Research shows these thinking habits could permanently rewire your brain.
Posted Oct 10, 2017
The conversations you have with yourself have a direct impact on how you feel and how you behave. If your self-talk is filled with self-doubt, harsh criticism, and catastrophic predictions, you'll struggle to reach your goals.
But you don't have to let a pessimistic outlook or foreboding inner monologue hold you back. You can train your brain to think differently.
In fact, training your brain to think differently physically changes your brain.
Here are three ways to train your brain to think differently:
1. Reframe your unhelpful thoughts.
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Thinking things like "This will never work," or "I'm such an idiot. I just ruined everything" isn't helpful. Negative predictions tend to turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. And exaggeratedly negative thoughts prevent you from taking positive action.
But the good news is, you can reply to unhelpful thoughts with more realistic statements. When you think "No one is ever going to hire me," remind yourself, "If I keep working hard to look for jobs, I'll increase my chances of getting hired."
Or, when you are thinking "This is going to be a disaster," look for evidence that your efforts may be a success. Then, create a more balanced statement such as "There's a chance this won't work out, but there's also a chance I might succeed. All I can do is my best."
2. Prove yourself wrong.
Your brain lies to you sometimes. So when it tells you that you can't possibly get a promotion or that you'll never be able to lose 10 pounds, look at it as a challenge.
Force yourself to take one more step after you think you're too exhausted to keep going. Or challenge yourself to keep applying for promotions despite your brain's insistence you won't land a new position.
Each time you successfully prove your negative predictions wrong, you'll train your brain to see yourself in a different light. Over time, your brain will start to view your limitations, as well as your capabilities, in a more accurate light.
3. Create a personal mantra.
Take stock of your negative thought patterns. Do you call yourself names? Or do you talk yourself out of doing things where you might fail?
Then, develop a personal mantra that you can use to talk back to the negative messages. Repeating things like "Make it happen" or "Do your best" tunes out the negativity. And over time, you'll grow to believe those statements more than the unhealthy things you've been telling yourself.
Keep Building Mental Muscle
Just like any new skill, training your brain to think differently takes time. But the more you practice thinking realistically, the more mental muscle you'll build. In addition, your brain could undergo physical changes that will permanently help you think differently.
3 Exercises That Build Mental Strength in Just 5 Minutes
Build your mental muscle with a few brain training exercises.
Posted May 29, 2017
Whether you’re tempted to give in to your craving for a cupcake, or you’re about to give up on your goals, perseverance isn’t easy. But before you blame your lack of willpower or make an excuse for your less-than-stellar performance, consider this: It only takes a few minutes a day to build the mental muscle you need to reach your greatest potential.
Building mental strength is similar to building physical strength. Doing 50 push-ups a day would only take a few minutes of your time, but doing it consistently would help you build a tremendous amount of upper body strength.
The same can be said of your mental muscle. In just a few minutes each day, you can train your brain to think differently, manage your emotions, and behave productively. With consistent exercise, you’ll build mental strength.
While there are many exercises that can help you grow stronger, here are three that will help you build mental muscle in five minutes or less:
1. Identify three things you’re grateful for.
Counting your blessings—as opposed to your burdens—has a big impact on your psychological health. Studies consistently show that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.
Make gratitude a daily habit by intentionally identifying three things in your life you are grateful for. It could be as simple as feeling thankful for the clean water that comes out of your faucet or appreciating the cool breeze on a warm day.
Studies show that you can physically change your brain by making gratitude a habit. Write in a gratitude journal, list the things you feel grateful for over dinner, or make it a habit to identify what you're thankful for before you go to bed. Over time, being thankful becomes like second nature, and you’ll experience benefits ranging from improved sleep to greater immunity.
2. Practice mindfulness.
It’s impossible to stay strong when you’re rehashing something that happened last week or predicting that horrible things are going to happen tomorrow. Mindfulness is about staying present in the moment. And since the only time you can change your behavior is right now, it’s important to be able to focus on the here-and-now.
Science shows that mindfulness has a multitude of physical and psychological benefits, including reduced stress and a more compassionate inner dialogue.
So take a minute to focus on what’s going on around you. Listen to see what sounds you can hear. Look around the room and see what you notice. Do a quick scan of your body and pay attention to how it feels.
With regular practice, you’ll increase your ability to focus, which is tough to do in today’s fast-paced world. You’ll also be able to enjoy each moment because you’ll be less distracted by yesterday’s problems and tomorrow’s worries.
3. Act “as if.”
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It can be tempting to wait until you feel different to make a change. But waiting until you feel good about yourself before applying for a promotion, or waiting until you feel happy to invite your friends out for a night on the town, could backfire. Instead, studies show you should behave like the person you want to become. When you change your behavior, your thoughts and emotions will follow.
When you’re sad, you might hunch your shoulders and look at the floor, but doing so keeps you in a depressive state. Put your shoulders back and smile, however, and you’ll feel an instant boost in your mood.
Don’t expect feelings of confidence to come out of nowhere. Instead, ask yourself, How can I act confident? Acting like a confident person, even when you're filled with self-doubt, helps you feel surer of yourself. Research shows acting confident even increases other people’s confidence in you.
Try asking yourself, What would a mentally strong person do? Then, act as if you feel strong already. And you’ll grow a little stronger.
Your Mental Push Ups
Every day is an opportunity to develop mental muscle. Simple, short exercises performed consistently over time will help you build mental strength.
Additionally, pay attention to the bad habits that rob you of mental strength. Feeling sorry for yourself, giving up after your first failure, and giving away your power are just a few of the habits that can wreak havoc on your mental weightlifting routine. Giving up those unhealthy habits will help you work smarter, not harder.
Paula Davis-Laack J.D., M.A.P.P. Paula Davis-Laack J.D., M.A.P.P.
How I Used Design Thinking To Reinvent My Career
The popular problem solving methodology applied to life's complex problems
Posted Oct 31, 2017
In 2009, my law career stalled. I was burned out and ready to make a professional change, but I had no idea where to start or what my next step should be. Should I continue to practice law, but in a different setting or practice area? Should I start my own business, and if so, doing what?
One of the most important aspects of resilience involves developing a flexible way of thinking about challenge and adversity and being able to solve problems in an accurate way. Design thinking is a type of innovation methodology – a problem solving process to help you generate options, test strategies, and get feedback so that you can develop something (often applied to facilitate the creation of new products or processes). As I discovered, design thinking is also a great tool to help you get unstuck and problem solve life’s biggest challenges.
Design thinking can help you craft a more meaningful life, create the type of relationships you want after a divorce or breakup, or open up new pathways for you at work. Here is how I used design thinking to help me identify a new career path (and save lots of time and money in the process):
1. Observe. If you were going to design a new product, you would first learn all about the end-user to identify pain points and patterns of behavior. In my application of design thinking, the end-user is you, and you have some work to do.
Define the problem. What is the exact problem you’re trying to solve? This is an important question because you can lose years working on the wrong problem. The trick to uncovering the right problem is to think like a beginner and get curious.
Reframe counterproductive thinking. Your automatic negative thoughts (“ANTs”) about stress can cause you to miss critical information. As a result, you need to be able to quickly reframe ANTs in order to think more flexibly and accurately.
Cut yourself some slack. Self-compassion involves being kind to yourself, getting support from others, and taking a balanced approach to your emotions.
The problem I decided to get curious about was, “What do I love doing at work?” I had ANTs about feeling like a failure for quitting my law practice, but I soon realized that many thousands of lawyers had done the same thing. Practicing law is simply one of many things you can do with a law degree.
2. Ideate. Too often, people get stuck chasing their first idea or trying to find one perfect idea or solution to a problem, which rarely works. My first idea was to become a pastry chef. I was so certain of it, in fact, that I applied to pastry school in New York and told my boss that I was quitting. Thankfully I had the sense to do an internship for a week only to realize that I hated it - hated every minute of it.
It’s important to withhold judgment during this step and create as many ideas as possible, even those you might consider to be wild and outside of the box. In design thinking, more is better when it comes to idea generation.
Back at square one, I realized that I had to generate more ideas and possibilities, so I created what I called “THE LIST.” I wrote down all of the things I had loved to do in my life, going back to childhood. I thought about all of the things that excited me, how I used my strengths, when I was happy, and made a list. I didn’t edit it at all – I simply captured every idea or memory that came into my head and my heart. When I was done, the following themes emerged: writing, research, talking to people, teaching, and traveling.
3. Rapid Prototyping. Take your ideas and conduct small experiments. Prototypes should be designed to get some data about what you’re interested in so you can visualize alternatives in a very experiential way. Most importantly, prototypes allow you to try and fail rapidly. The easiest form of prototyping is a conversation.
My pastry internship is an example of rapid prototyping. That internship saved me $40,000 in tuition (and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars starting a bakery) and forced me to identify other ideas, which led me to a more feasible solution quicker. After I developed the LIST, I had dozens of conversations with people who had careers that I thought matched my LIST ideas. I talked to a local reporter; reviewed the requirements for PhD programs in psychology; interviewed business owners about entrepreneurship; and I talked to life coaches.
4. Feedback & Iteration. What did you learn from your small experiments? What worked? What didn’t? Do you need to have additional conversations with anyone or take additional action steps? Take that information and make changes to your prototypes as necessary until you fine tune your solutions.
The reporter I talked to was clearly burned out and wasn’t inspiring. I learned how hard it is to start a business from scratch, and I discovered that I didn’t want to spend the next five years of my life pursuing another doctorate degree. However, one of the life coaches I talked to had just completed her master’s degree in applied positive psychology. I had never heard of positive psychology, but I was intrigued. I talked to more people who had graduated from that program (prototyping), researched the professors and the school (prototyping), learned how much it would cost and talked about expenses with my family (more feedback and iteration), then decided to apply.
5. Implementation. Once you have validated the utility of your solution, it’s time to act. In my case, I applied to the positive psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania and was accepted.
Design thinking is a problem solving process that can help you build your resilience and get unstuck. If it seems overwhelming, remember these three points: get curious, talk to people and try stuff.
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP advises law firms and organizations and teaches lawyers and busy professionals about preventing burnout and building resilience to stress.
2. "Untangle your thinking - swipe" In response to Reply # 0
Untangle your thinking
Methods to untangle thinking
1. Define the distortion:
A. All or nothing/Black and White/Polarized Thinking: you think you’re good or bad, smart or dumb, a winner or a loser. You need to see “shades of gray” or “the middle ground.” No one is 100% successful in everything. Everything has assets and limitations.
B. Overgeneralization: Because something seems negative, you assume everything will always go wrong. You got a failing grade and decide you’ll never graduate. Someone breaks up with you and you decide you’ll never have a satisfying relationship.
C. Filtering: You focus on the rubbish (like coffee grounds) and ignore the positives (the flavorful brew). You get 2 A’s, B’s and a D. Instead of praising yourself for the A’s and B’s, you torture yourself over the D.
D. Jumping to Conclusions: You immediately assume the worst. You think you can read minds. People are whispering or laughing and you know it’s about you. You think you’re a fortuneteller. “I’ll never get promoted.”
E. Castastrophizing or Magnifying or Minimizing: You decide a small setback is a major catastrophe. You were reprimanded at work and are sure you’ll be fired. You magnify your faults or the potential pitfalls of a situation and minimize your assets/achievements. You magnify others’ attributes and ignore your own.
F. Emotional Reasoning: You allow feelings to guide your thoughts. You are depressed and decide life is hopeless. If your moods are governed by a chemical imbalance they are unpredictable and inaccurate.
G. Shoulds – Also known as ‘Musts’,’Oughts’, ‘Shouldn’ts’: You pressure or chastise yourself and others. Who has authority to dictate someone’s behavior? You set yourself up for failure or anger: Don’t ‘should’ on yourself or others.
H. Labelling: You call yourself and/or others names like ‘incompetent’, ‘ignorant’, ‘crazy’, or ‘lazy.’ Labels stick in your mind and cause you to give up on yourself, others, relationships and/or situations.
I. Personalization: You take something personally that is marginally relevant to you. You’re late to work two times. When a memo is distributed about tardiness, you believe it’s meant for you alone (forgetting that numerous co-workers come late).
J. Blaming: You blame others for your joy or unhappiness. “If only he’d ask me out I’d be happy.” “It’s all her fault I’m in a bad mood.” What others say or do affects you only with your permission. Happiness is an ‘inside job’ contingent on your view of self and circumstances.
2. Thought Substitution – With a positive but realistic thought:
Replace “I’m stupid” with “I’m knowledgeable about some things but need to learn about others.”
Replace “I’m ugly” with “I have some attractive features such as…(hair, eyes, etc.).”
3. Do a Reality Check:
Ask yourself and others the true facts. Using pencil and paper, make lists if necessary. If you lost a job or relationship, list the number of jobs and/or relationships you have had. Look at the quality of whatever you lost (perhaps it’s a blessing it’s gone). Look at pros and cons of current situations and new opportunities.
Decide it’s not really the end of the world.
4. Talk to Yourself with Compassion:
Be gentle with yourself. Note your positive steps and reward your risk-taking. Perhaps you got a D or F but at least you took the class. You weren’t selected for a job but you learned more about applications and interviews for the next time. Give yourself a ‘pep talk.’
5. Shades of Gray:
See yourself, others and situations on a continuum. You’re neither perfect nor worthless. Most people aren’t 100% friend or foe. Situations aren’t necessarily terrific or terrible. Decide you’re a human being who usually succeeds but sometimes makes mistakes. Realize your friend is loyal 90% of the time. Your job is mostly pleasant with some annoying aspects.
6. Substitute Terms:
Avoid emotionally laden words such as ‘devastating’, ‘horrible’, ‘heartbroken.’ Use ‘disappointing’, ‘unfortunate’, ‘hurtful’, to put things in perspective.
7. Worst Case Scenario:
Consider (but don’t dwell on) the worst possible outcome. Decide how you’ll survive – the thoughts and/or actions you’ll take to accept and overcome the situation. If you lose a job or relationship, what changes will you make to get and keep a more appropriate one?
4. "Really like the substance of this article" In response to Reply # 2
I read a book called Feeling Good a number of years ago and it referenced a lot of these thinking errors. I appreciate the reminder. Even though my self-talk and perceptions about the world and my place in it is much improved, there's still places where clearer thinking would help in my quality of life.
No matter what you do, change is impossible without this one factor.
Posted Mar 07, 2018
My husband tells me that when he was a young man, whenever he was in a terrible mood he thought his feelings were real. He felt awful, he thought, because things were awful.
He was like a fish, unaware of any boundary between itself and the ocean in which it swims.
Nowadays, Mike easily identifies a bad mood as just that. He doesn’t mistake the way he feels for the way things are. He can be in a foul mood and know at the same time that nothing “out there” in his life is really wrong.
The fancy term for what he’s done is “disembedded from his own subjectivity.” It's the one thing everyone needs to be able to do if they want to grow.
Lifelong Personal Growth
As newborns, we’re unaware that the warmth of the blanket, that smiling face, and all those interesting sounds exist outside of us. Our point of view is all we know. The whole universe seems to exist within ourselves.
Soon enough we begin to separate “me” from “not me.” This is my hand (me), and that’s your hand (not me). Understanding that other people and objects are physically separate from us is the first step we take in disembedding (separating) from our own subjectivity (point of view).
That’s arguably our first act of personal growth. It makes us more effective to recognize that other people are not us. It’s a helpful distinction which, if all goes well, we never lose.
We build on that step throughout life, which is good because there’s much more separating to do if we’re to keep growing.
For example, later in childhood we come to understand that what other people see from their point of view may be different than what we see from ours. Until then, we believe we can hide by sitting in the middle of the room with a blanket over our heads. If we can’t see others, we think they can’t see us.
All psychological growth involves progressively more sophisticated separations from our previous point of view. What used to be an invisible part of ourselves becomes a potential object of study. We see it clearly for the first time, and that means we can change it.
How can you use this concept to address areas where you feel stuck?
Let’s take the example of addiction. If I reach unthinkingly for a drink every time I feel anxious or upset, drinking is just a part of my state of being. In a practical sense, it’s invisible to me.
Only once I’m able to see drinking as something I’m doing to calm down, can I begin to think about whether I want to use alcohol in that way. As long as drinking is “just who I am,” I’m powerless to change.
Objectifying drinking is one step. I may also need to become aware of my anxiety and/or other triggers. My need for soothing might be hidden in the background – something that’s so much a part of me I don’t even realize it’s there.
Take another problem: Low self-esteem. Early on in my development, other people’s cruelty toward me probably feels like a direct reflection of my worthlessness. Once I understand others' cruelty as an aspect of them instead of me, I’ve achieved a level of objectivity that contributes substantially to my personal growth.
The best thing about objectivity is, once I see something in a new way, I can't un-see it. The change is permanent.
Therapy can help with this wondrous process. In fact, helping you separate from your current subjectivity is arguably the most important benefit that therapy can provide.
One thing is certain: Turning subjective states (who I am) into objects of study (what I see) brings our own processes – including problematic ones – within reach. And that's what makes change possible.