By Kathi Szabo
Do you ever find yourself thinking the same things day after day? Different situations, but similar thoughts. Perhaps thinking of something that makes you anxious. Like the first time you attend an event with new friends or a new group. Or before a job interview. Or maybe it’s when you have to speak in a large group setting.
Do you have the same voice in your head saying things like; “OMG, what if I say something stupid.” Or “What if no one likes me?” Or “I can’t do this as good as she can.”
Admit it. We all have thoughts like this. Or at least I have. When I first became a yoga instructor, I didn’t think I could ever teach as well as other instructors. In fact, I actually told one of our instructors, who wanted to take my class, that he couldn’t! Yep, a yoga teacher, told another yoga teacher, “NO! You can’t take my class!” I had a thought pattern in my brain that kept repeating the same thought, “I’m not good enough. The other instructors are more flexible. They know more than I do. I can’t do all the poses they can.”
That thought pattern persisted until that day when I told John he couldn’t take my class. I saw the surprise in his face. The look of shock that I would be so unwilling to let him practice in my class. I realized something had to change. If another instructor wanted to take my class, why was I so against it? Why did I have these negative thought patterns every time I taught?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapists have a name for this. They call it ANTs, Automatic Negative Thoughts. Out of all our thoughts we have each day (some studies say it’s upward of 60,000), 90% of these are negative! This is perfectly normal, but not necessarily helpful. When they warn us of something harmful, these negative thoughts can be helpful. Our imagination is powerful and by imagining potential problems, we can create solutions.
But… many ANTs are repetitive because we’ve made them a habit. We repeat these same ANTs day after day after day. That was me. I created a “habit” of telling myself I was not a good enough yoga teacher. This is how neural pathways are created; we tell ourselves the same things over and over. This wears a groove into our brain which then becomes a habit.
Sure, other experienced instructors used better cues, and created better sequences, but I had the ability to relate to less experienced students. My class had some regulars that came specifically to take my class. But because at the start of my teaching, I kept telling myself I wasn’t as good as these other teachers, I wore a rut in my brain that became such a habit I told a fellow instructor he couldn’t take my class. This thought pattern was not working for my greater good.
HOW TO CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS
Now that we understand that we all have these negative thought patterns, that don’t serve us, what can we do? How do we change them?
Neuroplasticity is being able to change the wiring of our brain. We change negative thoughts to more positive, EMPOWERING thoughts. Scientists once believed this was nearly impossible after you reached a certain age. But, although it may be difficult, those habits have worn some deep ruts in your brain, it is definitely possible! Anyone can deliberately change their thought patterns. It simply takes some practice and dedication.
There are 4 simple steps to change ANTs into APTs (Automatic Positive Thoughts)!
- Identify the ANT you want to eliminate. The one that is holding you back, not providing for your greatest potential. For me it was “I’m not a good enough yoga teacher.” Write it down!
- Create a new Positive Thought to replace the ANT. For me it became “I am an awesome yoga instructor in my own unique way! I may not be able to do handstands, but I can make the practice accessible, enjoyable and have the students feeling whole.” Write it down!
- Find evidence that supports this new thought – this new decision! It can be things that have actually happened to us, like the students who came to my class each week religiously, or we can use our imagination to visualize the evidence! Our mind doesn’t recognize our imaginative thoughts from our real experiences. Don’t believe me? Google “Harvard study pianists’ thoughts.” You will find many articles on one study, that shows how the same areas of the brains of pianists light up whether they were playing the piano or imagining playing the piano! Write down all the evidence you can find!
- Tomorrow, add evidence or re-write previous evidence. Do this every day until the new positive thought becomes automatic! Make this your daily habit. Your daily practice.
WAYS TO USE THIS TECHNIQUE
Changing our negative thoughts isn’t hard, but it does take time and requires patience. We can use this technique for just about anything.
Maybe you have negative thoughts about never having enough time. Those thoughts make you feel overwhelmed and then you spend more time repeating that same thought, “I don’t have enough time,” that you waste time in suffering!
Or maybe you need to lose 10 or 20 pounds after a year of staying home, I know I could lose a few after 2020! But you think you don’t have the willpower to do it. Or maybe you think it’s too hard. Not worth the energy. Even though you know you would have more energy and be physically healthier if you simply got back to pre-covid weight.
Why are you letting those ANTs stop you? Create some new APT’s, Empowering Thoughts:
“I have just enough time to get done what must get done, and what doesn’t get done was meant for tomorrow.”
“I am going to get back to my pre-covid weight so that I can live a long healthy life with plenty of energy!”
And then make it a practice!