Today you'll get a real story on how someone changed their mental patterns, beliefs about themselves, and improved their overall health- starting with a metaphor on updating mindset. You'll discover new tools for viewing your current beliefs, and rewriting them if they are no longer serving.
After you've done the exercise- remember to set a time to do lesson 6!
Be Your Own Mindset Boss
Update the Mental Program, Like a Computer
Our mental patterns are like a trail in the woods.
The way we think can be like an easy walkway- and your’e the hiker.
This frequently-treaded path is the easiest way to get from point A to point B, because it’s clearly defined, familiar, and known- just like our neural pathways are when we think in the same way repeatedly overtime.
You're tired of restless nights, or incessant bouts of worrying, the labeled "inner critic" chirping in your ear all day, repeated questions of "what if", panic stays close by…
For all of us, we repeat some of these mental patterns to ourselves and we know it is exhausting, a bad habit, tearing us down, chipping away at our sense of Self. Yet, we continue to use the trail- because it’s the only trail we know, and it’s become so familiar we don’t even think to hack out a new walking path in the forest.
On either side of this open and clear path with soft-dirt, there is the untamed dense forest. Beyond this path, the wild forest stretches for miles- unfamiliar sounds call out from its depth.
Changing a mental pattern is like veering off into that forest, away from the trodden path, away from the comfort lane, and towards the sound of a beast or a sudden crack of a branch that sends your imagination into a furry of images of being attacked, stalked by a creature, getting lost in the woods at dusk and sleeping overnight with…who knows.
In short: changing a mental pattern can feel like death, because in a sense, it is.
When we’ve grown up with mental coping strategies that help us understand the world, complex ideas, and aspects of ourselves that were deemed “bad” by our culture or super-ego, changing those paradigms is threatening to the ego- our sense of who we are and how we unconsciously chose to get by. (I want to make it clear that having an ego is not bad, in fact it is necessary-without ego there is no sense of “I” or “you” and therefore no way to love another person, have a career, an identity, or a friend…”)
When the sense of “Self” is questioned, updated, or rewritten, it takes time to integrate into a new sense of identity, and that is scary as shit.
The new path isn't easy; first, you have to decide to stop walking down the main trail. And the ego will have all kinds of reasons why it’s a bad idea:
"Oh but it's so convenient!"
"It's what you know, why change that?"
"It's kept you safe and protected all this time"
"Carving out a new trail is risky- what if you fail?"
“Who will you be if you stop using this trail?”
But what if you realized that the familiar path you’ve used so often leads to nowhere? What if you spent miles walking, only to find yourself at a dead-end; against a wall. Every time you walked the path you thought it would lead you to Point B, but in fact you never got there?
This is exactly what happens when we continue to use mental processes that are not serving us, that are outdated, limiting us, making us small…
“Where your focus goes, energy flows”-Tony Robbins
I regularly used to think, "I'm not meant for this world." When things would get bad in my mind, I kept the possibility of "self-termination" as an option. Sometimes I saw my future- and this would be how I "exited." During the darkest months in my mind, the possibility crept up closer and closer to the surface until it was a fixation that sprung up too-readily, too easily, and I was unraveling.
I was getting sucked deeper and deeper into the story I had told myself for so long: that I was flawed, too slow, too stuck, to make it in the world and I would end up ridding myself of the problem. I was different from everyone else and could not be successful, no one understood me, I was not good enough. I hated myself.
“Suicidal ideation.”- I was ashamed of it, and knew it was not the right thing to be thinking about.
“Neurons that Fire Together, Wire Together”
- Neuropsychologist Donald Hebb first used this phrase to describe how pathways in the brain are formed and reinforced through repetition. The more the brain does a certain task, the stronger that neural network becomes, making the process more efficient each successive time.
The knowledge of neuroplasticity saved me. Neuroplasticity is the biological process and ability of the brain to reorganize how synapses respond and “fire” to stimuli.
I came to the conclusion that if I continued to "go there," the path of suicide as an option would always stay fresh. And I realized I had never truly “chosen life” for myself, and I wondered what would happen if I changed that.
I laid awake for many nights in those months, struggling with repeating patterns of thought.
The cycle was like this:
A problem, a feeling of helplessness, the eventual "solution” of suicide tempting me.
We all have mental patterns that begin with an emotion. The more we spend time in that emotion (for me, it was “helplessness”), the more we repeat the corresponding thoughts, and actions.
A person's focus and belief will become their reality. And this focus and belief spurs some kind of action in them.
First, I needed to stop using the trail. I needed to let the path grow over- anytime I walked down it, even if it was just once or just a few steps, I was keeping that trail alive.
I needed to start a new trail, and yes it would be "thorny"...
It's not a matter of how skewed someone's perception is, how difficult their life is or isn't, who understands them or who doesn't, what they did in their past, had as a kid or didn't have. None of that matters in determining who has "the right" to be happy. We’re all meant to feel alive, to chose our life, and to be happy within.
Over time, I was tempted less and less by the idea, and a year later I felt like a different person. I began therapy which my ego would have never allowed when I was still walking the same old trail.
A New Way to Think About How You Think
We can revisit trails that are USEFUL to us, or harmful.
First, you have to have the awareness to see useless patterns. Once the awareness is there, then the trust in yourself begins when you consciously take a step into the new, unbeaten path. It may take time, but trust that your brain can work differently once you make the choice to discontinue limiting trails of thought. Awareness. New path. Consistency.
How to Check Your Belief Systems:
Since the way we think about ourselves impacts the way we interact with others and in the world, our own identity is a great first place to start.
The first step to being aware of your mindset is understanding your narrative.
What is your story and what do you believe about yourself, the world, and others?
Finish these statements:
I am someone who-
I am meant to-
When I close my eyes and thinking about myself, I see a:
What are the sayings and expressions that you notice you use the most?
You can tell if something's serving you or not by sensing how you feel when you think about it. Do I feel contracted and small and pressure, or do I feel expansive, light, and empowered?
So if your belief systems are making you feel contracted, small and tight inside. Or if those thoughts bring a sense of, ugh- distaste- that probably means it's not serving.
That mindset can be changed to one that supports you and makes you feel empowered, hopeful, and expansive.
Recap: Step 1) ask yourself, is this mindset supportive, helpful, nourishing. Or is it outdated, limiting me, and disempowering? Step 2) See that mental train of thought as the old trail, and pave a new trail.
On a sheet of paper or in your journal, write the old, limiting belief on the right side. That is your first column. On the second column beside it, write a NEW, updated belief that is stated in the positive, and feels uplifting. Finally, on the third column, write out a list of reasons why the second column is true.
You can update ANY habit with a new one- and that includes the habits of your mind.
Stop walking old paths and create better trails by discontinuing using the old trail.
Bonus: Another angle to shifting mindset, below:
By the way, this video is just a bonus-not part of the lesson above. Watch it if you like, or move on if you're ready for the next lesson.