Happy New Year Provoke readers! I’m sure you have skimmed plenty of the usual articles that proliferate around this time of the year, about what resolutions are worth making and how to stick to them. Rest assured that the following is a different type of advice, that does not mention exercise or eating more vegetables. Instead I would like to share some practices that approach wellness in a different way, that are easy to start doing, and that make you feel good from the first attempt itself. I first learned about them when I worked for Puja Puneet, a life and business coach from Chennai who has become known country-wide for her inspirational and thought provoking messages. Puja trained under Chicken Soup for the Soul author and world famous thought leader, Jack Canfield, and he even came to Chennai to help her launch her own book, Unlocking the Golden Cage. From the moment I learned about these tools from her, I incorporated them into my daily care regime while reading up to learn more about how they work.
So if I’m not telling you how to plan your meals or find yourself an exercise buddy, what exactly am I focusing on? I’m focusing on the narrative that you tell yourself, that you’ve constructed over years and years. I’m focusing on thought patterns that are negative and self-victimising, that subconsciously hold you back from maximising joy and potential. And I’m showing you fun ways to rewrite your story and rewire that subconscious mind. Let’s get to it with the first practice:
Start a Gratitude Journal
Oprah calls maintaining her gratitude journal the greatest thing she has ever done. I probably don’t need a better recommendation than that, but I’ll still elaborate! This practice couldn’t be simpler, and for best results you should do it in the mornings:
1. Grab a notebook and a pen. Preferably you will use this notebook for this purpose only. Typing into your phone or computer doesn’t engage your brain in the same way as writing, so keep it old school and flex those fingers.
2. Write down at least 5 things you are grateful for. More is good, but you can work up to that.
3. Use the present tense, be specific, and try to get into the “why” of it. For example, instead of just “I’m grateful for my beautiful house”, write “I’m grateful for my beautiful, light-filled house because it makes me feel so cozy and peaceful.”
4. Most important of all is to FEEL that gratitude as you are writing it. Don’t just scribble down your list to get it out of the way. Enjoy the process and try to fill your heart up with that warm feeling of thanks as you reflect on each point.
University of California, Berkeley, carried out a research study with 300 college students who were seeking counseling for depression and anxiety. They divided them into 3 groups: one wrote daily letters of gratitude, one wrote letters about their deepest thoughts and feelings around their negative experiences, and the third group did not write anything. They found that the gratitude group reported significantly better mental health at the 4 week and 12 week points of the writing exercise. Furthermore, various studies have concluded that this daily ritual can cause the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, our happy chemicals, so you could call it a natural anti-depressant of sorts.
Compelling evidence aside, doesn’t this just sound like a wonderfully positive way to start your day? Instead of grumbling about how little you slept or mulling over your to do list, starting your day by focusing on what you’re thankful for will keep your vibrations high and your energy positive. It will also remind you that your blessings far outweigh your problems, and will keep you open to receiving even more good things to be thankful for.
For the next practice, we move from writing to speaking:
Affirmations are short, positive statements in the present tense that we repeat to ourselves. It’s a self-help stereotype that is easy to poke fun at, with many Hollywood movies opening with a main character reciting affirmations with the intent to elicit sympathy from the audience. But an earnest effort to improve your life is nothing to poke fun at, and an affirmation is a technique that has worked for so many people.
From childhood, we gather evidence about the world and ourselves, hugely based on what our caregivers tell us. If we are told repeatedly that we are naughty, or careless, or prone to illness, we adopt this as a truth and act accordingly. The same goes for those who are told that they are special and can do anything – they believe this wholeheartedly and live life with a mindset primed for success.
These beliefs are so ingrained in us that it might be hard at first to step back and identify them. But why don’t you try now to think about some of the simple facts you tell about yourself, both to others as well as yourself? These could be:
It is very hard for me to lose weight
I don’t have an aptitude for business
I’m too shy for public speaking
I always get the short end of the stick
Have you known someone in your life who always seems to have drama going on? And when they tell you about it, they say things like “This WOULD happen to me!” or “This is just my luck!” Well, it is precisely because they believe this about themselves that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, giving them the evidence to keep repeating those beliefs, and thus continuing the cycle.
If you don’t want to fall into this pattern, here is how you can use affirmations to retrain your mind:
1. Write each affirmation as a short, positive statement in the present tense. It must be short so that it is easy for your brain to grasp.
2. Some affirmation examples are: I make healthy choices. I am full of energy and life. I am enough. I am divinely blessed. I am strong and free of injuries. I am loved. To choose your affirmations, start by writing out the negative beliefs you hold about yourself, and then form your affirmations to state the opposite.
3. Stick your list of affirmations on your mirror or any other place that you will see it regularly. Say them out loud to yourself multiple times a day, and looking into the mirror when you can. It might feel silly at first, but it will start to feel comforting and empowering as you continue.
Carry on with this practice indefinitely, changing the affirmations whenever you feel inspired to do so. If that sounds like too much, think about the negative self-talk you do without a thought, like scolding yourself for lack of control over your diet, or kicking yourself for forgetting some deadline. If there’s time for that every day, then there is certainly scope for the opposite, a moment of being your own cheerleader and your own best friend.
And how can this actually work to bring about results? Not to get all The Matrix on you, but our mind doesn’t know the difference between what is and isn’t real. If it did, then we would never be moved to cry by sad movies. Your mind doesn’t actually know if your body’s metabolism is slow and if it is hard for you to lose weight; it just says that because you told it to. So by repeating a simple phrase like “I make healthy choices” enough so that it enters your subconscious, your mind will believe it’s true, and you will start acting like a person who makes healthy choices. I personally have had much success with this affirmation. I grew up equating junk food with joy, part of a family that chose food as it’s primary indulgence, and as an adult announced repeatedly that I simply cannot control myself when it comes to rich food. But repeating my affirmations daily into a mirror has helped me develop into the kind of person I want to be, and it truly did become second nature to make healthier choices at home.
So now that we’ve written it and spoken it aloud, what is left? It’s time to visualise!
Visualisation/Make a Vision Board
All of us have been visualising all our lives, but we called it daydreaming instead. Alas, with age and smartphones the tendency to daydream dwindles, but it is time for you to bring it back. Visualisation is simply the technique of envisioning the life you want, in rich detail, and connecting with the emotions that the envisioned you is feeling. Again, morning is a powerful time for doing this, and you can start with just 30 seconds a day. You can do it at any level and point in time; for example, you may have a busy day ahead, so you visualise exactly how you want the day to go, completing task after task in a peaceful and efficient manner. Or you may visualise where you want to be in 5 years, with your business thriving and joyful family life. You can also focus on one specific goal, like owning a fancy car. In this case you would conjure up a clear picture in your mind of you sitting in the car, gripping the steering wheel, feeling the powerful engine, and flying down the road with your favourite song blaring.
Doing this every day works for you in a couple different ways. On a vibrational level, it brings you into alignment with the things you want, making it seem like a reality for you rather than a distant dream. On a day to day level, what it will do is keep your brain primed to look out for any opportunities or paths that can take you towards this vision. Our brain works hard to filter out tons of information every day, so that we do not get overwhelmed. But affirmations and visualisation will train your brain to keep your most desired goals at the forefront, so it will start bringing to your focus anything that is related to the pursuit of those goals.
A fun way to visualise is to make a beautiful vision board. Print out photos of the life you want, from the beach house to the strong body to exotic holidays. Add inspirational messages or symbolic renderings like the number amount you want in your bank account. Study the board every morning. There are many stories of people looking back at old vision boards they made, and realising that they acquired most or all of it, sometimes even the exact house they pinned up! But one crucial component comes from the visualisation you do in your mind and not on the board.
Author and Life Coach Mel Robbins says that the vision board itself is not enough, without you envisioning the bridge it will take to get those things. As you close your eyes and drift into your daydream, spend some time focusing on that glorious final image, but spend an equal amount of time focusing on the work it will take to get there. Visualise yourself telling friends that you can’t go out with them because you have to stay home and work on your business plan. Visualise yourself rolling out of bed and hitting the gym even when your kids have woken you up in the night. Envision yourself getting rejected multiple times along your path, only to keep getting up to try again.
By now you would have gathered that all these techniques work the same way: to rewire your brain to believe that you are capable of all these wonderful things. By visualising the hard work it will take, your brain is now primed and ready to put in that work, especially on the harder days.
And there you have it; advice for the new year that does not once mention green juice or yoga. I suggest you start with any one practice that most appeals to you, and do it every day for 30 days. Then introduce another one, and before you know it, you will be addicted to this mindful morning routine. I hope these methods will help make 2022 your most fruitful year yet!
-By Priyanka Acharya