Why our thoughts matter and how to cultivate positive self-talk
“We are our thoughts. Everything we are is born with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” – Buddha
Is there any scientific evidence behind Buddha’s famous quote?
Why are our beliefs so important?
To some degree, we create our world and shape our reality through our beliefs, self-perception and expectations.
The concept of self-fulfilling prophecy in psychology has shown that the expectation we have of someone or some event will change our behavior and, therefore, bring about what we expect.
For example, suppose one person expects to have a great evening with friends and another already anticipates that it will be a boring evening. Depending on their expectations, the two people behave differently. Who is more likely to enjoy their evening? The person who expects to have a great night will probably be more open, more likely to socialize with others, smile and see the positive side of the event, and probably say “I was right: what a great night! Whereas the person who expects to have a boring night will not dare to talk to other people and will leave early saying that he was right: the night was very boring!
This is how their expectations influenced their behavior and confirmed and reinforced their initial expectations. The expectations they had at the beginning were realized and became their reality.
What beliefs do you have about yourself?
This concept also applies to the expectations we have of ourselves. Let’s say you are confident in your ability to get this job (belief), you probably prepare more for this interview and put more effort into it (behavior), you are more likely to get this job because you invest more effort and energy into rehearsing, you envision success, and you go into your interview confident in your ability to succeed and motivated (outcome). Now, let’s say you want this job but don’t think you’ll be able to get it. You probably won’t work as hard and you’ll probably have a different posture and won’t be as motivated, so you’re less likely to get that job.
People who see themselves as effective and deserving act, think, and feel differently than those who see themselves as ineffective and undeserving. Their thought patterns will be different and they will act differently. The level of our self-esteem has a profound effect on all aspects of our lives and our view of the world. What we believe is very often what happens. This is why we must learn to cultivate positive self-talk on a daily basis.
How can we cultivate positive self-talk?
The good news is that we can learn to shape our mind and there are some tools that can help us cultivate a more positive mind:
- KEEP A JOURNAL: Write down your thoughts and be aware of how they affect your behavior. Writing down your thoughts and emotions will help you to be less reactive, more aware and more likely to change your thoughts.
- BE GRATEFUL: Write down everything you are grateful for. It can be anything: your health, your friends, your family, your home, your country, your job, your healthy body.
- FOCUS ON THE GOOD THINGS: notice the good things that happened today. Again, this can be anything: a good cup of tea, a beautiful stranger, a good conversation with a friend, a sunny day.
- MEDITATE: learn to be present and observe your thoughts rather than react. This will help you reduce stress and improve your self-awareness. More importantly, through practice, you will learn to be kind to yourself and others, which will lead to more positive self-talk. You can meditate anywhere, the goal is to focus on your breath and body movements. For beginners, you can start by meditating for 5 minutes a day.
- CREATE A POSITIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE ENVIRONMENT: surround yourself with what inspires you (books, quotes, places and people). Create your own bubble filled with joy and positivity. Your environment will influence your mood and thoughts, and then the way you act.
We produce our own future. We are the architects of our own lives.
If you are interested in this topic and want to learn more, here are some resources:
Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
The Six Keys to Self-Confidence – Nathaniel Branden
The Magic of Thinking Big – David Schwartz
Lecture 5 Positive psychology class at Harvard University – Tal Ben Shahar