A few years back I was at a party and stumbled into conversation with a friend of a friend. In his cutthroat British accent he asked, “What’s your strategy?”
I hesitated, not really getting what he meant. “Strategy?”
“In life. What’s your strategy?”
“Uhh… live each day to the fullest?” I said, as if I was guessing at a right answer.
He didn’t miss a beat. “That’s a concept. What’s your strategy?”
I stared back at him blankly.
He went on to explain, “When I’m stuck in a long lineup or something, and hating life, I think to myself, I’m so glad I have arms. I’m so glad I have legs. I’m so glad I have eyes… That’s my strategy.”
I don’t remember where the conversation went from there, but his message stuck: get a strategy. Up until that point, this had never occurred to me.
What’s going to pull you out of a slump? How can you reliably respond to challenging moments so you don’t get completely bulldozed by them? Much like emergency protocol for an accident or natural disaster, if you’ve got a plan on how to respond and you practice that plan, you’ll be far more likely to act on it. Without a plan, autopilot kicks in and you play out your poor coping strategies like a finely-skilled maestro.
The internet, gloriously-useful tool that it is, can create widespread panic and despair in a matter of seconds. As Dr. Bruce Lipton says, it is the nervous system to the greater organism that is the human race. While there is a ton of useful, encouraging content online, there’s also A LOT of negative crap thrown at us daily, from the airbrushed perfection of other people’s lives to more blatant bullying, shaming and hate crimes.
With all this negative influence, it’s no surprise we may default to destructive thinking. Even when you’re at your best. Even when you do everything right. Shit still manages to hit the fan, because you can’t control the world around you. You can, however, control the one within.
The most important conversations you have in life are the ones you have with yourself.
Of course, you can be inspired by other people. No doubt, your mind has been blown by brilliant thinkers that challenged a common belief or assumption. We all gain insight into the human condition by hearing each other’s stories.
However, it is the stories you tell yourself that completely shape your reality. They dictate how your day-to-day life unfolds. They might be so ingrained in you, that you don’t even recognize them as stories. They just… are. Stories like I’m too old for that, or I don’t have what it takes, or I’m not _____ enough to do that.
Interestingly, a recent study in the UK found that motivational self talk significantly increased endurance performance for cyclists and decreased the perceived rate of effort. By simply talking to themselves in a more constructive way, not only were the cyclists able to perform better, their perception of the effort required to achieve a greater outcome diminished.
Transforming destructive thoughts to constructive thoughts is like composting. You can turn all that BS into something beautifully nutritious to yield more of what you want.
In gardening, it’s rare all soils naturally have the nutrients required to yield a good crop. Adding amendments like compost is standard protocol. Similarly, you can amend your thinking to yield the results you want by strategically telling yourself what you need to hear. But how?
Just as composting takes time, so too does transforming your behaviour. A useful way to transform destructive thinking to constructive thinking is by reframing the timescale for achieving a goal.
Focus on your long game. Rome wasn’t built in a day; nor was a rich compost.
For me, a common pitfall is feeling like I’m so far from where I want to be. When it comes to running a small farm, or any small business for that matter, there is no shortage of challenges. Considering something like 90% of startups fail, I don’t foresee things getting easy anytime soon. In order to keep going I have to focus on my long term goals and understand that any daily mishaps will not ultimately defeat me.
To focus on your long game, you need a vision of where you’re headed. The more specific the better. From this vantage point, all the setbacks look shorter.
Flip that pile of BS over. Turn your focus to what you’re doing right, in order to breakdown your thinking on what you may have done wrong.
In making a rich compost, you turn it over to aerate the pile and provide more oxygen to microbes to stimulate more decomposition. Similarly, you can flip over the pile of negativity that’s accumulated in your head by shifting your thinking from what is not working to what is working.
This summer we had a few crop failures. When I first discovered them, I felt like one big crop of failure. My impulse was to take this as proof of my incapability to run a small farm. However, after a day or so it occurred to me that despite getting a few things wrong, there was a lot we were getting right. This small shift in thinking renewed my motivation and pulled me through the long, gruelling work days.
Layer those habitual crappy thoughts with new material and repeat frequently to accelerate their breakdown.
A good compost pile is also created by repeatedly layering different materials such as manure, kitchen waste, straw or cardboard, woody branches and fallen leaves. Some plants, like comfrey and yarrow, even act as accelerators by breaking down quickly and adding more heat to the pile to speed up decomposition.
When it comes to transforming the way you talk to yourself in your head, repeating some catchphrases amidst more habitual destructive thoughts can be very effective. It could be in the form of a mantra you repeat to yourself. Something as simple as, “I got this.” It could be a set of positive affirmations you write down on some cards and routinely read to yourself. Things like, “I am worthy of success. I am worthy of happiness. I am taking action toward my goals.” I've even set them as reminders on my phone so they popped up daily.
Or, you could try incantations which are more like a chant where you move your body in the process. Much like the accelerators I mentioned above that add heat to the pile to speed up decomposition, moving your body in the process of repeating encouraging words will add more energy to breaking down your negativity.
It all comes down to what strategy works for you. Like the man at the party, it might be as simple as reminding yourself you’ve got eyes, legs and arms when you feel negative. However you choose to go about it, breaking free of negativity starts with breaking down the negative way you talk to yourself.
But if all this self talk mumbo jumbo sounds itself like a bunch of BS to you, well… at least you’ve learned a new conversation starter the next time you’re stuck at a party with nothing to say. And clearly, if you’re reading, you have eyes! Cheers to that.
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