When you correct your mind everything else will fall into place.
- Lao Tzu
Imagine life as a stream.
When you are heading toward thriving, you are flowing with the stream, and things happen with ease.
When you are resisting, you are heading upstream, and everything feels difficult. You are not thriving.
You want to become sensitive to the ease that comes from flowing with the stream of well-being, so that when you find yourself in a state of resistance, you can turn around.
You can always tell when you are in a state of resistance by how you feel.
If you feel contented, peaceful, or optimistic, you are heading downstream with the flow; if you are feeling sad, angry, or anxious, you are probably heading upstream in a state of resistance.
Because you already know that thoughts precede feelings, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that your thoughts create the resistance in your life.
Resistant thinking creates doubt and keeps you stuck in old patterns of being in the world.
As you begin to shift your thinking and to create new beliefs, you may experience doubts and negative thoughts — I’m not good enough; I’m too old to do this; this will never work — that get in the way of having what you want.
You can do a number of things to soften the resistance in your thinking.
While it may take time for the resistance to dissipate completely, simply being aware of it gives you the opportunity to acknowledge it and make the choice to let it go.
Softening the Resistance
One reason resistance occurs is that the mind doesn’t like taking large leaps in thought.
Thoughts tend to occur on a continuum — the farther you try to leap in any direction on the continuum, the more resistance you will encounter.
Going from I hate myself to I love myself is a giant leap.
It is much easier to go from I hate myself to I sometimes think I am okay.
Once you have fully transitioned to believing that you are sometimes okay, then you can move up the continuum to an even more improved thought, such as Much of the time, I think I am a pretty decent person.
If you keep moving up the continuum this way, every time you fully begin to accept the new belief, you will eventually reach the point at which you will be able to say, I love myself completely.
· I hate myself.
· Sometimes I am okay.
· Much of the time I am okay.
· I like myself.
· I love myself.
If you are experiencing a negative feeling about your new belief, it most likely means that you have jumped too far up the continuum.
Try softening the resistance by reframing the thought in a way that seems like a smaller leap.
Look for statements that feel like improvement but are still within the realm of believability.
When you have strong patterns of negative thinking, your aim for your new thoughts is to generate feelings along the lines of relief or hope for something better.
Use your emotions as the guidance system.
When the thought feels like something you can buy into, you will have moved into a place of less resistance, and your new belief will have more opportunity to grow.
Take a look at the new thoughts you are working and see if any of them elicit doubting or resistant thoughts as you read them over. If so, see if you can soften the resistance by reframing the thought or stepping it back until it feels like less of a leap.
Other Ways to Overcome Resistance
While resistance almost always comes in the form of negative thoughts that hold you back from forward movement, you can use many different strategies to reduce resistant thinking.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
Focus on the Future You Want
Another form of resistance occurs when the present you don’t want gets more attention than the future you do want.
When you are trying to make a change in your life, a present state exists that is different from the future desired state. In other words, what you have is different from what you want.
In the midst of change, the thought process around present states and future intended states can be quite different, and as a result, they each elicit different emotional responses.
· I don’t have enough time vs. I want more time
· I feel fat vs. I want to be thinner
· My house is dirty vs. I want a clean house
· I don’t have a relationship vs. I want a great relationship
Because present states are more real to us than future ones, we much more easily focus our thoughts on what we have or don’t have now instead of on what we want.
Saying something like, I feel fat and I want to be thinner is a good example of this.
If you focus on the present-moment reality of I feel fat, you are likely to generate similar thoughts about the subject, such as
Feeling fat is awful; it makes me feel bad about myself; I’m sure other people are thinking bad things about me because I’m fat; no one will ever love me because I’m fat; I ate all that ice cream last night, so I deserve to be fat.
None of these thoughts feel good or help you get closer to what you want; they only make the thing you do want, which is to be thinner, seem further away.
You can turn this situation around if you focus instead on the future desired state of I want to be thinner and grow your thought process in this direction by imagining what it would be like to be in that future state:
Being thinner would feel great. I would be able to wear my favorite jeans again; I would have more energy, and I would be able to do more of the activities in life I enjoy, like dancing; I would feel more self-confident.
Remember that thoughts grow.
As you grow your thought process around your desired future state, not only do you feel better, but your mind’s problem-solving mechanism starts to kick in and generate solutions for how to bring this desired state about.
Your mind wants to help you solve problems and prepare for the future as a way to promote your survival.
By focusing your thoughts on the future desired state, you start to make it seem more real, and as a result, you generate less resistance to it.
One way to increase thoughts about the future you want is to make that future seem more tangible by exposing yourself to the experience you’d like to have.
For example, if you want to go to college but feel stuck in a dead-end job, you can make going to college seem more real by doing activities that expose you to the experience of college, such as spending time in a college library on the weekends, talking to a college counselor, or researching how to pay for college with financial aid.
Remember that action leads to belief change.
Doing things that expose you to an experience you want to have can increase your belief that it is possible.
Other ways to keep your thoughts focused on your desired future state could include finding pictures that represent what you want, then taping them to your refrigerator or gluing them on a poster board, or creating a webpage about your future experience and blogging about the steps you are taking to get there.
There is no right or wrong way; just keep in mind that you want to look for opportunities to spend thought process on what you want.
The more time you spend thinking about what you want, the more ideas you will generate about how to make what you want possible.
Many of the exercises that follow in this chapter are specifically designed to help you spend more thought on the desired future and make it seem more real.
Eric was having difficulty in his relationship with his wife.
He thought she did not understand him and was overly emotional, so he avoided telling her how he felt about many issues in their marriage.
He loved his wife and wanted to improve his communication with her, but every time something came up, he would remember situations from the past when he had tried to express himself and it hadn’t gone well, and he would shut down.
This, of course, created more tension between them, which led him to avoid telling her even small things, like when he would be home.
Eric became so focused on the problem in the present and avoiding what he didn’t want to experience that he had a hard time imagining what good communication could be like.
After discussing his problem in treatment, Eric realized that the only way to create a better relationship with his wife was to keep his attention on his goal.
He found a photograph from their wedding, in which they were happy and smiling together, and made it the desktop image on his computer at work.
Every time he looked at it, he reminded himself that was how he wanted his relationship with his wife to be, though it seemed like a stark contrast to the way things were now.
After a few days of seeing the picture over and over and being reminded of how great things had been when they first met, Eric decided to take a risk and, with some hesitation, initiated a discussion about couples counseling with his wife.
They began working with a professional to improve their communication skills.
Savor the Progress
Many people, when they start to focus on their wanted future, get stuck when they let their minds drift back toward the realization that they have not yet arrived.
This can cause distress, since they are resisting instead of embracing the journey.
No matter how much you want to arrive, there is always travel distance; how much depends on where you start.
If you believe you cannot be happy until you arrive, you will always be unhappy knowing you are not there.
The main problem with this type of thinking is that every time you arrive somewhere you will find there is somewhere else to go.
You will live in the pursuit of happiness without realizing that happiness is in the pursuit.
As you know, we feel a sense of thriving when we believe we are making forward progress toward our growth and expansion. However, in order to experience this sense of thriving you must actually notice that forward movement and growth are occurring.
When all your attention is focused on the fact that you have not yet arrived, you will have difficulty seeing how far you have come.
Take credit for your progress on the journey, because each step forward is necessary. The steps forward are what help us to grow.
Most of us do not start out prepared to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
If you want to run a marathon, you have to train to prepare yourself for success. If you never exercise and then you decide to enter a marathon, chances are you would never make it, and you could even hurt yourself trying.
Similarly, you wouldn’t want to go to a “doctor” who decided to skip the eight years of required medical education. You would want to go to someone who trained and gained the experience needed to become a medical expert.
It is the journey toward our goals that prepares us for who we will be when we finally arrive.
Many of the obstacles and failures that we encounter along the way can be opportunities for learning.
Be proud of every step you take forward; you are one step closer than you were before. Don’t just acknowledge the progress; really savor it, because doing so builds positive thought and emotion, which will only aid you further.
Conversely, if you don’t acknowledge your progress and you focus only on not having yet arrived, not only do you miss the opportunity to benefit from all you’ve done, but you also increase negative emotions and create resistance, which inhibits you from building forward momentum and, indeed, slows you down.
One way to savor your progress is to simply write down the steps you’ve taken toward your goal at the end of each day or at least once a week.
They don’t have to be huge steps.
Something such as Today I bought a book on how to...is a step in the right direction and something to feel good about.
As you keep track of your progress, you will have compiled a tangible record to focus on, one that documents all the accomplishments you have made so far.
You tell the story of your life every day. You talk about it with your family, friends, and coworkers all the time. You share your experiences as a way to be heard and validated, to seek advice or support.
Sharing helps us to connect with others and usually makes us feel good.
But have you ever stopped to think about the fact that there may be a downside to telling the story of your life in its current form?
What if you don’t like your life?
What if the stories you tell all day are about people, things, or events that bring on negative emotions such as anger, hurt, or sadness?
What if the validation you are getting from others only reinforces your negative perspective?
Does telling these stories help you generate any ideas about how to improve your situation and get what you want?
While we tell our stories to other people for many different reasons, the way we tell these stories can have a profound impact on whether the result of our having shared ultimately moves us closer to or further from where we want to go.
When you tell a story about some troubling event, you grow your thoughts about the unwanted situation.
When you add someone else to the mix, you run the risk of adding their thoughts about what you don’t want to the situation as well.
Most of the people you tell your stories to will try to offer their support for your perspective. It is the socially acceptable thing to do. It is a rare friend who will dare to tell you that your thinking may be wrong.
If you’d like to get support for the things you desire, you need to start including those things in your stories; learn to tell your stories in a way that indicates hope for something better.
Here is an example of what can happen if you change a story that focuses on the unwanted present to one that includes hope about your desired future:
Old Story (about the present)
Friend: How are you?
You: Lousy! My boyfriend is such a jerk. He never listens to me. We had a huge argument last night because I had to ask him five times to take out the trash.
Friend: That’s too bad. You’re right, he sounds like a total jerk.
You: Isn’t he, though? I’m glad you agree. I’m going to tell him everyone I know agrees with me. Do you think I should leave him?
Friend: If I were you I would leave him. A guy that acts like a jerk doesn’t deserve you.
New Story (about the present but including what you want in the future)
Friend: How are you?
You: Mmm, last night was tough because my boyfriend and I had an argument, but I thought it through and realized I can try harder to communicate with him, so I think things are going to get better.
Friend: That’s great. You must really like him if you are willing to work that hard on the relationship.
You: Well, sometimes he acts like a jerk, but I also realize he has a lot of good qualities, and I am going to focus on those parts of him because I love him and would like the relationship to work.
Friend: If he makes you feel that way, he must be pretty special.
Telling a story about what you want (better communication with your boyfriend) instead of what you don’t want (a jerk for a boyfriend) doesn’t mean you can’t speak your truth.
If you’re having a lousy day, you don’t have to lie and say you are having a great day just because that is what you want to be having. You can state your truth — just don’t stop there.
Finish with creating hope for something better.
For example, I’m having a lousy day, but I am looking forward to going home to enjoy a nice, relaxing evening, and I plan to have a much better day tomorrow.
Tell a story about what you want as the outcome.
When you do, you generate thoughts about the presence of what you would like to create in your future.
By activating a thought process around what you want, you plant the seeds for this thought to grow into something more.
Doing so will increase your belief that it is possible and, therefore, increase the likelihood you will take actions to make it happen.
And if you tell people what you want instead of what you don’t want, you will also be creating opportunities for gaining more support.
The next time you are talking with someone, ask yourself:
Am I telling a story about what I want or what I don’t want?
What’s Your Story?
When asked this question, most people immediately think about everything that has happened to them in the past.
In particular, they seem to think of all the painful or difficult things they have been through. Rarely do they think about where they are going. But where you are going is far more important than where you’ve been.
If you want to create your future by choice instead of by default, you will need to map out a story of where you want to go.
The more you start to think about the story of where you are going, the more vivid and detailed it will become as you grow more thought around it.
If it seems artificial to tell a story about things you haven’t done yet, then tell the story in terms of what you value and aspire to in life.
Where you are going is far more important than where you’ve been.
The Story of My Future Life
Create a future-oriented story about your life.
Write the story in the present tense, using presence of statements.
If it seems strange to write a story about your future in the present tense, you can phrase it this way: In the future I am successful — which is more powerful than saying I will become successful someday.
When you are done, remove the words 'In the future', and you will have a future story of your life written in the present tense.
Repeat this story to yourself and everyone else you know as frequently as you can.
About the author
Jennice Vilhauer, PhD, is the author of Think Forward to Thrive. A psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, she specializes in the area of future directed thinking and developing skill-based methods by which people can learn to create positive future thought and action. Follow her on Twitter @jennicevilhauer.
To know more about Dr. Vilhauer, visit her website www.futuredirectedtherapy.com.