Start Small

I was on a padded table, head on a pillow, a cushion beneath my knees.  Soothing music played in the background, and the lights were dim.  The woman with smiling eyes began by lifting my ankles and holding them gently.  After a few moments she moved up to my spine, placing her hands underneath my backbone, making very subtle movements.

Drifting in and out of awareness, I felt my body deeply relax and I experienced tiny bursts and shifts of energy.  The headache that had been my constant companion for the past two days disappeared.

I was undergoing a cranio-sacral treatment, small movements to help the body release tension and constricted energy.   Since that day, I’ve thought about other treatments based on slight changes/shifts to help the body’s natural systems address discomfort/illness.  Acupuncture, acupressure, homeopathy, naturopathy, and certain chiropractic treatments, are based upon making minor changes to assist the body’s own functionality.

If you want to develop a new positive habit, change a mindset, or shift how you react to events that trigger a negative reaction, think small.

We imagine big changes and are disappointed when we don’t accomplish what we desire.  It’s the same as jumping into the deep end of a pool and expecting to swim like Michael Phelps, because we can move our feet and arms.  It takes repetition, practice, and mindfulness to create a change to our thinking and our behavior.

To create a new behavior, start small.  If your goal is to get more exercise, begin with something simple like walking.  If you are sedentary throughout the day, and your job requires you to mentally focus for extended periods of time, you will feel fatigued and taking a walk may not sound so wonderful at the end of the day.  (Collapsing on the couch and watching Netflix may be what you desire.)

However, exercise is important for brain function.  Start with a 10-15-minute walk.  Build in more exercise in small increments over time.  Smile as you end your exercise activity.  Smiling will send signals to your brain that this is an enjoyable experience.  If you think about how wonderful it is to exercise, that will trigger the reward center in your brain.

To shift a mindset, again start with small steps.  First, become aware of the pattern and the thoughts that reinforce it.   Most of our behavior and thought processes are unconscious, and it takes practice to recognize an old and unhelpful pattern.  Notice first (without judgment).

Identify the circumstances in which you typically get triggered.  Is it a specific situation?  Is it a certain person?  What is the environment?   What are the thoughts and resulting emotion(s)? Just notice the circumstances, your thoughts, and the feelings so you understand the pattern.

Clearly identify the unhelpful thought(s).  Now write a positive and realistic replacement thought.  Read it out loud.  Does it “feel” true to you?  If it doesn’t, continue to work on crafting a statement that is positive and realistic.

Imagine events in the past that were triggers.  Concentrate on the new positive thought, while revisiting an old trigger.

Identify a phrase or word that represents your new positive thought.  Place that word or phrase in several places where you will see it/them throughout the day.  Each time you see your word/statement, repeat your new positive thought.

It takes a lot of positive thoughts to over-ride one negative thought.  Brain scans indicate that seeing the word “no” for less than a second releases stress hormones into the body and brain.  Psychologists who study relationships, business productivity, and self-image have concluded based upon research, that it takes 3 to 5 positive thoughts to reduce the impact of 1 negative thought.

Remember neural pathways connected to old negative thoughts have been reinforced for years.  Your goal is to build new neural networks and reinforce them repeatedly, strengthening the connections.  Or as Donald Hebb, a neuropsychologist said in 1949, “The neurons that fire together, wire together.”

What unhelpful mindset would you like to change?  Identify the triggers, the thoughts, the emotions, create new thoughts, and reinforce them with practice and repetition.  Remember the ratio of 5 to 1.

Start small.  You’ll be surprised how one small step can create enormous change.