Also, my interview on Lisa Zawrotny’s Positively Living Podcast is up! Lisa and I are kindred spirits. In it you will hear my story about how I made my life hard in Kindergarten, and at the end, you’ll hear 2 super simple practices to reduce your stress.
Welcome to the season of goal setting and self-flagellation!
I stopped setting New Year goals years ago, because I always started off the year feeling like a failure. I am not alone.
Research has shown that less than 25% of people are still keeping their goals by the end of January. Worse, only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.
Nevertheless, we are still driven to set big goals, create vision boards, buy gym shoes, and hope for huge changes–because of a day on the calendar.
(Don’t even get me started on how weird I think it is that we are supposed to be awake, excitedly happy, kissing someone, and jumping up and down blowing a horn because the clock goes from 11:59 to 12 on a cold, dark, night of the year…)
But back to the original topic…There is a lot of information out there on how to set goals and keep them. Yet we continue to fail. Why?
Most of us don’t keep our goals because we don’t believe we deserve them.
If you decide to set a goal for yourself, I suggest a small, gentle practice to help you create a shift in your beliefs.
Say to yourself “I’m the kind of person who (insert your goal.)”
I first learned this tool on a visit to the East Coast to meet with my coach. I stay with my friend Mellissa when I first arrive. I usually didn’t exercise on those trips, because the meetings start at 8am, (5am my internal clock time). That felt WAY too early for me to get up early to exercise.
Melissa asked me “do you want an idea to help with that?” Since she is a mindset maven, I of course answered “yes.” She said “say to yourself ‘I’m the kind of person who exercises.’”
I said it. It felt good. I said it several more times that day to Melissa. I said it before I went to bed. I said it when my alarm went off at 6am (3am my internal time.) And I got up and exercised! For good measure, I said it while I was exercising. That felt super good! That was a year ago, and I still use that practice when I’m on the East Coast. I feel SO much better having exercised before sitting all day.
Here are 4 reasons it worked.
I didn’t actually set a goal. I just kept repeating how I wanted to act. I didn’t qualify my success on a certain behavior. I just kept repeating to myself what I wanted to believe about myself.
I didn’t make the statement too audacious. I didn’t say “I’m the kind of person who exercises every day for an hour, for the rest of my life.” Ack! I would instantly rebel. That goal is too big and unforgiving. The first day I didn’t exercise, my goal would be a failure.
Because I chose a statement that was a stretch, but not too big, it felt good to say it. I literally felt better just by saying the statement.
I kept repeating the statement. Remember, beliefs are just thoughts we keep thinking. When we keep repeating a statement, positive or negative, it becomes a belief.
If you have a behavior you want to shift, practice saying “I’m the kind of person who (insert the behavior you want.). Notice how it feels to say that thought. If it doesn’t feel good, try other statements until you find one that feels good to say.
Repeat it. Say it out loud, write it on sticky notes, put a reminder on your phone, tell a friend. Repeat it until it feels like a belief about you. If you believe you are the kind of person who…you will be the kind of person who…
Why is the simple practice of gratitude so helpful? It is good for our brain and makes us more effective:
Positive emotions fill our brain with dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals make us feel good and increase our ability to learn. They help us process new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and remember it faster later on.
Feeling happy improves our ability to perform tasks and solve problems.
We feel better when we think happy thoughts. People who are grateful are more energetic and emotionally intelligent.
Gratitude is powerful!
Many years ago, I decided to try out this gratitude thing. It sounded good, but I always test things on myself to see if they work, before I share them with my clients. After 2-4 weeks of a daily gratitude practice, I noticed I started feeling spontaneously grateful throughout the day. It actually caught me by surprise! I could tell my neural pathways were being built and strengthened. What’s the best way to practice gratitude? Our neural pathways can be rewired faster if we have a feeling attached to the thoughts because it uses more of our brain. Here are two simple exercises you can do to help retrain your brain into grateful thinking:
Spend 30 seconds just FEELING gratitude. Pay attention to what is happening in your body. Do you feel your chest expanding? Do you feel it becoming bigger and warmer? Do you notice a change in your breathing? There is no right way to feel gratitude. Just notice how it feels in your body.
List 3 things for which you are grateful. Feel true gratitude for what you listed. Some people prefer lists, either written or spoken aloud. It can include the same things over and over again, or it can be as varied as you’d like.
When is a good time to do this practice? Morning sets you up for your day and bed-time thinking shapes how you perceive the experiences in your life. Both are important, and feel free to award yourself plenty of bonus points if you practice morning and night! While the time of day is an important factor, the most important part is the actual feeling. You can take 30 seconds at any point during the day to feel gratitude! Practice it and let me know how it works for you!
I am thrilled to announce I am offering my on-line course 7 Powerful Practices for Your Inner Perfectionist in January! What if everything you knew about being perfect was wrong?
Are you hard on yourself?
Do you worry about being judged by others?
Do you always judge your results as not good enough, no matter how hard you worked?
Do you want to be a better person?
If you answered “yes” to 2 or more of these questions, this course is for you!
We all blame. As Brene Brown says, “Blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain.” When mistakes are made, our first response is to try to find whose fault it is. A natural response, but not helpful.
Here is an entertaining (less than 4 minute) video on blaming by the brilliant Brene Brown. Watch it—you will enjoy it. You might even spend a little less time blaming in the future.
Also, next month I will be announcing my new program — 7 Powerful Practices for Your Inner Perfectionist. Yay!!!!! If you have been wanting to work with me, but can’t come into my office every week, this program is for you!
Her book offers practical tools to shift your thinking about chronic pain so you can help the healing process. Personally, I think it’s a good book to help shift any thinking that is getting in your way of making changes.
Her tool I’m sharing with you today is the Stepladder Method. It is a process to move from old, unhelpful thoughts to new, supportive thoughts.
I have a love/hate relationship with affirmations. While they can be helpful, they can also backfire. When we tell ourselves something that feels out of the realm of possibility, our ego rebels and we end up feeling worse after saying the affirmation than before.
I offer an example from my own life—I learned about affirmations when I was in graduate school. I had very little money and the end of each month I was literally counting my pennies. As you might imagine, I was stressed about money most of the time.
I figured I’d give affirmations a try. Anything had to be better than what I was already thinking.
I was wrong.
Because I didn’t know anything about how to make affirmations useful, I tried “I am wealthy!” When I said “I am wealthy!” out loud, everything in me rebelled. I heard myself think, “That is so stupid! No you’re not! Do you think you will magically change your life with that stupid affirmation?” or, even worse, “See? You can’t even do an affirmation! What makes you think you will ever have money?”
Instead of shifting my thinking to be more positive and less stressed, I created more stress. So much for self-help! As a result, I decided to hate affirmations.
Fast forward about 20 years…I had a coach who was a big fan of affirmations as a method to shift beliefs. I decided to give them another try.
Around the same time, a friend sent me 3. Through that book I understood not all affirmations are equal. Part of the art of affirmations is crafting them to get our subconscious working for versus against the change.
The Stepladder Method is a tool to do just that.
The Stepladder Method is creating a stepladder of intermediary thoughts that are believable. Rucsandra Mitrea gives a beautiful example in You Don’t Have to Live in Pain:
“Instead of jumping from a thought like ‘There’s nothing I can do’ to ‘I am now living pain-free’ in one fell swoop, you write down a few intermediate thoughts that are believable.”
“So instead of one big leap, you take several smaller, more believable steps. For example, ‘There’s nothing I can do’ becomes ‘I don’t know what to do yet, but now I believe that health is my birthright, so there must be a way.’ This sounds a lot more positive and uplifting, and is also definitely believable, right?”
“The next step is to get used to this thought until it becomes your current mindset. Then you move to an even more uplifting thought: ‘I know there is a way for me to heal and I am sure that I will find it soon.”
Then a few more steps until…“it is easy to think ‘I CAN be pain-free!”
The Stepladder Method is a useful tool to gradually, change your habits of thinking, one small step at a time.
When we make small changes, our ego fights the change less. When we try to make a shift that feels too big, our ego fights us, as demonstrated by my ego with the “I am wealthy!” affirmation.
So do yourself a favor, try to shift a negative thought just a little bit, keep practicing the new affirmation, and notice how your ego gets used to the new thought and eventually accepts it. Then try a new, slightly more positive thought, step by step…until you actually believe what you WANT to believe, with less back-lash and more ease.