are negative and hurtful towards your own self, then you need to find the love in your own self. Go where the problem is. Don’t try to cover it up. The love is there. It was always there under layers of hurtful thoughts and words, your own and others. Now you know why this step is important. It is a crucial period. You are against a brick wall and that brick wall prevents you from reaching the self-love that’s on the other side. Get rid of that darn wall. (The wall is you, by the way, in case you did not get that.) It’s time. One thought at a time, one hour at a time, and one day at time. Change your thoughts for positive and self-rewarding ones, and the bricks will fall one at a time.