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Tools for Transformation Series

#1. Transform Thinking — Transform Life

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.

My 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 health. 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.

How 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!

An Example

I recognized that I had been criticizing myself and beating 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 rush 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 decided that what I really wanted to do was to turn around and go back to the bank. So 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 the bank].
  • I realized that going to the bank was still my priority.
  • I corrected my mistake by going to the bank.
  • I felt good about myself!

—John Arnaldi



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