I’d like to share with you an incredibly powerful practice that stems back thousands and thousands of years and can still be found in many modern therapeutic practices such as Neuroscience and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This process can really enable you to live the meaningful and fulfilled life of your dreams.
Our mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Our mind can help and serve us or diminish and destroy us. But ancient sages, philosophy, psychology and now science all say that we can positively train our mind.
As humans, we are evolutionarily wired to seek out the negatives in our environment. Cavemen had to be alert to possible signs of danger: is there a saber tooth tiger in the area? Is it safe to eat this berry? Are we going to be attacked by a neighbouring tribe? The cavemen and women looking for positives around them unfortunately didn’t survive and so this negativity biased has been passed down for generations and generations. But living in this modern world we aren’t faced with the same threats or dangers as our ancestors and so it is important that we recognise this inbuilt negativity bias.
Research has shown that 95% of who we are and what we think by the age of 35 is run by unconscious habitual patterns and programs. This means that most people are moving through their life on auto pilot and not even aware of it. You’re lucky if even 5% of the thoughts you have today are new or original.
To paraphrase the Buddha, all that we are is a result of what we have thought. Thoughts lead to actions, actions lead to habits, habits shape our personality and personality creates our present reality. So if you are interested in changing your reality it all traces back to the mind and our thoughts. This practice encourages us to break out of auto-pilot mode and be a conscious chooser of our thoughts, actions and reality.
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali offers us a simple yet profound tool to master our negative thinking that can be deeply transformative when put into action on a sustained basis.
Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam.
“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.”
Pratipaksha means opposite and bhavana means contemplation or meditation. By cultivating an opposite or positive thought when we are in the throes of emotional turbulence, we pave the way for self-healing.
Wherever we find ourselves, whatever career or stage of life, we all have limiting negative thoughts and beliefs that hold us back. And more often than not, these thoughts are universal. I’m not good enough. I’m not deserving enough. I’m unloveable. I don’t belong.
So what this practice of Pratipaksha Bhavana teaches is to spin our negative thoughts into positive thinking. I am indomitable. I am deserving of abundant love and happiness. I love myself unconditionally. I am safe.
Whatever you choose, the new thought should be powerful, it should give you an electric charge through your entire body, it should light you up! This new thought becomes like an affirmation or a mantra. You repeat this thought like planting a seed into the soil of your mind and watering this seed through the repetition of this affirmation over and over again.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember with this practice is it’s not good enough to just think the thought, you have to feel the emotion of what you are going after. You have to feel the emotion of LOVE, or ABUNDANCE, or JOY.
Now it’s not going to be easy, and there may be times where you feel like giving up. But perhaps if you understand a little bit more about the science of affirmations you may be motivated and encouraged to continue. Neuroscience shows that we have whole sophisticated network of neural branches with neurons are communicating with each other. These branches are wired in a certain way that locks our brain into these patterns of thinking. As you begin to do these affirmations and repeat your empowering thought you start to pull those branches apart. This naturally takes effort to do so. But remember this is part of the process. As you repeat you pull the branches away from one another and reconfigure those neural networks into a different type of pattern. A more positive, healthy and empowering pattern. With repetition we not only strengthen the positive, empowered pathways but weaken the old negative patterns of thinking.
It can often feel like you are faking it at the beginning but if you stay with the practice and continue to repeat your affirmation with belief and emotion the day will come where you’ve got to where you once never believed you could be.
So I ask you today,
What is your limiting thought? What is holding you back from achieving what you are really capable of? What is your negative story line?
How can you spin this into a positive or opposing thought?
Now anytime you are faced with a negative thought or challenge, repeat your powerful statement to yourself at least three times with feeling, emotion and belief.
And continue to nurture this thought, repeat it to yourself as you drive to work, as you eat your lunch and as you fall to sleep. Like watering a seed, nourishing your mind with the power of repetition.
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