I was never a morning person. Getting up and moving each day was a project in and of itself. A few years ago I noticed that the situation had become even more challenging. I was walking away from my morning routine feeling sad, tired and well, ugly.
I’d prefer to feel energized and ready to tackle my day, but that wasn’t happening.
As a therapist, I knew I needed to practice what I preach. I decided it was time to start paying closer attention to my own thoughts or “self-talk” in the mornings. So, I took a step back and looked at my morning routine.
As suspected, I had gotten into a habit of being pretty hard on myself as I looked in the mirror. As I would get dressed, do my hair, and put on my makeup, I noticed that I was silently judging every aspect of my appearance.
My thoughts included things like:
- Ugh, fat face.
- I guess this new wrinkle is here to stay.
- Too fat for this outfit now.
- Am I getting more facial hair?
- Ugh, so ugly.
- Ugh, so gross.
Taking stock of these thoughts, it became pretty obvious why I was feeling sad, ugly and unmotivated in the mornings.
If a person tells themselves every day that they are “gross” and “ugly”, it makes sense that they would feel sad and ugly, right? We wouldn’t expect a person who calls themselves “gross” in their thoughts to feel beautiful or energetic emotionally, would we? Of course not.
What we think and what we feel are deeply related. And our behaviors follow, too.
I wanted to feel motivated in the mornings. A person who feels sad and ugly is not going to be feeling very motivated to tackle their day, or even be seen by other people.
I had a thought problem that I needed to address.
As a counselor, I spend my life encouraging my clients to monitor their thoughts for two things:
To feel better emotionally, self-talk must pass both of these tests. If it doesn’t then it needs to be changed.
So, I need to put my own thoughts through the same tests.
How accurate were my thoughts? At the time, I believed them to be true. But I can tell you in hindsight that most of them were untrue. Still, at that time, as far as I was concerned these thoughts passed the accuracy test.
How helpful were my thoughts? Because my goal was to feel energized and motivated, they didn’t pass the helpfulness test.
I wanted to feel energized and motivated, and I wasn’t going to get there with the feelings of sadness and self-reproach that my thoughts created. So, I decided that since my thoughts were not helpful, they should not be allowed to continue unchecked.
See, we believe the thoughts that we think the most.
It doesn’t matter if these thoughts are accurate or factually-based. If we think them a lot, we will eventually believe them to be true.
This is what cognitive restructuring is all about in treating depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. It involves looking at our thinking patterns and deciding that if they aren’t helpful then they need to be restructured so they are.
This actually leads to the physical restructuring of the neural pathways in our brains.
Like hiking trails, the pathways in our brains can fade if we stop using them. And we can create new pathways by changing our thoughts.
So, I knew it was possible that I “believed” I was ugly, simply because I thought it so many times, not because it was actually true. There was a strong neural pathway in my brain associated with how ugly I was and this is what made that notion feel like it was true.
It was time to stop reinforcing the wrong neural pathways.
I knew that cognitive restructuring (changing my thoughts) could help me transform my thoughts into ones that were both accurate and helpful. Thoughts such as “I am empowered” and “I am full of potential” are the type that lay the stones along the pathway to feeling motivated and energized.
So, I adopted 3 new morning habits.
1. Write a targeted affirmation 5 times. For example, “I am aging gracefully.”
2. Read over a “body image contract”. I found a “body image contract” online and printed it out. I hung it in the area where I get ready and started taking one minute to read over it each morning.
3. Found affirmations on YouTube. As I get ready in the morning I play the videos in the background so I can hear them.
When I started listening to the affirmations, I rolled my eyes the whole time. They sounded pretty cheesy. And I certainly didn’t believe them. But I continued to play them daily, even if I ignored them or laughed the entire time.
Guess what happened?
Within a few weeks, I wasn’t belittling the affirmations anymore. I was actually just listening to them. Soon, I was repeating them out loud as I got ready. At first, it was very much going through the motions and “faking it” until I made it.
Eventually though, I got to a place where I felt motivated, energized, and beautiful, inside and out, in the mornings. It became one of my favorite times of day.
These days, I frequently sing to myself in the mornings and have so much more patience for the hustle and bustle of my family getting ready too. It was a side benefit that I hadn’t even set out to accomplish, but one that I simply can’t put a price on.
Is it time to take control of your thoughts?
We are all responsible for how we think and what we think. We have to decide how we want to feel, and then decide how motivated we want to be to accomplish the things that are important to us. Then, we have to ask ourselves if we are thinking thoughts that are helpful to promoting these feelings.
If we aren’t thinking helpful thoughts, then thought replacement and self-affirmations are tools we can develop to create the feelings & behaviors we want to see in ourselves.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to do this in your own life, look for Part 2 of this post, coming soon.