Smart Self-discipline part 2

Identifying negative self-talk

Our self-talk, that is, the stream of thoughts that continually run through our minds, is so automatic that we aren’t aware of a good portion of it. If you have had trouble attaining your goals, more than likely you have some sort of negative self-talk.

It is only when we slow down, calm down and pay attention, that we can really catch it. Knowing our negative self-talk is an important part of smart self-discipline. It may seem like too much effort at first but we are building a foundation. Once built, it will be easier to accomplish whatever goal we wish with less effort, like investing in a map when we are travelling in unfamiliar territory.

Tarot Art cardTypes of negative self-talk

We human beings are complex. We believe ourselves to be one person but in actuality, we have what modern psychology calls sub-personalities. This is a great tool to use for self-awareness. It helps us target more specifically what we keep repeating to ourselves that sabotages our efforts. Remember, smart self-discipline is about ‘informed effort’.

Negative self-talk generally falls under one of four categories as described below. Read through them and see if you can recognize anything about yourself.

The Worrier: If you are prone to being anxious, you probably have a worrier sub-personality. Your self-talk will include worry statements such as “What if the worst happens?”. You anticipate failure or catastrophe. Or maybe you are afraid of something embarrassing happening to you.

The Critic: If you find yourself constantly judging or criticizing yourself, always focusing on your flaws or limitations, you have a Critic sub-personality. Your self-talk will include harsh judgments such as: “I’m so stupid.”, “I could have done better.”, “Can’t I ever get it right?”

The Victim: If you have a tendency to feel helpless or fall into discouragement and feeling easily defeated then you may have a Victim sub-personality. Typical statements that you might repeat to yourself are: “I can’t do it.”, “What’s the point of trying, I won’t succeed.”

The Perfectionist: This sub-personality is a close relative to the Critic. Rather than put you down, like the Critic, it is extremely demanding and has overly high expectations of you. There is no room for mistakes or failures. Your self-talk, when driven by the Perfectionist often has a should or have to: “I should do better than that.”, “I have to be on top of things.”

The power of our subconscious mindsubconscious iceberg

We all have a subconscious mind which is essential for our functioning. Without it, we would not be able to perform basic tasks. Every time we walked across the street, for example, we would have to learn how to take each step, much like a baby learning to walk. As adults, our walking ability is automatic and efficient because it is performed by our subconscious mind.

Our subconscious – helper or saboteur?

The trouble occurs when we, as children, are either treated poorly by our parents or family members or have traumatic experiences that cause us to feel badly about ourselves. This gets registered in the subconscious as truth and begins to operate automatically.

Our negative self-talk happens in both our conscious mind and our subconscious. This is an important aspect to understand. If you have found yourself doing the opposite of what you intended, very likely, lodged in your subconscious, is an opposite message or tendency to what you consciously wish for. For example: “I wish to eat less” is your conscious desire. Yet you may have in your subconscious a tendency or belief that says: “Eating makes me feel better, it calms my nerves.“ So as soon as you try to eat less, it triggers your subconscious to react against it.

The good news is, our subconscious, being like a computer, can be reprogrammed. We can input a different and positive message or belief into it. The trick is to be strategic, what I call, ‘going in through the back door’.

The smart self-discipline basic steps to follow:

1) Calm down and relax just 5 minutes a day. If anything, it will at least be a good investment in your health and well-being.

We live in such a frenetic, productivity-based culture and, unbeknownst to most of us, have become so accustomed to this as the ‘new normal’. We are not built to be constantly on the go, constantly stimulated. This actually wastes valuable energy, like going on a shopping spree and buying clothes without trying them on. The only difference is we can return clothes but our energy only gets spent. We can’t call it back.

Being busy all the time means we don’t have energy left over to observe our negative self-talk. So slowing down is essential, like our Far Side cartoon school boy who finally stops to see that he needs to pull rather than push to open the door.

2) Observe your negative self-talk:

a) Write down in a journal anything you are aware of about this. Ask yourself “What do I think or believe about myself or my attempts to achieve my goal?” e.g. “I failed.” When I was training to be a psychotherapist I was taught a saying to help with the fear of making mistakes: “There are no mistakes, only consequences.” To some of you, this may sound negative but for me, it was liberating. I later came to realize that it wasn’t my mistakes that were a problem, because mistakes in life are inevitable, but rather how I dealt with them.

CD Front Coverb) Meditation can be a valuable tool for observing our thinking mind and the constant stream of thoughts running through it. It can also help us to relax and calm down. Most people don’t value meditating either because it seems like a waste of time or because it is uncomfortable to be confronted with how we really are, rather than what we imagine ourselves to be. To help people get started, I created a guided meditation CD based on the Ayurvedic body types. All the meditations are under ten minutes. There is even a lying down one for when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. The program, included the guided meditation tracks, are free of charge. Go to:

3) Reset your goal:
We often focus on what we need to change or fix rather than where we want to get to. For example, the goal of losing weight means we are focusing on the problem. We weigh ourselves daily to see how much weight we lost – or didn’t lose. If, instead, we enlist the help of our subconscious, we can simply spend a few minutes each day, imagining ourselves thinner or healthier. Doing this before bed every night is a good time. We are tired and our subconscious is more receptive and accessible. It’s important not to push it but rather make it a soft, receptive attitude towards yourself.

If you want to use an affirmation, it’s best to make it permissive rather than definitive. For example: “I’m learning to eat only what my body needs.” or “I eat less by attending to my anxious feelings.” rather than “I now will eat less.” which will almost certainly trigger a negative reaction in your subconscious.

4) We can’t do it alone
We are social beings and rely on others, perhaps more than we realize. If you’ve been struggling with a particular goal repeatedly, why not enlist the help of a therapist or life coach. There is an old Sufi teaching: “You can’t see the back of your head no matter how quickly you turn around to look at it.” Let’s not reinvent the wheel, so to speak. There are professionals who have studied and understand how the human psyche operates. Most of us seek the help of a financial adviser to safeguard our investments. Why not do it for yourself?

Another possibility is to work with a “buddy”. Find someone with a similar goal and team up. Agree to check in with each other once a week for help and support. As long as each of you stays out of advice giving or judging the other, it will work to keep you moving forward in attaining your goal.

Part 3:



Smart self-discipline

Attaining our goals with more savvy and less effort

Have you ever intended to do something then found yourself doing the opposite? Maybe you were determined to stop the late night snacking, get back on the exercise bike, quit smoking or not be angry with your partner. You felt motivated and determined to succeed. Yet in spite of your initial energetic efforts, you failed to accomplish your goal and may even have ended up doing the opposite. Like many of us, you found yourself coming up against a formidable foe – your die-hard automatic habits that seem to have a life of their own.

To make matters worse, when we fail to accomplish a desired goal, the common tendency amongst many of us is to harshly criticize ourselves. “I’m such a glutton.”, “I’m so weak-willed.”, “I failed yet again.” “I’m such a jerk.” This negative self-talk consumes valuable energy that we could be applying more wisely to examine our situation.

Smart self-discipline begins with self-awareness

far_side_school_for_the_giftedA Far Side cartoon shows a young boy with one arm holding a stack of books and his free hand pushing frantically on the front door of his school. A sign on the door reads “Pull” as he keeps pushing with all his might. Understanding how we operate on the inside – what kinds of thoughts habitually run through our minds, how we react emotionally, and the way we make decisions is like being the young boy who finally stops struggling to see what the problem is and can then use only the required effort to open the door.

The creator of the Feldenkrais technique, an awareness through movement discipline, once said: “You can’t do what you want until you know what you’re doing.” This is one of the foundations of smart self-discipline – self-awareness leading to informed effort. For example, we may indulge in overeating because of stress, anxiety or other emotional issue. We rush in to stop the overeating without a full understanding of its roots and without being able to attend to the real problem.

We only have so much energy on any given day

Each night during sleep, we recharge our inner batteries. When we awaken, we have a fresh supply of energy to live the day, assuming of course that we had a normal nights’ sleep. How we expend that energy will determine the quality of our lives.

Energy flows where attention goes

Drawing upon the wisdom of indigenous cultures can help us in our quest to attain our goals with less effort. The Huna, the traditional healers of Hawaii, understand essential principles about life energy, health and well-being. According to their philosophy, (as well as those of traditional Eastern healing traditions) all life is animated by a subtle energy force and this energy behaves according to certain principles.

One of the first principles is: “Energy flows where attention goes.” If we place our attention on our right arm, for example, energy will flow into it. It follows that the quality of attention affects the quality of energy. If I feel frustrated that my arm is not getting better quicker, the energy I place into my arm has a negative, constricting quality. If I instead practice patience with the healing process, the quality of my attitude is positive and supportive and I am actually accelerating the healing of my arm.

The quality of our self-attitudes

Our attitude towards ourselves will have a most significant impact on our process of attaining goals. Thomas Edison once said: “I have not failed, I have simply found a thousand ways that don’t work.” A helpful variation of his quote for our purposes might be: “I have not failed, I have simply discovered my limitations and what I need to address first.”

To be continued …. Part 2:

Mind-Body Health

The relationship between our thoughts, emotions and physical state

Kupka great-nude
Kupka great-nude

Can the way we think and feel affect our health? Do our bodies and minds function independently of each other or are they parts of an interconnected system? Curiously, the whole question about the mind-body connection exists only in our Western civilization. In Eastern healing traditions, there is no separation between mind and body. How did it happen that we in the West view it so differently?

The Body/Mind Split

For hundreds of years, Western scientists have treated mind and body as separate entities. It began in the seventeenth century with Decartes who is considered the founding father of modern medicine. Under the powerful influence of the Catholic Church, he agreed to keep the soul out of medicine and limit its scope to the physical body. As a result, Western medicine developed a fundamental assumption that the body is simply a machine, mechanical in nature, affected only by external stimuli such as bacteria and viruses.

Yet our own language betrays this division of body and mind. We say things like: she’s “worried sick”, he’s “burning with anger”, it’s “eating away” at him, I’m “choked up” with sadness, and so on.

Research into the mind-body connection has shown without a doubt that our thoughts and attitudes directly affect our emotions and physical state. In turn, our physical state influences how we feel.

Body-Mind Medicine

davinci1A growing body of scientific research is now challenging the assumption in medicine that our bodies and minds are separate. Body-mind medicine, often called psychoneuroimmunology, has made some startling discoveries. Neuroscientists, for example, have discovered that the mind and immune system talk to each other.

One researcher, Candice Pert, discovered and measured what she calls the “molecules of emotion”. These molecules, called peptides, carry information not only about the nervous system and the body’s physical functions but also information about the emotions. What is most startling is that originally these emotion molecules were believed to exist only in the brain but have also been found throughout the entire body.

A different perspective

rainbow butterflyTraditional healing systems, particularly from China and India, dating back thousands of years, make no distinction between the mind and body. For example, in Traditional Chinese acupuncture, the liver function is associated with depression, anger and hypertension. One does not cause the other but rather they are part of one landscape, like a forest having both trees and animals. We can’t say that trees created animals or vice versa. They are all part of an interdependent dynamic system.

As Dr. Pert puts it: “Mind doesn’t dominate body, it becomes body – body and mind are one.” If this sounds rather mystical, keep in mind that this statement comes from a scientist originally trained in the Western scientific paradigm.

Ancient Healing Approaches

It’s interesting that shamanism, the indigenous approach to healing, is remarkably similar in many different cultures around the world. It’s as if indigenous people came to the same conclusions about the fundamental human experience and what is helpful. In all shamanic approaches there are ways of quieting the mind and going inward. Mind-body research supports what these cultures have long known; that techniques such as meditation and relaxation training improve emotional well-being and physical health.

The Role of Emotions in Disease

In reality, it’s too simplistic to say that our emotional stress or our thoughts cause disease. Rachel Naomi Remen, a physician and director at Commonweal, a cancer help program in California, says: “I find the notion of ‘positive’ emotion a disturbing one and perhaps even dangerous. It can degenerate into self-tyranny and lead the individual into some kind of mind control. All emotions serve a purpose and are potentially life-affirming.”

The popular notion that happiness is good for us while sadness is bad has no scientific basis. According to research, it is the feelings we don’t feel or express that can be most detrimental to our health. One example is a thirty-year study of a group of healthy young men. They were initially tested for psychological style and emotional health and divided into two groups. One group scored high on emotional health and the other scored low. In middle age, the health differences were striking. The emotionally healthy group, those that dealt with life stresses in a mature, adaptive way had only 3 percent chronic illness. In the less emotionally mature group, those who coped by denying, repressing or intellectualizing emotions, 38 percent were either dead or chronically ill.

B&W pensive faceOther studies have shown that people who are prone to melancholy and depression have lower immune strength than those with a more positive disposition. So although repressing emotions is unhealthy, experiencing prolonged periods of stressful feelings such as anger or anxiety can lower immune function. A typical example is the type A personality prone to heart disease. Perhaps it is not so much experiencing the emotions themselves but how we deal with them that determines whether they are life-affirming or not.

A number of self-help approaches have advocated that we need only change our thoughts or beliefs to transform our lives. This overlooks the fact that we also have an unconscious aspect of ourselves. We can’t change what we don’t know exists. So the first step is awareness. This takes time and perseverance because our unconscious is in the realm of automatic responses and can be elusive.

When we feel happy, sad, angry or stressed out, there are measurable effects in the brain and various physiological responses such as heart rate. Knowing this, we can employ mind-body techniques such as meditation, to influence our emotions and physical state in a positive way.

What are mind-body techniques?

Mind-body techniques are simple guided exercises that help people deal more effectively with the stresses and challenges of life.  Techniques such as meditation and conscious relaxation can enhance our well-being and increase our ability to recognize inner signals about what we truly need.

Conscious relaxation is a rather underrated yet very powerful healing practice. People often ask, “Why do I need to relax? Isn’t that what sleep is for?” Many people, when feeling stressed in their life, actually don’t relax during sleep. You may have experienced this when you wake up in a contracted position or wake up tired as if you never slept.

Lying-down-with-legs-up meditationLie down on your back in a comfortable position, with a cushion under your head and one under your knees or with your lower legs on the seat of a chair as shown. If you have a tendency to fall asleep during this exercise, then either sit comfortably in a chair or try lying down on the floor with your legs up the wall. (Your hips need to be right up against the wall.)

Begin by taking a few gentle deeper breaths, inviting your body to relax as you exhale. Then let your breathing return to normal. Now, starting with your right arm, focus your attention on relaxing your right arm as much as possible without strain or effort. Simply ‘invite’ relaxation to occur, knowing that your body already knows how to relax.

Spend a few moments on each limb, then the back, chest, pelvis and abdomen. Try to practice this 5 – 10 minutes per day.

If you find your mind wanders too much, you might want to try a guided recording. Go to Meditation CD where you can purchase just the single track “Conscious relaxation” or “Lying-down-with-legs-up” meditation.