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Changing Thoughts from Negative to Positive

Changing Thoughts from Negative to Positive

Most of us have a Top Ten list of nagging, nay-saying thoughts that can just drive us crazy – and sabotage our confidence, block our resilience.

“Better not! They’ll only make fun of you for doing that!”

“See?  I knew I couldn’t.  I shouldn’t have even tried.”

“Life sucks.  And it’s not going to get any better.”

Our mindful awareness helps us catch any of these thoughts, recognize that they are thoughts, and realize that hearing them over and over in our head doesn’t necessarily make them true.

Mindful awareness also allows us to use the tools that can rewire these negative thoughts fairly quickly, close to permanently.

Changing ANTs to PATs

A central practice of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is to identify automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that derail your resilience and create positive automatic thoughts (PATs) as antidotes – to juxtapose and rewire the habitual negative self-talk.  This is a practice of re-conditioning to rewire limiting beliefs, patterns of mental processes, even entire mindsets that would block your resilience.  Even though this exercise uses thoughts to rewire thoughts, you still pay attention to all the tools you have learned so far in other intelligences – somatic, emotional, relational – to help the brain rewire from the bottom up. The more neural networks you can “light up,” the more thorough the rewiring.

1.  Identify and write down 5 habitual inner messages you hear from various inner parts of yourself that are negative, devaluing of you, leading to any “less than” or “not good enough.”

a.  I might as well not try; this is too hard.

b.  Better to settle for less than risk another failure.

c.  I refuse and you can’t make me.

d.  Really, you think they’d be interested in that idea?

e.  Who do you think you are?

Etc. Thoughts that erode your confidence in yourself and that you hear internally again and again. Five… or as many as you wish.

2.  For each of these ANTs, think of and write down at least one PAT as an antidote (more if you wish):

a.  If I break this down into smaller chunks, it will be easier.

b.  I want to learn and grow. I’d rather learn from a mistake than not try at all.

c.  I can be stubborn at time but I’m working on being more flexible.

d.  I like this idea!  I want to try it out.  I’ll find the people who agree with me.

e. I’m a pretty good mom, and a good tennis player, and I’m kind and generous.

Etc.  The PAT will rewire the ANT the best if it feels realistic and doable to you.

3.  First practice saying the PATs on their own many times a day, until they become fairly automatic; you don’t have to “think” to say them. You’re creating the positive resource to do the juxtaposition.

4.  Then pair an ANT with its PAT; juxtaposing the ANT with its PAT, saying them out loud together to yourself many times.

5.  Gradually reduce the number of times you say the ANT to yourself, simply repeat the PAT many times.

6.  Here’s the crucial step: The next time you hear the ANT in your mind, notice if the PAT comes into your awareness, too.  If yes, great!  You’re rewiring.  If not, keep persevering, practicing until it does.

How long do you try?  Until.  – Jim Rohn

This exercise is re-conditioning at its finest and a strong support of increasing reflective intelligence.  Conscious choices, conscious rewiring.  The growing sense of competence at rewiring may catalyze further rewiring of your sense of self as someone who is truly capable of strengthening your resilience.

(You will find this practice and similar exercises in Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster forthcoming in October 2, 2018.)

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