Meditation is like sitting by the bank of a river, watching it flow by. From time to time, we get pulled into the (thought) stream, but that’s OK. In fact, pulling ourselves out to again sit and watch is the heart of the practice.
With 10 minutes of daily meditation, I’ve been able to see my otherwise unobserved thoughts for what they are: passing flotsam. Although I’ve sidestepped boatloads of negative emotion, lately I’ve noticed the same obnoxious thoughts assailing me year after year.
I got tired of those seductive but harmful sirens pulling me under. I decided it was time to use some powerful techniques to actively reprogram my thoughts. You can, too.
“He can’t help it; he’s set in his ways.” The folk wisdom that adults can’t change is being challenged by new research. Our personality is not cast in stone in childhood; the brain is highly reprogrammable at any age.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to form new neural pathways, interconnections between parts of our nervous system. This happens after injury but also in response to our environment, thoughts and emotions.
As with building muscle, the more we “work out” certain neural pathways, the stronger they become. Robust pathways become our favored psychological “highways.” We can generate more happiness, calm and kindness in our life simply by practicing these emotions.
Throughout our lives, we have unwittingly used this technique to program negative emotions, but we can do the same for patience, love, passion and joy.
How many of you know something intellectually but fail to apply that wisdom? You know jealousy will push your partner away, but you get angry when they talk to the opposite sex for too long, anyway.
“When judgment or negativity comes up, it means your internal dialogue is off,” says Thais Gibson, a personal development expert.
Thankfully there is a simple fix. “Your subconscious mind works more through feeling than language,” Gibson says. By leveraging strong emotion, we create a direct line to the operating instructions of your subconscious.
Think about a time you were incredibly angry or hurt and changed a belief that you now hold? In my case, when I lost a business deal, I used my anger to replace an attachment to one specific version of success.
Here are four methods you can use to train yourself to think and feel anything:
1. Tony Robbins’ Priming Method
Tony Robbins says emotion is created by motion. A change in your physical “state” will change how you feel. Last month I attended his Unleash the Power Within seminar and learned about priming, which harnesses this principle.
Here’s how it works:
Sit down with your eyes closed and raise your hands above your head.
Breathe heavily in and out through your nose for three sets of 30 breaths.
On each out breath, pull your arms downward, making fists.
After three sets, feel gratitude and self-love.
In the resulting state, you can easily plant healthy new thoughts and beliefs in your mind.
2. The Demartini Method
Human behavior specialist Dr. John Demartini also uses neuroplasticity to reprogram the brain. He asks his clients a series of questions to help them neutralize negative emotional charges and replace them with emotional equilibrium.
His method alters several structures of the brain, including the hypothalamus and amygdala, which are responsible for expressions of fear, guilt and aggression.
How does it work? When facing a challenging situation, Gibson says, “Question the situation itself and ask what good comes from it.” Look for the benefits, because there’s always at least one.
Maybe your enormous strength, which you value so greatly, comes from a parent abandoning you as a child or a physical illness? Seeing the good can help you drop unhelpful beliefs quickly.
“Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality.” ―Earl Nightingale
Over time we can become set in our ways. Repetitive thinking leads to stronger connections between neurons, and the brain defaults to these deeper pathways. We get stuck in a rut. But there is hope. It’s possible to be the architect of our own Scrooge-like metamorphosis using affirmations: phrases repeated often and daily.
Our subconscious is the factory that generates many of our thoughts—positive and negative—and can be reprogrammed not only with strong emotion but also through repetition. Affirmations lodge new operating instructions into your subconscious the same way that listening to a song on repeat will leave it stuck in your head for days.
Tony Robbins bridges the gap between repetition and emotion. His “incantations” are affirmations done with explosive emotion and conviction.
If your affirmation is “I am a persuasive speaker,” then your incantation would be the same words, shouted while beating your chest and jumping around. The idea here, upheld by the science of neuroplasticity, is that our brains are more susceptible to reprogramming under conditions of heightened emotion.
“What you imagine, you create.” ―Buddha
Visualization works like affirmations to rewire our neurons and attract the thoughts and feelings we want.
Vividly imagining yourself doing or having whatever you want works well for quickly getting your dream job, house or relationship, but it can also work for attracting healthy emotions. If you consistently visualize yourself reacting to challenges with calm and compassion, you will manifest this behavior.
Take time every day to visualize yourself having the emotional resilience or the positive beliefs that you want. With even five minutes of daily practice, you will start to see powerful change.
After 15 years, I still meditate at least 10 minutes each day. But after 15 years, I still struggle with insecurity, fear and anger. I had little choice but to seek out a way to actively install new patterns.
Meditation pulls me out of the stream, but with the new tools, I’m building a boat to better navigate the flow without getting soaked. You can do the same, but be patient—you’ve taken a lifetime to wear in your neural grooves. Consistent and skilful practice is the way.
Have patience; you’ve got this.