How to change your life in minutes a day (just by paying attention)

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Hello Lovely One,

Today, I wanted to do something special. It’s my birthday month after all – a big one at that. And I love gifts – it’s my love language. I love giving them sometimes even more than receiving them.

So, today, I am going to “gift to you” part of the material I am actually teaching in the membership program this month. 

Coaching is based on the principle that the thoughts we entertain on a continuous basis are the markers for our life. Although we have something like 65,000 thoughts per day according to scientists – the brain filters out most of those thoughts. If it didn’t, we would explode from sensory overload. 

This is both a good thing and a not so good thing. If the thoughts are taking us where we want to go – it’s great. 

Most of the thoughts we have are so automatic, we don’t notice them at all. For example - We don’t have to consciously think about the hundreds of things we do every day– like brushing our teeth, tying our shoes, starting the car, driving, etc. At one time we did. We had to practice those thoughts to train our brain. Now our brain just tells our Autonomic Nervous system what to do and we go about our day. Great right?

Well, here comes the down side. A brain left to its own devices will default to the familiar every single time. As a matter of fact, it will even fight you to keep things familiar. Which is what makes change so hard.

What if we are unhappy? 

What if the familiar thoughts or behaviors are not what we want in our life? 

Well, it’s kind of like learning to ride a bike. We have to retrain our brain – i.e. - practice.

How you ask? Since most of the thoughts that drive us are stimulated by our brain before they  even become conscious thoughts?

How can we train or retrain our brain to take us where we want to go, instead of where we are right now? 

We begin to notice the things that create strong emotion for us by using a principle called Cognitive Restructuring – It means, we learn to notice our thoughts, since that is what created the emotion. That is how we begin to make our thoughts, and our brain, work for, instead of against us. 

It begins with the following steps in a process called Cognitive Restructuring. If you want to learn more about how to find joy in your life – that’s what we do in the membership program, every day…find more joy! Read on for the Cognitive Restructuring Steps… 

STEP 1. PAUSE 

Yep, just pause. Whenever you feel a strong emotion – especially if your response seems out of proportion to the event, pause.

Instead of doing what we might do instinctively - get angry, go shopping, eat, sleep,  drink, etc. – use the emotion created as an alarm that our beautiful brain and body have created to help us pause and take a look at what is going on.

To help you do that use these four questions to help identify the triggering event in a given situation, - who, what, when, where. By asking yourself what is happening, you ae giving your brain a head’s up that this familiar form of reaction is not what you want.

Note – it may take practice to even begin to notice and pause – don’t be discouraged by that. (did you tie your shoes correctly the first time? Ever fall off your bike?)

STEP 2 – Identify what set it off – the trigger

Once you have paused for a moment ask yourself

  • Who is or was present with me at the time I got upset? We connect – as humans, the most important thing to us is connection. So it is likely that there was a person or persons involved in triggering your emotion. Who was it?

  • What happened? Think about it – what happened to me that lead to me becoming upset? Don’t rule anything out - no detail or fact is too small to be influential. The trigger doesn’t have to be something big and obvious—in fact, often it’s something quite small and subtle.

  • When did I first start feeling upset? What happened immediately before this? This question is particularly important if you’re doing Cognitive Restructuring hours or days after the fact.

  • Where did it all occur? Often, the reason we are triggered, is part of, or connected to, our physical environment.

STEP 3: Autopilot

Where does your brain take you on autopilot?

Autopilot is your brain’s default mode. Only it isn’t really autopilot. Remember – your brain’s job is to keep you safe from the Saber Tooth Tigers that are waiting for you to come out of the cave long enough to be eaten. Or, so your brain believes. 

What – no Saber Tooth Tigers hanging out in your yard? 

Right! But to your brain, despite evolution, still thinks the dangers out there are just as life threatening. Which is why it will do everything; I mean everything possible to make sure you stay safe. But safe to it, is not the same thing as content, or joyful or even productive. It is just familiar. The brain equates familiar with safe. 

Why? Because yesterday you weren’t eaten. So, whatever thoughts you had yesterday must be safe thoughts. They created emotions that triggered actions that kept you from being eaten – therefore safe.

But, if those same thoughts did nothing except keep you stuck, confused, or miserable – they aren’t safe – they are just familiar.

Want to change your life?

Notice the autopilot thoughts your brain selects for you and re-train your brain to something besides familiar. Here’s how.

When something happens, your brain searches for thoughts that seem to fit the event.  For example – your husband says something snarky. Your brain goes, yes, I remember what happened last time – here, try this thought.

Now, last time you might have gone straight to anger. Your thoughts might have been something like, “oh yeah, I don’t have to stand around here and take that kind of abuse.” Next thing you know you grabbed your keys and headed out to the mall to do some “therapeutic shopping”. Or, if your thoughts went to something like, “here we go again, another night of fun.” (That was my sarcasm font!) You might have gone to the emotion of sadness and reached for the wine bottle.

In either of these scenarios, I am betting that the outcome did not change anything about your state of mind. Why? Because from either place you launched into a stream of self-talk about how unkind or unfair or unjust it was and you widened the neural super highway just a bit more. Note – the wider it becomes, the more challenging it is to find another route.

We are, for the most part, unconscious of this stream of thoughts. We have had them so often, they go unnoticed. Cognitive Restructuring requires us to notice them. Once we do, it usually surprises us just how firmly we hold on to thoughts that create painful, fearful or angry emotions.

Which brings us to, 

STEP 4Notice the intensity of the emotion created by these automatic thoughts.

Notice the thoughts and then note the intensity level of the emotions they created. Rate the intensity.

STEP 5Neutral thought. 

Once you have noted the trigger event – who was involved (we will be working mostly with our partner here); where you were; what happened and when you first started feeling upset – you catch the autopilot thoughts your brain offered, and rated the emotion – now you are ready to substitute better thoughts than what your brain offered initially.

This is where we go into neutral thoughts. Remember – most of the auto thoughts at this point have probably become beliefs. And trying to tell our brain that our beliefs are wrong is a tedious process – BUT – if we substitute a thought that is completely true, one our brains won’t argue with, we begin to alter the emotions, which changes our actions, etc. etc. etc.

So, in the events above – Your husband says something snarky. You pause – you identify the trigger (does he do this every day while you are trying to make dinner, for example.)

Once you have the trigger and the thought – you can allow the initial emotion for 90 seconds without trying to change it – OR ACTING ON IT.

This part is crucial because this is how we begin to retrain our brain.

By not acting on the emotion we are telling our brain – hey, pay attention.

Now – a neutral thought might be a question – becoming curious – like: “I wonder what there is about 6 pm that makes him so snarky?”

By asking your brain a question - you are giving it something to do. 

It reminds me of the beautiful black German Shephard I had. I loved him dearly. But he was born and bred to work. Therefore, when I left the house each day for eight to 10 hours for my job, without giving him a job – he became bored. Being bored, and young, he would do things like dig up my irrigation system – or chew the foundation of my deck. He needed a job. So does your brain. 

This is great, because just like my beloved dog – when I gave him a job – he was the greatest dog ever. I could put him in the car, with food in the front seat, go into a movie, be gone for three hours and when I came back, he was sitting at attention. He didn’t chew the car up. He didn’t touch the food. He just sat there – guarding the car. He had a job. 

And that is what happens with our brain – when it has work to do – it does the work, without falling into the efficient, default, auto pilot mode.

Give your brain a job – become curious, ask questions, neutralize your thoughts.

STEP 6 – Taking another reading.

Once you have neutralized your thoughts – take another reading on your emotions. What are you feeling? How intense is the feeling?

What you will notice is that by neutralizing your thoughts – you have neutralized the intensity of the emotion and are now in a better position to have mastery over your actions – hint – they will be far more likely to be something you are happy you did – or avoided doing.

The resulting thought will become more self-affirming – something like “Hey, I can make changes. I can do this.”

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear how you put these steps into action in your life. Email me (kim@themarriagemythcure.com) or put what you did in the comments. It’s so liberating to free yourself from your stressful thoughts AND share your victory with someone like me, who is cheering you on, all the way! 

Kimberly Benjamin Houdebine