"Positive Thinking" - Confidence Boost or Likely to Make You Feel Worse?

When people talk about affirmations or positive thinking, I must admit my first response used to be to cringe.

I imagine someone with low self-esteem telling themselves "I am smart, beautiful and loveable" whilst sobbing. Or, "I am a confident communicator" before falling onto stage to give a presentation, awful. Tragic.  

Needless to say, chanting (cross legged on a cushion or not) will not bring to you your heart’s desires. You get what you want in life through: having vision and goals, making a plan or route to get there, being open to that plan changing and spotting new routes and taking action. 

However, that action may well include developing your skills set and indeed your mind set. Positive psychology, CBT, learning to manage your emotional states, visualising, affirmations (in terms of choosing where to focus your brain to spot opportunities, not sitting on your behind waiting), CAN be effective. 

It all depends on the way that you do it. Some Do’s and Don’t:

Don’t tell yourself something you don’t believe. I can’t improve on an analogy another coach gave me, which was that an affirmation you don’t believe is like putting “icing over liver”, or whatever food you hate. You might like icing but pouring it over liver only makes the liver taste worse, not better.

Don’t make it half hearted. Our brains are lazy. Designed to take the easiest route, using the least energy and going for the least change, they quickly return to default where possible. If you think something probably won’t work, then you have instructed your brain to expect that. The consequence? “okay cool, I won’t go all out focusing on finding ways to make that happen then”. The result? You were right all along, it doesn’t work.

Do soften difficult affirmations to find that place where you can believe whole-heartedly without lying to yourself. “I am a super confident accomplished speaker” will cue your brain to look back and pull out all the times you have in fact been a gibbering wreck. Instead you might say, “In the past I have struggled with presentations, but now I am feeling more confident and professional each time”.

Do aim for consistency. Brain operating manual again! If you think/ do something for a bit then stop, your brain’s reaction is to revert to default, it assumes you aren’t going to stick with it this new thought pattern or regime. The more habitual a disempowering habit or thought is, the more work to change it. Managers of gyms see this one a lot in February!

Do take actions, however small, to prove those affirmations to yourself.

“In order for the more substantial pieces of wood to catch fire, the kindling must burn first”, Paulo Coelho

Small is fine, when it comes to progress. So, don’t be down about changing those deeply grooved in brain patterns. The solution is to make your steps teeny tiny and when you slip into the old groove again just get back onto your new track – without judging or blaming yourself.  Progress over perfection and habit over intensity. Habit builds self- trust, which gives you momentum to make bigger progress. 

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