Toss out Those Broken Records


broekn record

 

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become your character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

– Lao Tzu

I am convinced that our thoughts are the starting point for what we create in our lives.  Certainly things beyond our control happen, but we can always choose how we react and what we do with the cards that we are dealt (and yes, sometimes it still sucks).  Most of us have heard that motivation and the will to achieve our goals and dreams is key to actually making them happen.  But is there any science to support the power of positive thinking

As it turns out, recent research studies in positive psychology show that changing our thoughts can have significant effects on our life.  For example, researchers have that writing letters of gratitude, counting blessings, practicing being positive, performing acts of kindness, and meditation all help improve depression.  Positive thoughts and emotions are also linked to job performance, creativity,  improved social relationships, and better physical and mental health.  Given this knowledge, I think we can (and should) apply it to our own lives to help us be happier, fitter, and achieve our dreams.

The first thing that we need to do is start playing a new record in our mind.  Most of us replay the same thoughts on repeat, leaving us stuck in the past, rethinking and re-experiencing events that have already happened and preventing us from moving forward or creating desired experiences that differ from what we know.  In other words, who we are and how we react to things is largely based on broken records that have become a set of habits.  It is very difficult to toss them out but it is possible if you start dreaming, imagining, and letting go of your old (but comfortable) ways.

Personally, I am still working on tossing out some of my broken records but I have been able to get rid of some really unhelpful ones.  Some of my favourite strategies to deal with unhelpful thoughts come from cognitive behavioural therapy and sports psychology.  When I was younger I read every book I could find on mental toughness training for sports and many of the exercises and methods that I learned about have been very helpful for me.  For example, being aware of thoughts and realizing that the real you is the person thinking about the thought helps me distance myself from whatever it is that I was thinking.  Keeping a gratitude list on my phone also helps because it reminds me of all the joys and love in my life rather than focusing on negative things.  Keeping positive quotes and goals posted around my house serve as constant reminders to think positively and focus on what is important to me.

I also find that imagining positive future events helps me bring them into my life.  Sounds a little kooky, I know, but stay with me here.  One thing that I do often is I imagine what my workout is going to feel like.  I practice it in my mind before the actual physical event.  For example, the other day I planned to do a rather brutal HIIT circuit at home.  I was tired out from work and not very motivated but instead of bailing, I imagined how strong and powerful I would feel during the workout, as well as how wonderful I would feel afterwards.  Almost instantly, I got excited about the workout and it ended up being one of the best ones of the week!  The trick is that your mind cannot tell the difference between an imagined and a real-life experience.  One famous example of this was when Silken Laumann, a Canadian Olympic rowing champion, broke her femur with very little time to recover before the Olympics.  Since she was not able to train physically much of her training involved mental imagery and practicing in her mind.  If I recall correctly, she ended up winning a silver medal!  Pretty amazing stuff!

It is easy sometimes to get sidetracked by focusing on what is not going well or what you would like to change but my challenge for you this week is to think differently.  Maybe it involves creating a vision board, making a list of things you are thankful for, or giving your time to help others.  Start making new, better records and clean out the attic!

References:

Dunn EW, Aknin LB, Norton MI. Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science 2008;319:1687–1688.

Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J Pers Soc Psychol 2003;84:377–389.

Froh JJ, Sefick WJ, Emmons RA. Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. J Sch Psychol 2008;46:213–233.

 Fredrickson BL, Cohn MA, Coffey KA, et al. Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. J Pers Soc Psychol 2008;95:1045–1062.

King LA. The health benefits of writing about life goals. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2001;27:798–807.

Lyubomirsky S, Dickerhoof R, Boehm JK, Sheldon KM. Becoming
happier takes both a will and a proper way: An experimental longitudinal intervention to boost well-being. Emotion 2011;11:391–402.

Lyubomirsky S, Sheldon KM, Schkade D. Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Rev Gen Psychol 2005;9:111–131.

Seligman MEP, Steen TA, Park N, Peterson C. Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. Am Psychol 2005;60:410–421.

Sheldon KM, Boehm JK, Lyubomirsky S. Variety is the spice of happiness: The hedonic adaptation prevention (HAP) model. In: Boniwell J, David S, eds. Oxford Handbook of Happiness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009;in press.

Sheldon KM, Lyubomirsky S. How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. J Posit Psychol 2006;1:73–82.

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