“Change your thoughts and change your world.” -Norman Vincent Peale
Many of us would like to make a change when it comes to our everyday behaviors. The change might relate to nutrition, exercise, sleep, managing our money, being more positive, relationships, parenting, prioritizing our demands, or a multitude of other possibilities. Doing things differently is not as easy as it sounds. What happens often times is that we make a change for a short period of time, but then revert to our old ways, especially when we feel pressed or stressed.
Why is changing our behavior so difficult? There are many reasons and factors that can play a role, but I want to focus on our mindset. What we do is really a reflection of what we think. Our behaviors are shaped by our beliefs, our attitudes, and our thoughts. If we want to change something we are doing, we need to step back and evaluate what we are thinking and challenge one of the aspects of our mindset.
Beliefs. I describe these as our convictions, values, and identity. Beliefs can come from within ourselves, but also from our parents, family, friends, teachers, peers, leaders, and even society, just to name a few. Beliefs are the most difficult to change when it comes to challenging the mindset. It typically takes a conflict in values or a contradiction in our purpose to challenge and change our beliefs.
I remember when a client told me that in her culture there is a belief that children should be seen and not heard. If that is a personal, cultural, or societal belief that exists, it is going to influence behaviors in relating to and interacting with children. If someone had this belief and then decided that they wanted to be more patient and tolerant towards children, they may find themselves getting frustrated and having trouble following through. Challenging the belief that children should be seen and not heard might be the first step in the process. What could be a different belief when it comes to children? How does this belief get in the way of what the person wants or how they want to live? It doesn’t mean that the belief is wrong. It is up to each person to decide if the beliefs they have work for them and the way they want to live. Each person decides if there is another belief that may serve them better. Our beliefs can change as we go through life.
When you think about a change you want to make in your life, what are some of the beliefs that you have about that area of your life? Are the beliefs supporting your purpose in life and allowing you to live the way you want or is this a belief that you could challenge and change in some way? Don’t worry if you don’t find a belief that you can challenge and change, as there are other components of the mindset that you can challenge instead!
Attitudes. I describe these as our feelings or perspective towards something or someone. Our attitudes are influenced by many factors, including but not limited to, our experiences, upbringing, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. Our attitudes are generally easier to challenge and change than our beliefs. Our attitudes might shift as we have different experiences, gain new perspectives, or are exposed to new people.
Several clients have told me over the years that sleeping 7 or 8 hours a night was weak and that high performers simply don’t need that much sleep to do well. The attitude was that sleeping a full 7 to 8 hours was a sign of weakness. If any of them were in a situation in which more sleep was recommended (for a variety of health, wellness, cognition, or performance reasons), it would be hard for them to make it happen with this underlying attitude that would make them feel ‘weak’. Even if no one else thought they were ‘weak’, even if the science supported the notion of sufficient sleep, even with all the evidence in the world that they should get at least 7 hours of sleep, without challenging and changing the attitude they had about sleep, lasting change would be unlikely.
When you think about a change you want to make in your life, what are the underlying attitudes you have about that area of your life? Are those attitudes supporting you in the way you want to live, or have they become an obstacle in something that really matters to you? Could you challenge or change one or more of the feelings or perspectives that you have in this area? If you have trouble doing this, don’t worry. The more you practice reflecting on your beliefs or attitudes, the more aware you become of them. This is the first step in challenging or changing them.
Thoughts. I describe these as our ideas, notions, or inner voice as we go about our day. Our thoughts come from our beliefs, attitudes, experiences, people around us, society, and of course many other sources. Some ideas are critically important and compelling, while others may be silly or irrelevant to us. Thoughts can come and go quickly, or they may stick around and repeat themselves consistently. When challenging your mindset, your thoughts are typically the easiest to change. The important part in the process is becoming more aware of the thoughts you have and how they influence what you feel and what you do.
I have many clients that want to make a change to how they eat. I can’t tell you how many of them reveal to me some of the underlying thoughts they have when they make a food choice that they think is not ideal. The thoughts may sound like this:
You have no self-control or discipline
You’ll never be able to eat better
You suck-why did you do that
What is wrong with you
You are so gross
You ate so much you shouldn’t eat the rest of the day
When it comes to making positive changes in our lives, do you think that having negative, judgmental thoughts about ourselves helps us to behave better? The answer is no. Becoming aware of our thoughts gives us an opportunity to evaluate whether those thoughts are truly supporting us.
When you think about a change you would like to make in your life, what are some of the thoughts you have about that area of your life? Do those thoughts support your purpose or values? Are those the words you would use to encourage or support someone else? Are those thoughts resulting in adaptive, positive behaviors? If not, there is an opportunity to change the thought. How can you re-word the thought in a way that does in fact support your purpose, be the words you would use on a loved one, or help encourage a positive behavior.
As you go through life and ponder what changes you would like to make and why, take the time to explore your mindset: the beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts you have about that. Stepping back and exploring your underlying perspective and voice in that area could help you to make that change more effectively. Even more importantly, you may discover something about yourself that you didn’t realize was there before. This discovery will surely lead to opportunity!
“We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.” -Stephen Covey
For more information on programs, such as You Are What You Think: Creating a Mindset of Wellness, please visit www.revitalizeproject.com
You Are What You Think: Creating a Mindset of Wellness will be presented by Dr. Raquel Garzon as a breakout session at the National Wellness Institute Annual Conference on June 19th in Minneapolis. For more information on the conference, visit https://nationalwellness.site-ym.com/page/NWC2018