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Last Updated on December 8, 2020

How to Turn Negative Thoughts Into Positive Action Now

How to Turn Negative Thoughts Into Positive Action Now

The golden question. The one to which we all want the answer…

Well, have you ever seen someone you idolize — someone who is just crushing it at life, overcoming obstacles and showing immense mental strength  — and thought: man, they must be wired differently?

Same.

Particularly if they’re doing their second Hell Week as a US Marine and you’re just trying to keep up with a 10-day yoga challenge you set for yourself.

Yes, it can seem like you’re worlds apart, but you aren’t. They are human, too, and although they have different neurological maps and habits, thinking they were born differently is a cop-out. Because then you can blame your lack of motivation, confidence, success, etc. on something else other than what it really is.

You should know that the question of how to turn negative thoughts into positive action is actually a trick question.

This is because a negative thought is like a freight train. It won’t magically turn into a fluffy white cloud or rainbow, but it can be redirected – this the secret: knowing that it’s actually inaction and indifference that will help you overcome negative thoughts.

Let’s dive deeper.

Where Do Your Negative Thoughts Come From?

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    Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room — or more appropriately, the Chimp in the room — because you probably should know that you have one living inside of you.

    Yep, we all do. The sooner we all know this, the better (though some won’t, but hey, we need natural selection).

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed with emotions, out of sorts, and all over the place, then it’s likely that your Chimp has been freely frolicking inside the deep recesses of your subconscious mind. Roaming like the King of the Jungle—calling all of the shots and pushing all sorts of buttons and triggers.

    You’ve most certainly seen what it looks like when a Chimp goes rogue: people rampaging shopping centers for toilet paper, screaming at people who are just trying to help or, even worse, loading a gun and shooting anyone in sight.

    OK, that’s the extreme end, but ultimately the people that you look up to and admire for mental strength have trained their Chimps to work with them, like an army commanding its soldiers.

    It’s an important skill to learn, but they started right where you are, with the realization that they even had a Chimp. The next step is to know that your Chimp actually wants to help you, but it just sometimes gets things wrong—like, really wrong.

    What Is the Chimp and Why Do We Have It?

    Your Chimp is obviously not a real Chimp, but it’s a way to view the part of our subconscious mind that directs our lives, the primal and emotional part of us.

    The Chimp concept was coined by Professor Steve Peters in the Chimp Paradox, a book detailing how our Chimp (being a certain part of our subconscious mind) can either be our best friend or our greatest enemy—like ruin-your-life style enemy.[1]

    It is a paradox because it is the key to happiness and contentment but also the reason why so many of us suffer from our mental strength and wellbeing.

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    Your Chimp has been with you since you were born. It was there before your logical mind even developed. It told you to cry when you needed milk, to throw a tantrum to get your parents’ attention, and to laugh when something was funny.

    It stored your emotional memories and helped you make beliefs about life so that you could learn what you needed to do to survive.

    Kind of cute, right?

    Yeah, not so fast.

    Your Chimp is the reason you curse at someone whilst driving when they cut you off—the one that rages when you see an injustice or hear something that offends you. It’s also the one that gets in first and reminds you of all the times you failed and how painful it was so that you steer clear of any type of pain.

    This is separate from your logical, rational thinking brain – it’s operating in a completely different system, almost as if you had two brains.[2]

    One of them is virtually automatic and thinks for us without our input and is based on emotion. The other is under our control and allows us to think, as we want to. The trouble is that these two ’brains’ do not think the same way and they do not typically agree on the interpretation of what is going on. –– Prof. Steve Peter

    Our Chimp Thinks 200x Faster Than Us

    Crucially, the Chimp’s way of thinking is up to 200x times faster than the human, logical brain and a hell of a lot stronger (just like in real life).

    When your Chimp senses something is about to happen, something it thinks will cause you pain, it’ll immediately throw out all kinds of things to remind you why you shouldn’t do it. Anxiety, stress, panic attacks, negative thoughts… this is your Chimp.

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    And because your Chimp was there long before your logical mind developed, it could install certain beliefs into your internal computer before your logical mind could say:

    Hold on a second, I don’t think we need to assume everyone thinks you’re worthless just because you didn’t do well at school.

    When your Chimp senses something is about to happen, something it thinks will cause you pain, it’ll immediately throw out all kinds of things to remind you why you shouldn’t do it.

    How does it do this?

    Why negative thoughts of course! It pushes the “Go” button for anxiety, and it can cue the flow of negative thoughts whenever it thinks you need them.

    What to Do With Your Chimp and Negative Thoughts

    Now you know where your negative thoughts come from, here are four techniques you can use to manage your Chimp and any negative thought patterns you’re stuck in:

    Become Aware of the Irrational Beliefs That Your Chimp Holds.

    By looking over and around your childhood to find the reason why you don’t feel like you’re enough—why you hate public speaking, why you can’t make friends, or why you just don’t feel like you deserve happiness—that’s when you’ll start to see how pointless and irrational it is.

    Going into the subconscious and identifying memories is super helpful to understand where it picked up the belief and change it.

    Begin to Notice Your Thoughts as They Come In.

    Practice getting calm and noticing your thoughts through meditation.

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    Watch what happens when you throw logic at a negative thought, anxious feeling, or panic attack. The minute you question a belief or a thought you take the power out of it and into the knowledge that you don’t have to agree with it.

    You can just decide and say: “You know what, today I actually do want to feel good about socializing, and what I felt like when I was 12 is not relevant to me now. Here’s what’s going to happen…”

    Show it who’s boss.

    Tell It How You Want to Be.

    Put in the good stuff. Show it pictures and use exciting words. It will listen. Repeat it clearly and repeat it often.

    Lastly, Remain Consistent.

    This will take time to make changes but know that a few weeks can bring about real, neurological changes.

    If you feel panic, stress, or anxiety kicking in, trigger the Vagus nerve (it’s like the handbrake for the Chimp’s accelerator) by getting into deep breathing and turning off the limbic “fight or flight” system.

    Cold-water in the face, gargling water, singing and deep breathing are all ways to stop the immediate physiological effects and get into a calmer state where you can rationalize your way out.

    Final Thoughts

    Over time, using all of these techniques will change your brain and neuro-circuitry, and these tools will change your life.

    Give yourself time, develop an understanding of the Chimp, and you’ll realize you don’t actually need to overpower it. You just need re-route the negative thoughts and let them go somewhere else if they don’t serve you.

    More to Inspire Positive Actions

    Featured photo credit: Marcus Bellamy via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Chimp Management: The Chimp Model
    [2] Chimp Management: The Chimp Model

    More by this author

    Daina Worrall

    Lawyer, C. Hypnotherapist and RTT Therapist - Personal Development & Mental Health

    Overcome Fear and Anxiety with These 4 Mindset Shifts Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice) How to Cure Depression (Professional Advice from a Therapist) How to Turn Negative Thoughts Into Positive Action Now How to Take Personal Responsibility and Stop Blaming Circumstances

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2021

    10 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

    10 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

    “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    “Willpower is essential to the accomplishment of anything worthwhile.” – Brian Tracy

    “Just do it.” – Nike

    The most important and satisfying things in life usually aren’t the easiest ones.

    The good news: In today’s hyper-connected world, we have access to all the information we could want to help us achieve our future goals. We know what foods will make us healthier (would kale or quinoa be as popular without the internet and Dr. Oz? I think not). We can also estimate for ourselves the benefits of starting retirement savings early – and the implications for the lifestyles of our future selves (that boat at 65 means fewer vacations in your 20’s).

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    We almost always know what we should do thanks to endless knowledge at our fingertips. But actually doing it is an entirely different kind of challenge. Most of us can relate to that feeling of inertia at the start of a big project, or the struggle to consistently make good, long-term choices for our health, or saving for the future. This mental tug-of-war we experience has evolutionary roots. While knowing this might bring comfort, it doesn’t help solve the problem at hand:

    How can we flex our willpower to become better, faster, smarter, and stronger?

    The bad news: you can’t Google your way out of this one.

    Or can you? A fascinating body of research (much of which you can turn up online through popular press and academic articles) sheds light on how to hack your willpower for better, easier results in all areas of your life. The Willpower Instinct, a great book by Stanford prof Kelly McGonigal, provides a deep dive into these and more topics for anyone keenly interested.

    Here’s the short version: we can make the most of our willpower through two types of hacks. First, there are ways to turbo boost your willpower. Second, there are ways to hack the system so you make the best use of whatever (sometimes infinitely modest) willpower you have.

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    The following 10 tips draw on both of these toolkits.

    1. Slow the heck down.

    Most regrettable decisions (the splurge at the mall, the procrastination on the project, the snacks in the break room) happen when one part of our brain effectively hijacks the other. We go into automatic pilot (and unfortunately the pilot in question has a penchant for shoes, Facebook and cookies!). Researchers suggest that we can override this system by charging up the other. That is, slow down and focus on the moment at hand. Think about your breathing. Bring yourself back to this moment in time, feel the compulsion but don’t act on it yet. Try telling yourself, “If this feeling is still just as uncomfortable in 10 minutes, I’ll act on it.” Take a little time to be mindful – then make your decision.

    2. Dream of ‘done.’

    Imagine yourself handing in the big project, soaking up the appreciation from your colleagues or boss. Or crossing the finish line for the half-marathon you’ve always wanted to run. The rush, the aliveness, the wind on your face, the medal …

    That’s a lot more fun and motivating to think about than how much work it is to get out of bed for your long, Sunday morning run!

    Re-orient your brain by summoning more motivating feelings than just “not running this morning is more enjoyable than running this morning.” If your goals are meaningful, this will help.

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    3. Make your toughest choices first.

    Scientists have found that willpower is like a full bathtub that’s drained throughout the day. So, why not start your toughest challenges when you have a full reserve? Get that project started or fit that workout in before you even check your email or have breakfast. Bonus: the high you’ll get from crossing off your hardest ‘to-do’ will help you sail through the rest of your day.

    4. Progress = commitment, not a license to backslide.

    A lot of times people will ‘cheat’ right after taking positive steps towards their goals. (A common version of this trap is, “I worked out three days in a row, so I deserve this cookie.”) Most of us can relate to this thinking – but it’s totally irrational! We’ll often trick ourselves into setbacks because we think we deserve them, even if we don’t really want them and deep down we know they’ll work against us in the long-run.

    How can you counteract this effect? Research finds that if you use your positive streak to recommit (“If I worked out three days this week, I must be really committed to my health and fitness goal!”) rather than an excuse for wiggle room, we don’t take the same cheat options. Cool, right?

    5. Meditate.

    Meditation is an expressway to better willpower. Bringing your attention to your breathing for 15 minutes, or even five, flexes your willpower muscles by applying discipline to your thinking. It does this by working two mental ‘muscle groups’: first, the set of muscles that notice when your attention is drifting, and second, the set of muscles that bring you back to your task at hand. Over time, even small amounts of meditation will help you build the discipline to easily do what was once hard – like pushing through a long stretch at work.

    6. Set mini-goals.

    Which seems more doable: committing to three 20 minute runs this week or a half-marathon? Mini-goals are brilliant because they’re easier to achieve and boost your commitment to continuing. When we size them up, we see them as achievable rather than daunting. Each time you succeed at one, it boosts your sense of efficacy and personal integrity: not only are you capable of doing what you set out to do, but you followed through on it. Nice.

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    The beauty of mini-goals is that over time, mini-goals – and the momentum you’ve built by doing them – can quickly turn into super-goals. So that half marathon might be more likely to happen, and sooner and more easily than you think!

    7. Eat.

    Low blood sugar decreases your ability to make tough decisions. If you’re running on empty physically, you’ll also be running on empty mentally. (Yes, this one’s somewhat ironic if your goal involves changing food patterns – but even so, letting your blood sugar drop too far will only sabotage you over time.)

    8. Sleep.

    Research shows people who don’t get enough sleep have a tough time exercising their willpower. Sleep is critical for a healthy brain – along with just about everything else. So to optimize your willpower muscle, make sure you’re catching your zzz’s.

    9. Nix the self-sabotage.

    Making yourself feel bad hurts, rather than helps, your willpower efforts. Researchers have found that compassion is a far better strategy than tough love – telling yourself “It’s OK, everyone has setbacks sometimes,” will help you bounce back more quickly than negative self-talk.

    10. Take the first hard step.

    As a new behavior becomes a habit, it is more natural. You have to use less and less willpower to ‘make it so.’ When you’re starting a new pattern that feels hard, remind yourself that the first steps are truly the hardest. It will probably never feel harder than it does in those first few choices. In the case of repeated behaviors, like exercise or saving money, it takes weeks for new habits to take hold. By that point, the habit will be so ingrained, you’d have to try hard not to do it.

    Featured photo credit: Kym Ellis via unsplash.com

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