A fitness enthusiast and mom of three rocked the Internet when she posted a photo of herself captioned, “No excuses.” The response ranged from praise for her accomplishments, to angry backlash proclaiming real moms have curves and make their kids their top priority.

Some people related her message to their own internal stories about triumph over challenges, while others—through the filter of their internal stories—heard her message as a put-down. As Jason Stella and Brian Grasso recently discussed, the unconscious plays a significant role in our mindset and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and our place in the world.

What’s required to shift those stories? This time, Brian explains with a practical exercise that works at the subconscious level.

Jason Stella (JS): We were taught—and we teach our kids—to believe we can reach our goals. So why aren’t we all chugging along like the Little Engine that Could?

Brian Grasso (BG): It’s because cultural, geographic, social, societal and environmental factors influence our unconscious and our perceptions of the world around us, and the absolute truths that we believe result from that experience.

JS: What’s going on, then, when someone says he wants rock-solid abs, but then in the same breath, “I’ll never have a six-pack”?

BG: That conscious belief that he’ll never have a six-pack is entrenched in unconscious inhibitors formed by influence and experience. Those “truths” might include: “I’ve tried before and it didn’t work; I don’t like the foods you need to eat in order to have a six-pack; and I don’t have the right genetics anyway.”

JS: Is understanding those unconscious “truths” you just mentioned a prerequisite to changing your mindset?

BG: Mindset is always evolving, of course, as new influences shape old beliefs. But you don’t need an exhaustive understanding of the ever-changing story before you take steps to change it. If you’re aware of your part in the process—in keeping those stories alive—then you can begin to change them.

Once you realize those absolute truths aren’t absolute, you begin to see you have the power to recognize other truths and create constructive stories.

JS: So those unconscious, deeply ingrained inhibitors and stories guide choices about nutrition, rest, exercise and so on—decisions that we don’t give a second thought. So we pull into the drive-through when we’re hungry, instead of staying the course till we get to the veggies at home.

BG: Yes, and what’s more, those choices add up to weight gain, lack of energy, and so on, which we attack consciously through diet and exercise regimens. But because those diets don’t take into account the unconscious drivers, it’s just a matter of time before they resurface and you find yourself at the drive-through again.


Brian’s Grasso’s Tripod Exercise is designed to change drivers at a subconscious level.

  1. Imagine a camera on a tripod. The camera represents your belief system, and the tripod legs represent the statements that hold up that belief system.
    2. Take a few minutes to write down limiting statements you tell yourself: “I will never (fill in the blank as it relates to fitness or any other objectives).” The more honest you are, the better.
    3. Choose the limiting statement that triggers the strongest emotional response. That’s your camera.
    4. Now, write down three statements of truth—the tripod legs—that uphold that belief. Consider the experiences and influences in your life that have led to those truths.
    5. Come up with a truth that counters each statement, or tripod leg. For example, “I tried for a six-pack and failed” would be countered with “I tried, and wasn’t consistent.” “I don’t have the genes” is countered by “Genetics are one small factor in determining my build.” Congratulations: You’ve just knocked over the tripod upholding your belief that you’ll never have six-pack abs!

Mentally rehearse these counter-truths. With repetition, they will trigger a process of adaptation, and your rigid mindset will become dynamic and open to the possibility of a new story.