Let’s pretend you’re washing lettuce for a salad. You see a few rusty-edged pieces and remove them. It’s second nature. You didn’t have to consciously think, “I don’t want to put something unappealing or toxic in my body.” You intuitively knew. Unfortunately, it is not that easy when it comes to your mind. Allowing unwanted, unhelpful, and upsetting thoughts may seem to come naturally; not to mention all those times you cultivate them. The good news is, just as you learned to ditch the rusty lettuce, you can also learn to discard toxic internal refrains.
Meditation is one way of retraining your mind and making it an ally. The practice not only works by quieting your brain, but by helping you notice what scampers across it. For most people, getting in touch with automatic thoughts is like panning for gold: it takes patience and a willingness to carefully look at everything in the pan, in this case, your brain pan. Once you do that, you will notice the tendency for certain thoughts to repeat. Perhaps, you are preoccupied with an upcoming event, money worries, or a medical issue. Often, it can be something much more mundane, like: I wonder if she likes me or is just being polite? How can I remember to put the garbage out before tomorrow morning? Should I do the laundry now, or can it wait another few days?
Practicing meditation is like having an inner coach. The yogis love to say, “That which you seek is already within you.” I couldn’t agree more, though accessing that knowledge can be difficult. Building awareness is just like exercising a muscle. You may not notice day-to-day changes, but after a while you’re suddenly more in touch. Pair that consciousness with a slower breath, and you begin to feel more mastery over your thoughts. Since thoughts create emotions, you now have a greater ability to sculpt your inner dialogue. This leads to more serenity and increased self-control.
In addition to meditation, or in lieu of it, you can consciously feed your brain material that makes you feel better. Louise Hay has been practicing a ritual where she looks in the mirror as often as possible and says: ‘I love you, I really, really, love you.” Try it.
Émile Coué, a French psychologist and pharmacist who discovered the placebo effect, introduced a self-improvement program in the early 20th century based on auto-suggestion. His most famous mantra was to say to yourself: Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.
Captain Picard on Star Trek Next Generation used to direct his staff with the words “Make it so.” You can use those same words to govern your thoughts. Rather than thinking of what you don’t want, focus on your desires. Play with them. Use whatever ruminative or OCD tendencies you might naturally have to dwell on positive outcomes for anything you find yourself obsessed with.
If saying loving, positive things to yourself is a challenge, why not start by listening to others say them to you?
Text copyright Nicole S. Urdang