4 Ways To Change Your Thinking And Be More Successful

The language we use is incredibly powerful. It shapes how we see ourselves and the world. In neuroscience we often talk about the “dominant half” of the brain when we are talking about the half of the brain the controls language skills. We call this side our dominant hemisphere because language has so much impact on how we perceive and interpret the world.

Think about a simple example. What if I told you the chair I was sitting on was “plush, cozy, and luxurious”. Can you picture the chair in your mind? What if instead I told you my chair was “soft, squishy, and unsupportive”. Does your mental image of this chair change? Plush, cozy, luxurious probably made you think happy thoughts about a great chair, but soft, squishy, and unsupportive made you picture the lumpy chair in your basement. In reality, all those words are ways to describe a soft chair. But the language we use changes our perception.

Because language has such a large impact on how we perceive the world, by changing the language we use we can change our perception, our outlook, and our mindset.

Let’s take another example. Say I am walking down a path and there is a large wall suddenly in my way. If I describe the wall as an obstacle, a barrier, or a problem I’m likely to take one look at that wall, turn around, and go back the other way. But what if I use different language to describe that wall. What if I called the wall a hurdle to success, a chance to overcome the challenge, or a new opportunity. I might be more likely to find a way to go over or around the wall.

I wrote last week about how our brains focus where we point them. If I focus on the negative then that is the way my brain is going to go. I will continue to notice negative things in my life and be drawn toward them like the rapids in a river. But if I direct my brain towards where I want to go, to the clear spot beyond the rapids, I stay focused on the positive and I move in the direction of growth. By changing the language we use we can switch our brain from focusing on the negatives and the problems to focusing on where we want to go.

Here are 4 phrases to keep an eye out for in your language. If you find yourself using these phrases your brain is probably pointed in the direction of the negative, directed at what you want to avoid rather than where you want to go.

  1. “Should” or “must” statements - If you find yourself suddenly developing a case of the “should” pay attention. This is your brain pointing at the negative. Pointing out what you should do is the same thing as focusing on the rapids that you’re trying to avoid. The shoulds are a negative thinking pattern for your brain. Instead, focus on where you want to go, what you want to do, how you want to be successful.

  2. “Yes, but…” - When we say “yes but”, what were really saying is “no because”. Yes I want to go to the gym but I don’t have any time today is really me saying no I don’t want to go to the gym because it’s too hard and takes too much time. Don’t let your brain trick you into these excuses!

  3. Always and never - Our brains are really good at falling into the trap of thinking in extremes. I never do anything right. I’m always going to be poor. This feeling is never going to go away. In reality, these extremes are rarely true. If we think hard enough we can come up with evidence that challenges the extreme. Maybe I made a mistake, but that doesn’t mean I’ll never do anything right, and here are some examples of what I did right today. Keep an eye out for these extreme words that can suggest our brain is pointing towards the negative.

  4. The what-ifs - What if this doesn’t work out. What if I’m not successful? What if that person gets mad at me? We are pointing our brain towards the negative when we fall into the what-ifs. We can’t predict the future. And worrying about things that are out of our control is a sure fire way to feel stressed in daily life.

Watch for these mental traps. The next time you hear yourself using one of these words or phrases, even if it’s just in your own head, catch it. Recognize these phrases for what they are. Your brain pointing towards the negative and toward what you want to avoid. Instead challenge yourself to focus on the positive, on the end goal, or where you want to go. Just like learning any new skill, the more that we interrupt these thinking patterns, and the more we point our brain toward success rather than towards obstacles, the easier it becomes until it is second nature for our brain to focus on success.

How to Point Your Brain Towards Success

I heard a really interesting story the other day that got me thinking about how our brains get in the way our success. The story goes something like this. A man, let’s call him Mark, who’s been teaching people to white water raft for years. Mark says “when I started teaching young kids to white water raft I would always be pointing out the dangers. I would point and say don’t hit that rock! Don’t hit that tree! Look out for this, look out for that!” Mark was always focused on what he wanted these kids to avoid when they were paddling the raft. Then he noticed whenever he said to avoid something, the kids ended up steering right for it! After years of this Mark changed his tactic. Now the first thing he says to people when giving a rafting lesson is “I’m going to point where I want you to go. Look where I’m pointing and go that way!” As a result, the kids steer the raft towards the calm water that Mark is pointing at, and avoid the obstacles without even focusing on them! Eureka!

Maybe you don’t white water raft but it works the same way for something like riding a bike. I’ve heard my husband tell our son a million times to look where he wants to go when he’s riding his bike because that’s the way he will steer. Don’t look at the bump or the hole that you want to avoid or you’ll end up going right for it. Makes sense right? We do this when we are driving too. We don’t look at the pothole. We look beyond the pothole to where we want to go and then we avoid it.

Our brains work the same way when setting goals. It’s really easy for our brains to come up with things that we don’t want, or we want to avoid in our life when goal setting. Think about your own goals. If you picture yourself a year from now and say you had the best year of your life what happened? Your list might sound something like this;

  • I don’t want to be in debt anymore

  • I don’t want to be overweight

  • I don’t want to be tired all the time

  • I don’t want to be working paycheck to paycheck

Do you see a common theme here? All of these goals are worded in a way that focuses on the PROBLEM, the things I want to AVOID in my path. When I list my goals by focusing on the negatives, and what I don’t want, it pulls my brain’s focus to those negatives and I start paying more attention to those problems.

I gave the example a few weeks ago of sleep and how we can trick our brains into thinking we had a good sleep by telling ourselves we have a good sleep, and avoiding complaining about how bad our sleep was. This is the same idea. The more I think about what I DON’T want, the more my brain gives attention to those negatives, and I am more likely to continue on a negative path. Whatever we focus on we will find more of in our lives. Our brains are really good at this. But if we focus on what we want to avoid, or on the negatives, our brains will find more of that day to day.

Instead of focusing on with what I want to avoid I need to point my finger in the direction of what I do want. Where I want to go. Not focusing on the potholes, or the rocks, or the branches in my way, but focusing on the endpoint, the safe point, the happy point.

I’ll ask the question again. A year from now if I’ve had the best year of my life what does it look like? Now I’m going to reword the points about what I DON’T want to focus on what I DO want.

  • I am debt free

  • I exercise regularly and am a healthy weight

  • I have energy during the day

  • I have surplus income each month

Can you see the difference? Look where I’m pointing my finger (my brain) now. I’m pointing at where I want to go (positive) not at where I want to avoid (negative). It may seem like a subtle distinction but this small language change and mindset change makes a big difference for my brain. If I word my goals as positives, as where I want to go, my brain is going to focus on that positive endpoint and I’m going to be more successful.

I’m going to be writing over the next few weeks with a focus on setting and achieving goals including tips and strategies to change our thinking, to overcome mental obstacles, and to be more successful in our goals. Let me know what you think and send any questions my way!