Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “You are what you think all day long.” As a therapist I’ve always tried to teach my clients that their thoughts profoundly impact their moods and shifting emotions, behavioral choices, self-confidence, the healthy risks that do or don't get taken, feelings of self-worth and self-esteem in all arenas of life. There are countless common thoughts that can have a negative and lasting impact. I'd like to share three of them and explore the ways in which changing those thoughts led to positive life changes for my clients.
It’s amazing how easily being afraid translates into “Therefore there’s no point in trying or believing that success can be achieved.” A very bright and talented client was repeatedly offered a promotion within his organization. Although he wanted to move up the ladder he kept turning down the opportunity because he was afraid to speak in large groups and knew that would be a part of the job description. So I introduced a concept that was designed to change his thinking: BE AFRAID AND DO IT ANYWAY. This created a space for him to consider the idea that the fear didn't have to hijack moving ahead in life. Now he could be open to addressing, comforting, and working with his fear- rather than making decisions to simply avoid the thing that evoked it. He went to Toastmasters to learn basic public speaking skills and we role-played them in session. We practiced breath work to calm his system, guided imagery to imagine success, positive self-talk to celebrate small steps forward, and he was able to work through the fear and take the promotion!
Countless men and women apply that mindset to unhappy relationships and dead end jobs. One client had been in a long-term relationship and was clearly not getting her needs met, but she was afraid no one better would come along or that she wouldn’t be okay if she wasn’t in a relationship. This translated into “ So, therefore, I have to settle.” The new thought that got introduced in therapy was, I DON'T HAVE TO SETTLE AND I DON'T HAVE TO PUT A GLASS CEILING ON HOW GOOD THINGS CAN BE. We then focused on the standards she held for friends who were dating so she could begin to hold to those same, higher standards in her own relationships. If she wouldn’t encourage her friends to settle, why should she? This combined with work on ego strengthening and raising self-esteem enabled her to end the relationship. She stayed single and discovered she could be fine on her own! In fact, her life got much more fulfilling when she started to reclaim all the things she had put to the side to accommodate her partner.
There are many families, older generations, and cultures that promote this idea. Once you’ve made a choice you can’t deviate from it or change your mind. To do so is associated with “giving up,” “weakness,” or “failure.” A male client came to therapy because he had been an attorney for almost 30 years and hated his career. He chose it to please his father who was also an attorney. He knew from the start that nothing about the work resonated with his “truest self,” but once he committed to law school and then a firm, he felt trapped. The new thought became, DECIDING TO MAKE A CHANGE IS A SIGN OF COURAGE AND STRENGTH, AND IT’S MY RIGHT TO DO SO. This gave him permission to listen to his own inner wisdom. And it didn't take long for him to realize that what he always wanted to do was teach high school history! He gathered his courage and let his partners buy him out of the law firm. He ignored all the naysayers and for the last two years he’s been teaching in a private high school and has never been happier!
In every case, these brave people listened to their own inner wisdom for guidance and made decisions that were authentic and self-loving.
Learn more about shifting negative thoughts to positive ones in Lisa’s book, “Finding Your Ruby Slippers: Transformative Life Lessons From the Therapist’s Couch.”