Grocery shopping, walking the dog, brushing our teeth – and, well, showering: these are things we know we need to do every day, and we just do them. Finding work/life balance, getting enough sleep, exercising: these are things we know we should do, but we often have to talk ourselves into it.
Chalk it up to mindset – essential to most goals in life, but as Brian Grasso observes, “we pretty much leave our minds alone and expect them to do what they’re supposed to do,” like get more motivated. Looking for a technique to improve your mindset? You’ll most likely find advice that involves trying harder to think positively or carve out time in a busy day to practice meditation.
Grasso, an authority on mindset performance and former coach to elite athletes in the United States and Canada, is blunt: Forcing yourself to think positively doesn’t work, and meditation is unfamiliar to many people. His time-tested, three-step plan is one that’s realistic for athletes, professionals and busy people alike.
1. Check your self-talk and stories – but don’t dwell on them.
Grasso says there’s plenty of research that shows our powers of recollection are pretty poor – but it doesn’t take a scientific study to recognize that. “When it comes to how much – or how little – we think we’ve done toward to get to our goals, anyone who’s kept a food journal knows how easy it is to forget the snacking while cooking dinner, or afternoon visit to a coworker’s candy jar.”
What’s more, our self-talk – built on our faulty memory – often tends to focus on failure, and when we tell ourselves to do something that contradicts our story of failure, like “be more disciplined,” we just trigger the self-talk.
Grasso suggests it’s valuable to examine your “truths” that you tell yourself, in order to recognize there are other valid truths that you could have chosen to draw into your belief system – and then let go or replace what you held as “fact.” Beyond that, it’s not helpful to linger too long on those stories: “Experts have found we really do transform the experiences we hold as truths into beliefs and sometimes, self-fulfilling prophecies.”
2. When you’re making progress, expect to get in your own way.
Success doesn’t eliminate the self-talk and obstacles. One of Grasso’s students admitted that after she lost weight and friends and family began to notice and comment, she began to worry that if she didn’t continue to lose weight, they would lose interest. “She believed they wouldn’t love her!” Grasso says. “That kind of mindset threatened a healthy relationship with her body and with food,” he adds. “It’s im-portant to recognize that with success will come new self-talk and you have to accept that, recognize it, and address it. Denying it is not going to stop it.”
3. Use practice to strengthen and expand your quality of mindset.
Grasso has identified three essential practices that help you focus on fact instead of self-created fiction. Choose one or more to steer clear of hurdles when they pop up.
A. Remember self-talk is just a story that you’re telling yourself about yourself – a story based on flawed recollection, not inalienable truths.
B. Start a journaling practice that records data: what you ate, how you felt emotionally and physical-ly, whether you exercised and what you did, to get in the habit of recognizing that memory is not data – and memory doesn’t help with an objective assessment of yourself.
C. Select an affirmative statement about the path you’re on, and repeat it to yourself throughout the day. Grasso isn’t talking about talking yourself into something like, “The strong train, the weak complain.” He explains, “It’s stating your intended action as fact: ‘I’m eating right,’ or ‘I’m taking the stairs today,’ or ‘I’m thinking before I react to something my boss/spouse/child said.’ There’s nothing in that present-tense statement to contradict or trigger your self-talk, because it gives you the ability to make the ‘right’ choice or decision now, even if you didn’t make it an hour ago.”