One of my favourite business consultants, Michael Walsh of Kaizen Consulting, often says “The world is full of critics – don’t be one. Be your own best cheerleader instead.” The work I do with clients on developing their personal presence starts here, with gently naming and reframing all the negative soundtracks that keep them feeling powerless, insecure and anxious.
Many people have decided somewhere along the way that if they talk negatively to themselves, they’ll somehow do better in life. Either they think the negative things that other people say won’t hurt (not true), or they think they’ll be unmotivated if they don’t look at themselves with a seriously critical eye (also not true). Whether it is past parental programming or something they’ve picked up from work or friends, this type of negativity has only negative consequences, both physically and mentally.
Some of these consequences include:
- Increased stress hormone production which breaks down the hippocampus (the part of your brain that regulates memory)
- Damage to the neural structures that regulate emotion by ruminating (continually turning over a situation in your mind, focusing on the negative aspects)
- Limited brain plasticity – when you constantly fire negative thoughts, they wear tracks in the brain that become more easily travelled
It makes sense then, that someone who wishes to achieve more in life or simply become happier with their current situation would work to turn these negative patterns around as quickly as possible. Even if there is something that needs changing, everything changes better with love.
If you find yourself heading down a negative road every time you start thinking about yourself or a situation you’re experiencing, it will be more difficult to adapt and move through whatever is happening. Instead, try this process for overcoming those negative tracks and see how things shift:
- Notice what you’re thinking. Each time you catch yourself reacting to something negatively, stop for a moment and notice what’s happening. Noticing is a powerful tool for change – until you notice you’re doing something, you have no way of changing.
- Celebrate your catch! Every time you notice you’ve caught a negative thought pattern give yourself a mental pat on the back. Try saying “Good catch (insert your name here)!” Before you can take further action, it’s important to encourage yourself to catch as many instances of negative thinking as possible. We do well with positive reinforcement, so the more you celebrate your catches, the more often you’ll catch them and the more chance you’ll have of getting rid of them in the next step.
- Name and reframe! Once you’ve caught yourself thinking negatively and celebrated the catch, name the thought aloud. Maybe it was a negative thought about your body, your performance or someone around you. Name that thought and then reframe it. For example, I often hear clients speak negatively about their bodies. When they hear themselves say something negative such as “My gut is so awful.”, they work on noticing, celebrating, naming and reframing into something like “My gut digests all my food and does a great job of it.” They look for the positive, no matter how small, and substitute that for the negative thought.
- Fire and wire! The good news about this process is that, though it will seem slow at first, it gets much easier and faster with practice and it doesn’t take very long to do. The saying ‘What gets fired gets wired.” refers to brain plasticity, or creating new neural pathways. As you work to notice, celebrate, name and reframe, new pathways that are geared more to positive thoughts will form in your brain. Like a trail that gets worn down in the forest, it will become easier to access with use and soon your brain will be much more inclined to the positive, bringing all the health benefits of loving thought to you, faster than you thought possible.
Let us know how you’re doing! Did the process work and what benefits have you experienced?