The greatest discovery of my
generation is that
human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.
—William James (1890)
This article explains how you can transform your
life when you
- Understand that feelings and behaviors are
strongly influenced by your thinking.
- Learn how your thinking is influenced by your
wishes, values, beliefs, biases, and assumptions.
- Learn how to experiment with more effective
ways of thinking.
Constructs My Life
Most of us believe that the successes and failures
in our lives result from a combination of factors, some within our
control and some not. Negative influences may be uncontrollable and
therefore not subject to our choice. Examples are
bad luck, harmful unpreventable events (car wreck, stormy weather,
economic downturn, illness), genetic inheritance, "temperment"
(personality traits, such as shy, aggressive, lazy), level of
intelligence, poverty versus wealth, and degree of physical and mental
Decisions, attitudes, and behaviors are usually understood to involve
voluntary choices, and can be either empowering or self-limiting.
When circumstances are less than favorable, we
often believe we have limited choices or no choices, and may feel
frustrated, powerless, and discouraged. However, the truth is that we
always have choices about what we will think, feel, and do, no matter
what our immediate circumstances.
to Use Constructive Self-Talk
Constructive self-talk is a powerful
tool for change because it is based upon rewards instead of
punishment. More than a century of research with humans and animals has
consistently found that rewards promote learning more effectively than
punishments. The powerful tool described here is based upon rewarding
yourself through constructive self-talk. It will probably take many
repeats of using this tool to establish a lasting change in a specific
behavior, but be confident that each time you use this tool you are
taking a step forward.
To start using this tool, identify a behavior that you want to change.
Let's call it "X". The next time you notice yourself doing X, say to
yourself the following:
Oh, I just noticed that I did X.
I'm so glad I noticed
Because that's not what I want to do.
I forgive myself for doing X.
Regardless of past mistakes and imperfections,
I always deserve my full love and respect!
I am grateful that I have been paying attention
Because my awareness frees me to stop doing X.
Now I am free to do what I really want to do.
(Take a few slow deep breaths and choose whatever you want to do now)
What I really want to do is N
So here I go!
I recognized that I had been criticizing myself
myself up whenever I made mistakes. I decided to change this
self-defeating behavior, so I plugged it in as the "X" behavior in the
constructive self-talk formula.
Then, one Friday afternoon as I was driving home from work in awful
hour traffic, I remembered that I was supposed to go to the bank. I
jumped right on myself as usual and through gritted teeth said,
"Aaaggghhh! I was supposed to go to
the bank! What a stupid move! What a jerk! Just what I didn't need in
this traffic!" Oh, I was so mad at myself!
But then I caught what I just said to myself and realized that it was a
criticism. It was the X I wanted to change. So I said to myself:
"Wow, I just noticed that I was putting myself down. I'm so glad I
noticed because that's really not what I want to be doing."
"Well, I forgive myself for my past mistakes and imperfections. I know
that I always deserve my full love and respect, no matter what.
By this point I have calmed down and I am feeling better. "I am so
grateful that I was paying attention because now I can stop beating
myself up and do something that I really want to do."
I took a moment to think and took a few slow, deep breaths and then I
what I really wanted to do was to turn around and go back to the bank.
I said to myself, "Yes, what I really want to do now is to go to the
bank, so here I go!
So I went to the bank and accomplished my task and headed home feeling
good about myself. The original mistake of forgetting that I needed to
go to the bank had no significance when compared to my successes:
- I caught myself doing the unwanted
self-defeating behavior [the self-criticism and put downs].
- I stopped the unwanted behavior immediately.
- I realized my mistake [that I forgot to go to
- I realized that going to the bank was still my
- I corrected my mistake by going to the bank.
- I felt good about myself!