If you can dream it, you can do it. Think and grow rich. There is power in positive thinking. Ever hear anything like this?
We all have. And we have all been duped.
The “law of attraction” suggests that all we need to do to bring about the changes we want to see in our life is envision them happening. Then POOF, they magically appear. People waste hours putting together vision boards and writing stories about what their life will look like when they are at their ideal weight, in their dream home with a fancy car in the garage, with their perfect partner.
There is nothing wrong with positive thinking. However, positive thinking alone will not get you the success,accomplishments, or possessions you desire. Sorry to burst your bubble but we are dealing with proven scientific facts here.
There is good news in all of this, don’t bail on me yet.
Before we get to the good news, you may be asking yourself what this has to do with mental health and resilience. It has everything to do with it! You are setting yourself on a journey to accomplish something most people can’t imagine, and many people (including your doctors) have told you is impossible. “This is a lifelong illness, and you just have to learn to live with it” seems to be the mantra of many well-meaning individuals in the mental healthcare system.
Here you are. You believe you can feel better, do better, and recover.
You can see yourself having a vibrant and fulfilling life without medications. It looks so good you feel tingly, l like it is already happening. You can’t wait for this to be your life. We believe in you too!
And yet, in this moment, you feel terrible. You are anxious, depressed, fatigued, or have no control over your moods and emotions. You imagine doing simple things like going to the gym and eating a healthy diet because everyone says it will help you feel better. Yet day after day you can’t get out of bed or bring yourself to eat your veggies. This only makes you feel guilty and worse making the whole cycle start anew.
There is a huge gap between what you want for your life and what you have for your life. And not only do you not know how to get from point A to point Z, you can’t even get to point B. This makes getting all the way to Z feel impossible, and so we get stuck on A.
Let’s get back to the good news, I think it will help you feel better.
The good news is that positive thinking is just the first step in actually achieving the positive fantasy.
It turns out that fantasizing about something (losing 10 pounds, dating your crush, making a million dollars) does nothing to help you accomplish it unless you believe it is achievable and you contrast it with your current circumstances.
Making this bridge between fantasy and reality has been termed “mental contrasting” by researcher Gabrielle Oettingen, author of the book Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. She and her research associates have scientifically unpacked the steps we need to take to actually turn our fantasy into a reality, and she describes it in great detail in her book.
I will break down the basics for you here, so you can get started today.
First, go ahead and have that positive thought. Think about what you want to achieve. Be specific. Think hard. In your minds eye, you should be able to see, feel, touch, and even taste that goal. Without specificity there’s no reason for you to make that jump to action. It’s all about concreteness here. You can do this process for as many things as you are trying to accomplish, but you can’t do them all at once. This will help to make your goal feel achievable, a required component for you to have success.
Let’s imagine your ultimate goal is to live a resilient, stable and drug free life. You know that will include many changes to your diet and lifestyle, as well as some work with your doctor. Break those changes down into bite-sized goals. Your first goal is having a daily meditation practice. Imagine yourself sitting serenely in softly-lit room and meditating peacefully for 30 minutes every day then moving through your day feeling enlightened and at ease as a result.
Second, clearly state the outcome you are looking for. In our example of a daily meditation practice the outcome would be to achieve a state of peace with our emotions, clear thinking, and powerful focus.
Third, assess your current state and the ways that it contrasts with your goal. This gives you the opportunity to identify the obstacles that you face that prevent you from actually having the practice you desire. Let’s say you feel like you just don’t have the time to meditate. Your obstacle is that you are trying to do more meditation than you need to, or that you have gotten into a mindless habit like hitting the snooze button 4 or 5 times every morning, or watching reruns of shows every evening. It might even be that when you have a few minutes you choose to scroll through social media, and check in with everyone in the world except for yourself!
Fourth, make a plan for how to handle the obstacle. Make a commitment to yourself that you will not check social media until you have taken the time to practice your meditation and check in with you. The next time you go to scroll through Twitter or Instagram, you will remember your promise to yourself to do your daily check-in, and you will stop to meditate.
To make this process easier to remember, Oettingen coined the term WOOP, which stands for Wish Outcome Obstacle Plan. You can do this on your own, or use the handy app her team
developed to walk you through the process and track your results.
Living a resilient, stable and med-free life requires work on your part to make healthy changes.
Tackling these changes intentionally and with a plan makes you infinitely more likely to achieve your dream. Working progressively, within the scope of what your current situation in life will make it so the changes are lasting and become second nature so that they feel effortless.
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Dr. Jennifer Bahr
Founder of Resilience Naturopathic