December 30, 2014

New Year's Resolutions: Challenging your thoughts!

This may sound like hewey (the technical
term for bullshit) but research is confirming
the power and influence our thoughts have.
In keeping with the theme of those (stinky) new year's resolutions, I thought I would focus today's post on something that doesn't get much attention in the media.  We hear/read about goal setting, starting slow, finding friends to do it with, and the like, but we rarely hear anything about the thoughts in our heads (not to be confused by the voices...because there's nothing wrong with that). 

Have you ever paid attention to your thoughts? What about the thoughts you have when you are getting ready in the morning, the thoughts while you are driving, walking the dog, or staring blankly out into space?  If you haven't...get on that. If you have...have you noticed a pattern? Rare is the person who gets out of bed thinking..."Man, I look amazing today! I am the best at what I do and beyond compare. I'm going to rock this day and nail that project at work. I am so good looking, I cannot stand myself!"...unless you are a practicing positive thinker or narcissist.  For me, I get up, go to the bathroom mirror and attempt to pull my skin back to reveal the woman I once was.  I don't think about much at that time in the morning, but what I do think about doesn't come close to the example above.

After saying this, negative thoughts have their place too. Having a few bad days does not a miserable life make. I'm not one for superficial positive thinking quotes, but there is something be said for the above. 

Did you know those thoughts tend to be habitual ways of thinking? We tend to keep to what is comfortable; what we know best.  If I tend to grumble on the way to work, how does that effect my workday? I believe it is human nature to side on the negative rather than the positive, but how does that negative thinking effect our daily performance? How does our thinking effect our health or potential changes we wish to see (a.k.a. new year's resolution)?  Ready for it? Our thinking effects our behaviour, our energy, our health, our relationships, and our work / school performance.  Our thinking is everything.

So what can one do to alter or change habitual negative thinking for good?

The first step you can take is to enhance your awareness of your thinking habits.  Take a week to listen to the pattern.  Do you slant to the negative or are you a chronically positive thinker already? Once you have an idea, what do you want to change? If you tend to gravitate towards the negative as you prepare to exercise after work, change the tape in your head.  The best part is you don't have to believe just have to repeat it (okay..that's trademarked should someone take it and create a bumper sticker). If your negative thought is "this is going to suck", change it to "I will have more energy when it is over" (or whatever works for you). Post it on your computer or wall so you can see it as a reminder.  The more you say it, the more you will believe it over time.
The same can be said for our (the global "our") negative self image.  It used to be I would stand in front of that morning mirror counting the wrinkles on my face and berating my sagging jawline.  The truth is (if we are lucky) age is inevitable...if I was going to age well I was going to have to embrace the positive.  I decided to replace these thoughts with positive ones.  Some days it would be as basic as the ability to walk, hear, and see.  On others I would be grateful for my education, safety, dog, family, and the like. The positive psychology research suggests the more you are able to shift your focus to gratitude the more positive feeling (and happiness) you will experience.  I have seen this work in myself and my clients.  This ain't your I-saw-it-on-Oprah-so-it-has-to-be-true suggestion...this is the real deal.

If you are wanting to shed a few pounds for the new year, but are dreading the diet changes you will have to make, how can you shift these thoughts to a more positive thought? Instead of thinking vegetables blow major goats (a technical term for "sucks"), focus on the health benefits of them (although I realize that is a stretch when you are sitting at the table with a bowl of broccoli in front of you).  How can you make veggies fun? How can you alter your way of thinking about veggies?  Unfortunately, I cannot provide an answer for you as it is a very personal shift we all have to make. What works for one may not work for the other.

The good news is negative thinking can be changed. The bad news is that it does take much focus, energy, and time to make this shift.  The benefits of such a shift will, not only, positively effect your success at behaviour change, but will effect your health, relationships, work performance, and overall well-being.  If you can change your thoughts, you can change your behaviour! 

How cool is that? That's pretty cool, Kathi!  I know, right?

That's all I got.

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