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Changing Behavior to Change Beliefs

Most of the time I focus on helping people alter their beliefs to change their emotions and behaviors, but once in a while I’m reminded of how the belief/emotion/behavior triad works in other ways. For example, how behavior can shift emotions, especially when you can’t get yourself out of the rut of, “I can’t…This is too hard…Life is terrible…No one cares, etc.” Well, you get the idea—when it really is nearly impossible to talk yourself out of your stinkin’ thinkin. In that case, if you can’t shift the reality inside of your head, you will have to shift the reality outside of it. Here’s how.

Let’s say that negative, depressing or anxiety-provoking thoughts are running rampant through your brain and stomping all over your good sense no matter how hard you try to bat them away. You’ve tried reframing your irrational beliefs and showering yourself with positive self-talk until you’re sick of hearing your voice, but nothing is working. In fact, all your efforts are making you even gloomier and you can feel yourself spiraling downward. Must you get sucked into the yucky swamp of victimhood and misery? You may think you’ve done all you can to prevent this happening, but you haven’t.

When you can’t change your thoughts, focus on your behaviors. Get up and move your body. Put on some loud, upbeat music and shake your bootie. Sing at the top of your lungs (environment permitting). Or mosey over to the computer and type “jokes” into your search engine. (When I did, I found 73,800,000 sites.) Pick one site and spend some time letting your funny bone get tickled. Laughing will re-adjust your brain chemistry and make you feel better which will shift your beliefs into “Life’s not so bad after all.” At the least, haul yourself into another room or, if you live in a studio, set yourself down in another part of it. Better yet, weather, time, and safety permitting, leave the premises. Sunshine can make you feel better instantly. Smile at people (even when you don’t feel like it) and count the number of folks who smile back (ignore the ones who don’t!). Window shop, stop into a store, browse and say hi to the sales clerk or make a friendly remark. Look at something beautiful: a painting, a flower, a sunset.

Work at developing hobbies that are sure fire ways to make you feel better: reading, painting, crossword puzzles, knitting, watching old movies, journaling, shooting hoops. Play with your cat or dog. Research something on the computer. Do something—anything—that will distract you from your misery and put you into flow, the state when you are fully absorbed in the moment and ruminations are given a time out. Shut off the chatter and watch your brainwaves recalibrate through pleasurable behavior.