Are you managing your mental chatter, or is it managing you?
Last week my husband, Jay, and I took two weeks to bike from Prague to Vienna. We traveled with 21 people whom we’d never met… and what I learned from this adventure, combined with a few other discoveries in the past 24 hours, has been eye-opening.
The bike trip was advertised as a hilly course, with plenty of challenges. So Jay and I were perplexed and dismayed to hear repeated complaints by others in the group that the course was too hard. Only 3 of us did the long mileage each day.
At breakfast one day, one of the women told me that she was terrible at riding hills. So I challenged her with, “you can’t get good at riding hills unless you actually ride the hills.” And that day, we rode the hills together. At the top of a very long and difficult climb through the forests of the Czech Republic, she was beaming! The next day we rode the hills together again. And the following day, too. Because what she had effectively done was re-wire her brain into “I can” thinking as opposed to believing “No way can I do that.”
Research shows that the average person talks to him or herself about 50,000 times a day, mostly about ourselves. And a full 80% of that self-talk is negative! For example, “I can’t do hills.” Or perhaps more like what I often hear, “I’m terrible at marketing,” “I don’t like selling,” “It’s impossible to be successful in this market,” “People won’t want to pay for my services,” “That will never work.”
Why this is dangerous is that not only do these negative thoughts make you feel scared, frustrated, and paralyzed, but they also become a part of your makeup. Any neuroscientist will tell you that the more you remember something, especially if it has an emotional component to it – the more you reinforce the pathways connecting the neurons in your brain. In the end, the more you say these things to yourself, the more you believe them. Negative thinking starts its downward spiral to make us feel even more frustrated, scared, and victimized by our own thoughts.
I finished a small book today called Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It by Kamal Ravikant. It’s a fascinating spin on how deeply loving yourself can crush the nasty habit of beating yourself up. Ravikant poses this question, “If I loved myself truly and deeply, would I let myself experience this?” Would you allow anyone else talk to you the way you talk to yourself? If not, why are you doing it to yourself?
It’s time to disrupt the negative playback loop and make friends with your inner critic! Do this by taking a moment to positively connect to something good that you do each time you do it.
Here’s how it works. At the end of something positive – an amazing patient consult, the delivery of a successful talk, or finishing up your latest blog post – before you dash off to your next task, take a moment to let yourself feel good about your accomplishment. Simply take a few deeps breaths, genuinely congratulate yourself, smile, and let yourself feel the satisfaction of moving one step closer to your dream. That’s all it takes.
When I finish a task, I often walk into Jay’s office and “high-five” him. This very simple practice takes only a few seconds and, in my experience, noticeably step-ups my desire to get out and do more challenging tasks more often.
The positive effect of this small activity isn’t immediate, because unlike negative emotions that have specific responses, such as flight, fight, or freeze, positive emotions are much broader in nature and slower to develop. It will take more time for these simple actions to work their magic and build the neural networks that will connect you to a positive mindset.
Practice positivity. It will transform everything in your practice.