Let’s explore further why affirmations fail. Have you heard of the (dysfunctional) exercise of looking into the mirror each day to tell yourself you are beautiful to boost your self-esteem? Why is it that sometimes we do not feel beautiful despite the fact we look into the mirror and tell ourselves we are beautiful every day?
In the last blog we discovered that the reason affirmations often fail us is that they don’t engage our thinking patterns at the deeper levels where our unhealthy mindsets are hidden. Whilst our surface thinking may be changed through our affirmations and mantras, the deeper unhealthy mindsets remain unaffected and so our negative views remain intact despite the positive things we say to ourselves in the mirror. We refer to these important layers of thinking as the ‘Story’, which represents our surface thinking and the “Back-Story” which represented our deeper level mindsets.
In order to become more resilient and happy in life we need to be able to (1) quickly and easily uncover the Mindsets that have created a negative back-story to our lives, and (2) genuinely challenge and change these negative Mindsets to re-write this into a more positive and helpful back-story for the future of our lives.
Quick Refresh: Thinking Patterns and the ABC’s
So everyone knows the ABCs of thinking, namely we can predict the emotional consequences we feel (C) is based on our thoughts and beliefs (B) about the events or actions (A) we experience. This simplistic view of the different emotional consequences (C) of various thinking patterns and beliefs (B) to the same action or event (A) is illustrated below:
We also know that B contains both surface thoughts – aka the story (i.e., “I’m a failure” or “They are horrible” or “Not my problem”) as well as deeper Mindsets – aka the back-story (the reason why I have my surface thoughts).
Uncovering the Back-Story: Mindsets & The Downward Arrow:
To uncover the back-story and mindsets that are driving our surface thinking and story we tell ourselves about our lives, we need to use a strategy called the Downward Arrow. The Downward Arrow is a self-questioning technique where we ask ourselves a “why” question to reveal the mindsets that cause our surface thinking and subsequent emotional distress. Let’s go back to the example of “being yelled at” and becoming angry and upset with surface thoughts of “they are horrible”:
THE DOWNWARD ARROW:
Rewriting the Back-Story for a Better Future: Changing Your Mindsets
To do this we add to more letters to our ABC model of thinking… You guessed it D and E. In the ABCDE model the ABC is the same – with the downward arrow applied to the B to uncover the back-story (unhealthy mindset) behind the story (surface thoughts). The D stands for Disputing or challenging our unhealthy mindsets and the E stands for new and Empowering Healthy Mindsets.
Let’s look at the example of “being yelled at” using the ABCDE strategy to uncover and change the negative mindsets causing the unhealthy emotional consequences.
To rewrite the back-story of our lives for a positive future we must Dispute or Challenge these blame-based mindsets that drive our unhealthy surface thinking and anger. We need to ask ourselves some important questions about how logical, realistic, practical (helpful) and empirical (evidence) the beliefs are. If these beliefs fail any one of these important challenge questions then we will need to rewrite this belief to match what is more practical, realistic, helpful etc.
Let’s do this together now using the example above as a guide. As we ask ourselves these challenge questions we quickly realize how unhelpful and unrealistic our Mindsets are and have to write down beliefs that are more helpful and realistic. NOTE: we are not writing down positive affirmations or unrealistic predictions of the future – just blunt, honest and believable statements about the situation. As you can see the result of this dispute/challenge process leads to a healthier Mindset in the E Column, which provides an Empowering new believable back-story for the next stage of our lives.
HAZARD WARNING: Letting Go of the Old Back-Story is Hard!
Changing Mindsets is hard – giving up and letting go of the old back-story of your life to embrace a new back-story for your future is not as easy as it may seem. Let me explain….
Compare the following old back-story (B) and new back-story (E):
Unhealthy Mindset (Blame)
It’s all their fault I am upset and angry. I hate them – they have ruined my day (or ruined my life!)
Healthy Mindset (Responsible)
“Whilst I may be angry and do not like being yelled at, I can choose my own response and stay calm instead of wasting my energy on anger”
Which would you rather be? The answer seems quite obvious and most of us would choose to have a more responsible mindset and have greater control over our own happiness and quality of life. However, whilst this is all very well in theory – in practice many people struggle to shift from unhealthy to healthy mindsets despite having all of the insights and strategies we have covered…..why?
Why Blame is Easy & Responsible is Hard!
Let’s be honest, for some people there is some short-term pleasure in blaming others for their emotional distress and burnout. We create this evil logic that if we didn’t cause the problems that led to our own anger and depression then why should we have to fix it??? It seems unfair and unjust to expect ourselves to have to work hard at our own recovery when we believe our stress was caused by someone else.
Just like when you walk past the broken food jar someone else spilled on the supermarket floor, without feeling the need to clean it up, you become a bystander avoiding the obvious need to take action to restore your own wellbeing and instead wait for someone else to fix your life for you! But drinking from the cup of blame is a poison chalice and creates a very dark back-story of your future life! By refusing to help yourself recover you will either be waiting a very long time (for some sort of justice, retribution or compensation) in a state of depression – wasting the wonderful life you could have had OR be rescued by some knight in shining armor without learning to help yourself. This only reinforces your cycle of dependency and blame when the next life crisis occurs. Clearly the catastrophic long-term consequences of the blame mindset outweighs any short-term relief and self justification (AKA self righteousness) you may feel.
On the other hand you could change the back-story of your life to being responsible for your emotional state regardless of the unfair circumstances and unkind people who may have contributed. In the short-term this may feel overwhelming, unjust and unfair as you try to rebuild your life by collecting up the fragments that were left after the destructive actions of others. You need to pace yourself and allow yourself plenty of room to grieve and process negative emotions of sadness, anger and fear. But as you persevere with rebuilding your life, each day gets a little easier to manage and gradually (it may seem like an eternity) just like the turning tide rising the water level across the sandbar that was blocking the way ahead, your sense of hope and optimism for the future returns enabling you to confidently move forward with life again.
Moreover, as you set sail again on the adventure of life, your responsible mindset creates a positive back-story to your future life! With the scars born of wisdom from the self-recovery process you have undertaken you now have powerful reminders of your courage and self-confidence to successfully face the next challenges of life! Thus the short-term burden and angst of being responsible for your recovery even when the damage was done by others is clearly only a minor inconvenience when compared to the lasting courage and self-confidence gained through the struggle of self recovery!
Changing Your Mindsets: Don’t Be A Passenger – Be The Driver!
Changing Mindsets is hard because effort is required often when you feel most upset and distressed and simply want to avoid taking responsibility for lowering your distress – but you are the driver of your own life and if you let go of the steering wheel and become a passenger a crash is inevitable.
However if you understand and can easily apply the ABCDE strategy to your life then driving through the hard times is possible and you need not give up and become a passenger!
Ride the Waves of Life!
The Stress Surfer
READ THE BOOK! If you liked this Article then read “RIde The Waves of Life Without The Stress’ by Dr Pete!
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