by Kelly Beischel PhD, RN, CAPP, CPPC
What travels faster than the speed of light? Thoughts. ~ Danielle LaPorte
I ask all my clients for feedback after we work together. My client, Ellyn, recently wrote this, “This program has taught me that my mind is my most powerful tool and I’m in control of it. I now have the power to turn negative thoughts and self-doubt into positive and motivational thoughts.”
Holy crap! I wish I had learned that when I was 25 years old.
Because Ellyn’s totally right.
Our mind is our most powerful tool.
The National Science Foundation states we have anywhere from 12,000-60,000 thoughts per day. **
These 12,000-60,000 thoughts come into our mind unbidden meaning we have no control over what thoughts pop into our head. But that’s not the important part. It’s what we do with our thoughts that matters.
Why is this important?
Neuroscience has shown that what you focus on shapes your brain. Literally.
Repetitive thoughts develop neural pathways in our brain. And, over time, repetitive thoughts become beliefs (it doesn’t matter whether these thoughts are true or not).
These beliefs then become our stories.
Our stories form our identity, what we believe to be true about ourselves and the world around us.
Unfortunately, our thoughts can hold us back from living out our dreams and desires. Because our thoughts/beliefs/stories influence how we feel and our feelings influence our behavior.
For example, perhaps when you were young, you scored poorly on a test or even multiple tests. You came home and told your parents and they said, “You’re like me. I was a bad test taker.” Your thought is then, “I’m a bad test taker”. You repetitively think this thought and it becomes your belief.
Pretty soon you tell others you’re a bad test taker and get stuck there as if you have no power to change your story. And in turn, your story derails your future performances on tests.
You don’t need to have told your parents for this scenario to play out but I added that because so many folks identify as bad test takers that I can imagine parents saying that to their children who struggle with testing. While parents say things like this to make their child feel better, you can see how it actually begins the development of a neural pathway that is not life-serving, that it’s in fact, damaging.
The saying, “garbage in, garbage out” sums this up pretty well. Don’t you think?
Recently I was working with a client who was frustrated with the destructive stories she’s created about not being enough. She said to me, “I bet you never have these kinds of thoughts.”
I almost laughed aloud.
Actually … I think I did laugh.
And then I responded, “Only every day.”
Yes, I’ve learned to examine my thoughts and if they aren’t life-serving, I change my script. Yet, I still harbor stories that don’t serve me. I’m human, after all. We all have those stories. Sometimes it takes a coach to draw them out. That’s why I have two coaches.:)
I’m committed to dissuading social-media-induced thinking that everyone else has it all together.
I value courage and transparency and I don’t think we have enough of either.
With that in mind, I’ve doubled down here and wrote about two of my most vulnerable repetitive thoughts that became my stories and how I turned them into empowering life-serving, “I love my body” thoughts.
I know that by revealing my vulnerabilities, I run the risk that you’ll think less of me. But I’m more than willing to run that risk if my story helps one person move their thoughts from destructive to life-serving.
Will that person be you?
“The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ~ Socrates
Joe, my husband, and I attended the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit on Location event in Miami a few weekends ago. Our son Luke, and his husband, Hans, created and produced this fantastic event.
The SI event, I knew, was going to be filled with swimsuit models speaking on panels as well as beautiful women interviewing for a chance to be in the next swimsuit issue. Not intimidating at all. :/
While I was excited about attending the event to see Luke and Hans’ work and celebrate Joe’s birthday, I spent the evening prior to leaving going through my clothes in a tizzy. What do you wear to an event where all the women are young and beautiful? If you are more evolved than me, which is quite probable, you are saying, “You wear whatever the hell you want.”
But, my reptile brain was screaming, “Get back in the freaking cave; it’s dangerous out there. People judge. And you might embarrass Luke at his event because you’re older and not beautiful like those models everyone envies.”
Whoa!!!! My tears are blinding me right now. Until I just wrote that sentence, I didn’t realize that my underlying fear was embarrassing Luke. WTF?!? He loves and respects me. I don’t know where that fear came from but I’m sure glad that I discovered it because that revelation was immensely cathartic.
Back to my destructive thoughts and how I changed them to life-serving thoughts.
While packing, I found myself seeking comfortable yet stylish outfits that would also hide my “Hinckley legs” and stretch marks.
You read that right. “Hinckley legs”. What’s a “Hinckley leg”? My mom’s maiden name is Hinckley. The Hinckley’s have thick legs with calves that do not taper down to skinny ankles. Some would call these cankles.
Here’s the thing, in my family, someone telling you that you had “Hinckley legs” was not an endearment. In fact, it’s a physical trait I grew up believing was a flaw – something to detest, a sign of being unattractive. Such that if I earned a nickel every time a family member poked fun of either having “Hinckley legs” or poked fun of another family member having them, I’d be rich.
While on the surface it may seem ridiculous to worry about having “Hinckley legs”, it was my worry, nonetheless. Remember we have thoughts that when repeated enough become our beliefs and then our stories.
I’d like to tell you that while I was packing for Miami, I rose above my ingrained beliefs and simply stopped worrying about what others thought.
Yet I cannot lie; I continued to worry.
But then, just as my client was tired of her story of not being enough, so was I tired of my “Hinckley legs” story. So I got curious about how I could change my thoughts to change my story.
I examined my thoughts about Hinckley legs. This led me to think about my Hinckley ancestors, from whom I inherited the shape of my legs. I thought about those strong Hinckley men and women who came to America on the Mayflower. Yep. The Mayflower.
I thought about the long line of strong, independent women like my nana, mother, sister, aunt, and cousins who all share this physical trait. With that, I felt myself sitting taller with my chest out a bit, proud that I come from the same stock as these strong, independent women.
So I coached myself with these questions:
“How has the thought of having “Hinckley legs” been working out for you, Kelly?”
Uh, it hasn’t been working out. I hide my legs any chance I get, sometimes missing out on fun activities because of it or I feel terrible about myself the whole time I am participating in the activity.
“What could you believe about your legs instead?”
I could believe that having calves that don’t taper into skinny ankles makes them stronger legs. I could believe that my legs are actually a legacy, a reminder of the long line of strong, independent women from whom I come and be in gratitude for having this reminder.
“What feeling would you have if you came from this place of gratitude?”
I’d feel like a million bucks.
“What action would you take from this place of gratitude?”
I’d put myself out in the world more. I’d wear whatever I wanted instead of covering up my “flaws”.
“What would the result be?”
I’d revel in having strong legs and would enjoy life more. I’d have more confidence.
As you can see, my thoughts turned a 180 from this place of gratitude. Changing my thoughts from embarrassment about my physical trait to gratitude and love for those who came before me made all the difference.
Now for one more destructive thought …
I have a love-hate relationship with my arms. On the one hand, I love my arms. And why wouldn’t I? I’ve held my babies in these arms. I hug on others with these arms. And with these arms, I bring comfort.
But with age, they aren’t as nicely defined as I’d like. And to beat it all – I now have stretch marks on the underside of my arms. UGH!
Sure enough, I glimpsed these stretch marks as I was packing for our trip to Miami.
And I cringed.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen these stretch marks and cringed.
Thus, I’ve been working on self-love by reciting, “I love you, just as you are” in the mirror. But my brain wasn’t really believing it.
And then I had a flash of insight…
I asked myself these questions…
What’s the thought that’s driving my feelings?
What if I saw my stretch marks as a sign of strength rather than weakness?
And what if I changed my thoughts to being grateful for my stretch marks?
How are they a sign of strength, a sign that I can indeed do hard things?
Well, the stretch marks on the underside of my arms are due to gaining weight the past few years. As with most people who experience weight gain, my weight gain was due to inactivity. And my inactivity due to the fatigue and pain of having fibromyalgia. And let’s be real, I was also packing on calories by using wine to suppress my uncomfortable feelings. :/
Over the past couple of years, for the first time in my life, I’d been holding back from exercise, afraid that I would hurt worse. After receiving my fibromyalgia diagnosis in December of last year, I read all I could about it. I was determined to control my symptoms without medication.
After learning that physical activity actually helps control the pain associated with fibromyalgia, I stopped my march down the circular road on which I’d been traveling, a road plagued with more weight gain, more fatigue, and less activity. A road that had already spiraled me into a person I didn’t recognize.
To this end, I purchased an Apple Watch and began challenging myself to “close” all three Activity Rings.
Since purchasing my watch, my activity level has skyrocketed – I’ve exercised for at least 30 minutes every day, stood at least once an hour for 12 hours, and hit my personal goal of active calories burned every single day since December 31st.
I’ve stopped asking myself IF I’m going to exercise today and instead ask myself WHAT I’m going to do for exercise today.
I walk nearly a mile to my office every day – in the rain, snow, and sleet (yes, I bought spikes for my shoes so that I could still walk in icy conditions). I walk around town at mid-day and then home again. Sometimes this walking is my exercise, other times I do yoga, dance, or ride a stationary bike.
“Closing my rings” is no longer an option. It’s what I do.
I share this with you because, my friend, this shift in my mindset has been life-changing on multiple levels.
The increased activity has helped my fibromyalgia pain. Yay!
And as crazy as it sounds, adopting and following through on a ‘no matter what’ attitude has given me confidence that I can indeed do hard things.
Most importantly, over the past few years, I’d become a victim, thinking that my circumstances were in control, not me.
And nothing is more disempowering than wearing a cloak of victimhood.
Lastly, I didn’t begin this journey to lose weight. But from my increased activity (and decreased buffering with wine), I’ve lost 12 pounds. Win-Win.
So …. that’s why the stretch marks on the underside of my arms remind me that I am strong. My stretch marks remind me that I’ve done hard things, that I’ve gone to where I didn’t recognize myself and come back.
Now I smile at my stretch marks and thank them for the reminder that I am strong.
And for the second time that day, when I came from a place of gratitude, I was able to finally drop the worry about what others think.
Joe and I attended the SI Swimsuit on Location event and loved it! This is a photo of Joe with SI Swimsuit cover model, Camille Kostek. Notice his big smile???
Changing my thoughts from self-persecution to empowered self-love enabled me to relax and enjoy the event.
Ironically, I learned that I was not alone in my worries. The panels of beautiful swimsuit models at the event discussed their own worries and doubts about their bodies, their struggle with self-acceptance, and aging. The administration of the SI Swimsuit edition, as well as the swimsuit models, are hard at work demonstrating that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, ages, and cultures and shattering perceptions that being beautiful means being society-defined perfect.
My friend, beating yourself up doesn’t feel good nor does it look good on you.
Changing your thoughts changes your life.
I look in the mirror and recite, “I love you just as you are” and now I believe it. Hallelujah!
Now it’s your turn.
Be honest with yourself. Are your thoughts serving you?
If not, what destructive thought could you change to a life-serving thought?
* Thank you for hanging in there with me and making it to the end. If you ever have similar thoughts, know that you aren’t alone. It’s been reported that 97% of women have an average of self-degrading thoughts about their bodies every day. This must stop. Because thoughts like these crowd out the good thoughts and disempower us.
** Numerous people on the Internet suggest that we have 12,000-60,000 thoughts per day. After searching the Internet for hours, I could only find an article where Dr. Benjamin Hardy quoted a 2005 NSF study. I could not find NSF’s original research article. These are the two most reputable resources I found for the number of thoughts we have per day:
Caring about you,