Want to Change Your Behavior? First Change Your Thoughts!
It can be frustrating when we so badly want to change a behavior, but can't manage to make it stick. We might set goals, plan, and maybe we make it through the first few hours of day one, or even though the whole day, only to feel like failures when the behavior comes right back. Whether it's a behavior around food, how we respond when we feel angry or impatient, or that we don't speak up because we feel too nervous - all of our responses in life start with what thoughts run through our minds.
Oftentimes, the thoughts that play on repeat are so well-known to us, it seems like they can't be controlled. They've been there for so long, telling us we're not good enough and that we can't do it and that we'll never be successful, that we think there's nothing we can do it about. These thoughts may be so well-played that we don't even notice that they're there. But they are there, keeping us in the same patterns of behavior that make us unhappy.
Luckily, we have the ability to change those thoughts. Once we take some time to figure out what really running through our minds, we can replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. The first step is figuring out what's really going on in there.
STEP 1: Awareness - what are your thoughts and feelings right before the behavior happens? At first you might not be able to recognize those thoughts and feelings until the behavior is already occurring. Once you’ve noticed the behavior occurring pause and notice your emotions and thoughts. What do you tell yourself?
You might have thoughts like, "I just can't do this!" "I hate exercise." "My kids are so slow it drives me crazy!" Whatever the thoughts are, write them down. Make a list of the statements that go through your mind
STEP 2: Challenge - Once you recognize what the thoughts and feelings are, challenge them. For each thought from your awareness list, write a positive thought to challenge each one. For example, if your thought is, "I hate exercise," you could write, "I always feel so much better after I workout." For thoughts around impatience, you could write down that you love the feeling of being calm. When you think, "I just can't do this," you could challenge it with, "I am doing better every day."
STEP 3: Replace - On a note card write down all of the positive thoughts that you want to think instead of those negative thoughts. Read that notecard 2-10 times a day, but at least once in the morning and once at night, out loud, in front of the mirror. It may feel awkward and embarrassing at first. That's ok, keep doing it. Make copies of that note card and place them in areas that you will see multiple times a day like the bathroom mirror, in your car, in your purse, or on your computer screen.
When you have lived with negative thoughts running though your mind on repeat for years, it won't change overnight and it won't change without practicing positive thoughts repeatedly. It takes a minimal amount of time and effort, but does require commitment. And if you skip a time or day of reading those cards, just start right back up again. No need to beat yourself up!
If you are struggling to become aware of your negative thought patterns, or if this exercise just doesn't seem to work and you need more support, a professional therapist can help. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for online or in person therapy appointments in Troy, MI.