Back to Basics

You’ve heard it before, from me and others who write on similar topics: what you experience in life is a result of your beliefs and expectations.  I just wrote a blog post about something similar a couple of weeks ago and was reminded again this week that what we believe about ourselves and life is what has the most impact on our outcomes. Despite knowing this, it can be easy to forget unless you’re aware of it and focused on ensuring your beliefs and expectations are serving you well. There are some basic practices that help us align our beliefs and expectations to our desired results.

Before I get to those, let me start with a tiny bit of neuroscience about this topic.  (And trust me, I only know a tiny bit). There is a part of our brain known as the reticular activating system, which acts as your filter.  Our brains have the capacity to take in billions of pieces of data but, because we cannot consciously process all that information, our reticular activating system, (which is the network of nerve pathways at the base of our brain connecting the spinal cord, and various other parts of our brain) actually filters what comes into our conscious mind versus what stays out. How does the reticular activating system filter the information you receive?  It looks for pieces of data that match the information patterns already established in your brain. Therefore, you are only likely to become aware of those things that are familiar to you.

This is why a mother can discern her screaming child amongst a room full of screaming children; it is a sound that is familiar to her.  That is why two people can witness the same crime yet see things differently. They are filtering in and out different information based on their reticular activating system. So, what you believe and expect to see happening around you has direct impact on what is filtered in and out of your consciousness.

Here’s the beautiful thing: because our brains are so flexible, we can actually reprogram our reticular activating system so that we begin to recognize and see new and different things.

There are three powerful, yet basic and well-known, ways to begin to reprogram your filter, so you begin to believe, expect, and eventually experience different things. (For some of you these will merely be reminders and sometimes a simple reminder is all you need to make a big shift).

Practice Gratitude

I’ve actively kept gratitude journal (daily) for the past 11 years. When I first started, I was at a low place in my life. I remember some of my early entries were about being grateful that the day was over, and for my cat. That was about as much as I could muster up at that time. The longer I kept at it, the more I had to be grateful for. The more I focused on the things in my life to be thankful for, the more I began to notice the endless flow of blessings that surrounded me. Even during difficult times these past 11 years, I am always able to express gratitude because my brain is programmed to see these things. There is always something to be grateful for, and when you pay attention to those things, more show up for you. Even if you can only find one thing today, notice it, acknowledge it, write it down. You’ll be amazed at how that one thing grows exponentially over time.

Change Your Voice Track

The loudest voice in your life is the one inside your head. What are you saying to yourself? How’s that voice track? Is it kind, loving, and supportive? Or is it judgmental, harsh, and critical?

This is a huge opportunity for improvement for most of us. We are our own harshest critics and say things to ourselves we would never dream of saying to others. When you become aware of your own self-judgment and criticism you can alter it with this following practice. Think of someone in your life who you love wholeheartedly. Is it your daughter, your niece, your nephew? Maybe it’s your best friend.  Ask yourself if you’d ever talk to him or her the way you’re speaking to yourself. And then, decide that you will treat yourself in the same way, with the same loving kindness as you treat that person. Once you start doing this, the same thing happens as with gratitude. You train yourself to be kind and loving to yourself. You notice when it’s not happening and remind yourself that you no longer talk to yourself that way anymore.  You reprogram your brain to see, speak, and believe new things about yourself.

Focus on The Positive

There are a lot of negative things happening in our world. It’s easy to find them –  just look at social media.  And, there may be some personal things happening in your life that you are not be happy about; perhaps you aren’t in the best relationship or in the best job. Maybe you don’t like where you live.  And maybe you want to change all of that (which you can!); however, you won’t effectively change it if all you’re doing is focusing on how bad things are. I’m not suggesting you ignore the things that aren’t working, but I am suggesting you don’t spend 100% of your time wallowing in them. What is good about your life?  Focus on those things. This is closely related to gratitude. Maybe there’s only one positive thing you can think of today, but the more you focus on what’s good, the more your brain will start to filter in those things and filter out the other things.  Each day, find the positive. Add to your pile of good. Your brain will help you do the rest.

The above three practices are what I consider “the basics” because they are the basic practices to retrain your brain. And, they can make the biggest impact on your ability to shift your beliefs and expectations and ultimately the results you experience in your life.  Expect the best. Believe you can have what you desire and live a life of joy. Do these small things every day.  Retraining your brain is like any other muscle in your body. It takes time and consistency, and ultimately, can make the biggest positive impact on your life.

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