As I've written in previous posts, our brains form pathways in early childhood that become strengthened over the course of our lives that coincide with how we think, react and behave. Our thoughts become our own worst enemies. Our brains are incredibly powerful. However, they are also incredibly malleable.
We spend 95% of our time in our subconscious. How we think, what we do and how we react are more often than not done subconsciously -- done without conscious thought. Therefore, due to this, the neural pathways in our brain continue to strengthen over time. It is when we become conscious of our thoughts and thus our behaviors, that we can rewire our thoughts and retrain our bodies.
First, become aware of thought patterns and behavioral habits that you do not like or that are no longer serving you.
Thought pattern: I am not good enough.
Behavioral habit: Avoiding social events out of fear of what others think of me/being rejected/feeling uncomfortable.
Write each of them down. If you are having difficulty with figuring out what they are, take some time to observe the types of thoughts you are having throughout the day. Do they tend to be more negative? Pessimistic? Cynical? Self-defeating? Self-loathing? Judgmental? Then, consider the behavioral habits and reactions you often enact in line with those thought processes. Do you procrastinate? Isolate? React angrily towards others? Towards yourself?
Set an intention for yourself to become more mindful and aware of your thoughts and behaviors. After you have written them down (and this can occur over a course of several days), I want you to keep the list with you, or in your phone, as a reminder to be more aware of what you were thinking and how you are acting throughout the day.
By acting out your maladaptive patterns, you continue to activate (fire off) the neurons in your brain --- which then continues to strengthen the pathways leading to your negative thoughts and bad habits. What you are now trying to do is create and activate new pathways -- shifting and strengthening pathways in line with positive and realistic thinking.
1. Set your intention.
What is it that you are trying to achieve? To overall think more positively? To be less judgmental of yourself and others? To be kinder to yourself? Write out your intention and the overall goal you hope to achieve. Assess the beliefs you currently hold about that goal (i.e., negative, self-defeating) -- the negative core beliefs you hold about yourself and the world around you that you have been reinforcing over and over again for a long, long time. Then write down the new beliefs you wish to have in line with this goal.
Intention: To be more loving towards myself
Goal: To no longer isolate/avoid or decline invitations to social events
Current negative belief: No one likes me, and I am just better off not going so that I don't embarrass myself or feel uncomfortable.
New desired belief: I am lovable and capable of making and maintaining friendships.
2. Embrace new emotions
What emotions align with accomplishing your goal? Why is your intention meaningful to you? Spend time feeling these feelings as you focus on your intention.
For example: By being more social, I feel happy to be out and spending quality time with friends. I feel proud for pushing through my fear. I feel calm being around my friends and not worrying about what anyone is thinking about me.
Set aside at least 10 minutes a day to visualize yourself acting out this intention and achieving your goal. For example, visualize yourself thinking thoughts that are in line with loving yourself. Imagine yourself accepting an invitation to a party, going to the party, talking to the people there, engaging in conversation without anxiety and having a fun time. Imagine what this would look like. Imagine how you would act and how you would FEEL.
The brain does not know the difference between a real or imagined event. Therefore, by training your brain to strengthen a pathway in line with lessened social anxiety, you will thus be more inclined to act and behave in real life the same way you are visualizing. Identify images that align with accomplishing your goal and spend time visualizing them daily.
4. "Future Self" Journaling
Also take five minutes each day to write out how you envision your future self. Similarly to visualization, write out how you want to act, think and react differently.
I am able to talk to others without anxiety.
I do not fear what others think of me.
I am confident in who I am, and am not concerned with anyone else's view of me.
I choose to expand my support network and not let fear stop me.
By writing out what your future self looks like, how he/she acts and what he/she thinks and believes, you will continue to solidify this image for yourself. The more we visualize and write, the more inclined we are to become this improved version of ourselves. Become clear in who you want to become.
5. Reframe your thoughts
As you become more aware of your thought patterns, it will become easier to change your thoughts. You cannot control your first thought. Expect it to be a negative one. Then, take the time to acknowledge that first thought and reframe it to a more balanced, realistic perspective. You may not believe the new, positive thought yet. That's okay. The longer your practice, the sooner it becomes your reality.
In no way, shape or form are you trying to convince yourself of something that isn't. All you are doing is taking yourself out of a rut of negative thinking and behaving, and shifting to a more positive, balanced version of yourself. The amount of time and energy you have put into thinking negatively is astronomical. It will take less time and energy to think positively. It only seems like harder work because you are conscious of it.
Helpful questions to ask when reframing your thoughts:
Is this a story or reality? (Story). Could there be another side to the story? (Yes). What might that be?
6. Take actions that support your intention.
Your actions have to match what you say you want and vice versa. You cannot think and feel one way and then act another. You will not be able to rewire your brain if you consistently eat donuts while repeating affirmations of being healthy and fit. Similarly, you will not rewire your brain if you go to the gym but then complain about how much you hate exercising.
Identify the actions that align with your thoughts and emotions. Think to yourself: what would a confident person do right now? What would a fearless person do right now? Do that.
The more you do it, the more you will believe that you can. Then, the more you will believe in your ability to improve, and your negative core beliefs will be smashed. New thoughts and beliefs will strengthen, and will thus be reinforced by your actions.
Consciously practice thinking, feeling, visualizing and acting in alignment with your desired intention. When you do this, you will stop the unconscious habit of recycling the past and activate your ability to rewire your brain in the present moment. Filter what you are consuming. Stop watching/listening to/reading anything that reinforces negative beliefs about yourself and the world around you. Stop trolling people on Twitter. Stop scrolling through unrealistic photos on Instagram. Limit exposure to people or outlets that doubt or question your intentions.
Expect resistance. Your mind and body will resist these changes. The brain likes to revert back to what is comfortable. This does not mean you are not good enough, or that you are not smart enough or that you are incapable of change. It is simply how the brain works. Being aware of this resistance will make it easier for you to keep moving forward, and not beat yourself up for having a negative thought or falling short.
We have been telling ourselves the same stories over and over again throughout our lives, therefore reinforcing these shitty beliefs about ourselves that are stuck way back in our subconscious. By setting intentions, visualizing, writing and acting differently, you will therefore be able to create a new reality for yourself. A much more peaceful one, at that.