Here’s something mind-blowing I want you to pause and consider: Anything that has ever been created started with a thought.
The Taj Majal? Started with a thought.
The Mona Lisa? Started with a thought.
Putting a man on the moon? Started with a thought.
You? Started with a thought.
Anything that has been created in the world has started with a THOUGHT. Just a sentence in someone’s mind.
This is why thinking on purpose is the most important life skill we can ever have–and yet no one teaches it to us in school. I learned long division, which I have literally never used, but no one taught me how to think on purpose.
When I work with clients one-on-one, teaching them how to change their thoughts on purpose is the most powerful work we do. And I’m going to teach you the best way to do that today.
The first step is to understand where you’re starting. Generally we feel some negative emotion we don’t want to feel–like stress, anxiety, fear, or overwhelm–and we try to run away from the feeling. But instead we have to go INTO the feeling. We have to be willing to allow the feeling to be there, because that’s how we get access to the thought. You have to ask yourself questions like “why do I feel this way?”, “what’s wrong with this situation?”, “what is bothering me?”
Whatever you are currently thinking, that goes on the bottom of the ladder. That’s your current thought.
Now you have to figure out what you WISH you could believe and how you WISH you could feel. Let’s say your current thought is: “I’m screwing this up,” which makes you feel ashamed or anxious. You wish you could feel confident, like you are a good lawyer. That means the thought you wish you could believe is “I’m a good lawyer.” So that thought goes at the top of the ladder. That’s your goal thought.
The million-dollar question is how to get from the bottom of the ladder to the top.
There are a couple of different techniques that I teach my coaching clients, but the bottom line is that you need to brainstorm what else you might be able to think that isn’t as far as “I’m a good lawyer.” If you believe you’re screwing things up, then telling yourself you’re a great lawyer won’t work.
This is why “positive thinking” has a bad name, because people try to practice thinking affirmations they don’t believe, and it doesn’t work. You need to find an intermediate thought you can believe. For instance, if you currently believe “I’m screwing this up,” and you want to believe “I’m a good lawyer,” an intermediate thought might be “I have done good work” or “I’ve improved as a lawyer since I started working” or “I have some of the qualities of a good lawyer.” Those thoughts are not as extreme as “I’m a good lawyer” so your brain will be able to believe them more easily. You won’t feel AMAZING, but you’ll feel better.
When you’re working your way up a thought ladder, the goal isn’t to feel amazing immediately. Sometimes that happens when you’ve done this work for a while or you’re working with a coach who can guide you through the process more efficiently. But when you’re practicing on your own, it’s important to recognize and celebrate baby steps. It’s hard for us Type-A folks, but sometimes successfully taking a baby step in your thoughts is a huge accomplishment. If you find an intermediate thought that feels a little bit better than your negative thought, that’s great! Start there.
The final piece to the puzzle is that you have to PRACTICE the thought. This is especially important when you’re doing this work on your own without the structure and accountability of having a coach. Set up reminders to practice the thought. Put a sticky note on your computer. Set an alarm on your phone. Write it on your mirror. Just set up prompts that remind you to practice the new thought. The best new thought in the world doesn’t do much if you don’t remember to think it.
I like to imagine the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon was made by a river much smaller than the canyon itself over a long period of time. Your old thought is like the Grand Canyon–it’s a strong neural bundle that is used to firing automatically, and it seems impossible to change. But it’s not. A new thought can absolutely come to take the place of an old thought and become automatic, it just takes diverting the water over and over to the new pathway until it becomes the new habit.