I believe I am a good person. I believe I am a bad person. I believe I am smart. I believe I am dumb. I believe I am pretty. I believe I am ugly. What do you believe about yourself, and why it matters.
Have you ever slowed yourself down long enough to really pay attention to how you talk to yourself? When you make a mistake, do you automatically say something negative about yourself like, “Gosh, I am such an idiot.” Or do you say, “Oops, I made a mistake. What can I do about it?” The reason being aware of your self-talk is important is because the more you repeat something to yourself, the more ingrained it becomes which leads to that becoming your belief. Basically, you are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you keep calling yourself stupid, that will become your belief so you will start acting like you are stupid. Conversely, if you keep telling yourself you are good at solving problems, you will believe it and stay focused on a problem until it gets resolved, regardless of how long it takes.
The reason for this self-fulfilling prophecy has to do with how our brain works. Our brain has an ability called neuroplasticity. Simply put, the brain has the ability to change. We can unlearn one behavior or thought and replace it with a new one. The brain does this through repetition.
The brain uses neurons and receptors to “communicate.” Understanding the scientific details of the process is not important for my purposes in this blog. What is important is that you understand the more often neurons “fire” and communicate or “wire” with receptors, the more “automatic” the thought or behavior becomes. In the book “Rewiring Your Anxious Brain” by Catherine Pittman, she quotes neuroscientist Carl Shatz who says “Neurons that fire together wire together” (Dodge 2007, 63). “Firing” results from thinking or doing and “wiring” increases the intensity of the thought or behavior. So, you can see how importance repetition really is!
We have been exposed to repetition all of our lives. Think about a newborn baby. The baby has to “practice” holding her head up because her neck muscles are not strong enough at birth. The more the baby does this, the stronger the muscles become and eventually the neck is able to support the head without assistance. Learning to crawl works the same way. The toddler practices pushing up on all 4s and then rocks back and forth before coordinating her arms and legs to move effectively. How many times does a parent have to remind a child to say please or thank you before it becomes a habit? When a school aged child learns to write, he has to practice over and over before she can write on her name effortlessly. Every time a baby, toddler or student did any of these activities, the neurons “fired” in the brain which “wired” the neurons which enabled the skill to became automatic.
This is not true just for children. Think about professional athletes. How many times did they have to practice a shot, a pass or a pitch before they “perfected” it? How many hours did you spend studying for an exam so you knew the material in order to pass the test? How many times does a musician practice a musical score before they feel comfortable playing it or have it memorized? This repeated activity results in “muscle memory.”
This same concept can be applied to our thoughts. The more we think about something, the more it gets etched into our brain. The thought or “groove” gets deeper and deeper every time we think it. Imagine etching your name in a piece of wood with a pocket knife. How many times would you have to go over the letters to make the grooves deep enough to be very visible and permanent? Now, replace your name in the piece of wood with how you see yourself. What words would be visible? If those words are negative, burn that piece of wood, get a new piece and start etching positive words about yourself.
Remember, this process takes time so be patient with yourself. Think repetition, repetition, repetition!