Coming Home to Yourself: Growing Resources for Love, Safety and Contentment

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“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but our thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking” – Eckhart Tolle

Communication entails more than the words we speak. It includes our thoughts, our body language, our perceptions, our ability to truly hear what someone is saying, without judgement, and, for those of us whose cultures value it – eye contact.

When we think about communicating, we generally think about speaking with others, and forget that we are constantly communicating with ourselves. Our beliefs, attitudes, and the way we think about, and talk to ourselves, effects all aspects of our lives, including our self-esteem, our relationships, our work, and our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health and well-being.


Experts estimate that we have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts per day, and out of those, approximately 80% are negative, and 95% are repetitive – meaning, we think the same thoughts every day, and in doing so, reinforce their neural pathways in the brain. (1) In 1949, Dr. Donald Hebb, a Canadian psychologist who was influential in the field of neuropsychology, coined the phrase “neurons that fire together wire together” to describe how neural pathways are formed and strengthened through repetition.


And for those of who tend to worry, Dr. Robert Leahy, Clinical Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell University in New York, tells us that people who worry excessively spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things that either will never happen, or that they’ll handle well if they do come about. He goes on to say that one study found that 85% of the things that people worry about eventually had positive – or at least neutral-outcomes.

So, how can we retrain the brain so we can be on our own side and perceive reality more clearly? 

“All that I am is the result of all that I have thought.” 

– The Buddha

Neuroscience tells us that the brain is geared toward negativity, based on our ancestor’s needs for survival. For instance, the likelihood of being attacked by an opposing tribe, or wild animals on the hunt for food, were real dangers and required that our ancestors be hypervigilant to ensure they, and their tribes, survived. 

Most of us living in the Western World are fortunate: we have shelter, food, clothing, and access to medical care, and no longer need to be as cautious. And yes, of course, there are exceptions. The point here, is that we often over focus on the negative, and reinforce the negativity bias in our minds by recycling the negative messages we give ourselves. To quote Dr. Rick Hanson, “the brain is like Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive.”  The good news is, regardless of life’s circumstances, we can find things that are enjoyable, and help our brains learn from the positive. 

As the brain learns from our internal and external experiences, we have the ability to influence what the brain is learning. There are many ways to do this. For instance, stopping to enjoy your morning cup of coffee or tea, noticing a beautiful sunset, experiencing the joy that comes from watching your children play or feeling content when you’ve completed a project or finished the dishes. As we become mindful of the good facts in our lives, we become healthier, happier and more peaceful, and, over time, grow resources, such as love, safety and contentment within ourselves. But helping the brain learn from positive experiences entails more than just noticing the good facts; it requires that we stop and savor them.

Using affirmations is another helpful practice. As we are always affirming something, whether negative (“I’ll never find a job.”) or positive (“My skills are in high demand.”), when used consciously, affirmations can help us change the way we think about ourselves, and thereby the outcomes we experience.  However, just like enjoying your morning cup of coffee, saying them has no lasting effect on the nervous system until we embody the feelings that arise as we say them. 

What is an Affirmation?

For our purposes, an affirmation is a short powerful statement, made in the present tense, using positive language. 

In the examples below, I’ve combined several affirmations from my book Alphabet Affirmations: Transform Your Life and Love Yourself, along with Dr. Rick Hanson’s, 4-Step HEAL process: (3)

LOVE

“I surround myself with Friends and Family who love, respect and value me.”

As you think about the affirmation, imagine a time when you felt deeply loved, cherished and cared for, or when you felt love and care for another. 

For example, perhaps there was a time you felt cared for by a family member, a friend, a teacher, a spiritual being or a pet. Or, maybe someone valued your opinion even though it may have differed from their own. 

For instance, an experience from my personal life includes a deep sense of love and affection I felt for a feral cat I befriended and cared for, and who I named MissyCat. I would look in to Missy’s eyes as she sat on my lap and felt the most marvelous sense of unconditional love and connection. The feelings naturally resonated down into my body.

Let the images from your own life situation come to mind.  As you watch the scene unfold, let the words of the affirmation, and the feeling of being loved, cared for and valued soak down into your body, like a warm ray of sunshine filling you. Open to and stay with the sensations for five to 10 seconds, as you breathe and let the good feelings resonate inside of you.

If the affirmation doesn’t ring true for you, imagine what it would feel like to have friends and/or family who love, support and value you. Then continue with the process, as outlined above.  

Your brain will still learn from the experience.

SAFETY

“I am Safe. I am filled with peace and harmony.”

Imagine a time in your life – past or present – when you felt safe and protected. Examples might include being held in your parents’ or another caregiver’s arms when you were a child, or a time when a teacher, friend, or other being helped, or stood up for you, in a time of need. Or perhaps there was a time when you felt a sense of peacefulness or harmony when out nature or during meditation. Then, as in the example above, open to the feelings that emerge as you think about, or watch, the scene unfolding, letting it grow bigger as you observe the details of the experience. Let the sensations of safety, peace and harmony sink down into your body, soothing and filling you.  

CONTENTMENT

“ I Appreciate life and Always find things that please me.”

As you contemplate the affirmation, imagine something or someone you appreciate -like a hot shower, the comfort of your bed, a yummy meal, the comfort of a friend, the joy of dancing, or the sound of rain outside your window. Notice the feelings and sensations that arise as you think about or watch the scene unfolding in your mind’s eye, letting it grow bigger, as you notice any colors, sounds, people, textures or other details. Stay with the good feelings for several seconds, letting them flow down into and through your body.

Whether you choose to stop and notice the good facts in your life as you move throughout your day, use the affirmation and visualization process described above, or combine both practices, it’s important to stay with the good feelings for several breaths or seconds to give your nervous system the opportunity to learn from the positive experience. 

As with anything we are learning, consistency is key.

Experiment, and see what works best for you.

With love,

Theresa

BIO

Theresa Conti was born and raised in New York. She is a Certified Life Coach, Energy Healing Practitioner, Workshop Facilitator and Author with more than 25 years’ experience.  Her books include Alphabet Affirmations: Transform Your Life and Love Yourself, and I Am the Treasure. 

Theresa specializes in helping her clients manage their stress, and develop inner resources, like confidence, courage and resilience, so they can live with greater ease, realize their goals and dreams and better meet life’s challenges. She offers a 30-minute complimentary consultation to get acquainted, discuss your goals , and see how you might work together. She can be reached at Theresa@reconnecting2you.com.

References:

1) Michigan State University: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/challenge_your_negative_thoughts 

2) Leahy, R. Ph.D. Worry No More: 5 Simple Steps to End Those Troubling Thoughts and Fears. 2013. URL: http://cognitivetherapynyc.com/bottomh.pdf 

3) Hanson, R, Ph.D.: Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence. 2016. Harmony Books. 

4) The affirmations used in the text are excerpts from Alphabet Affirmations: Transform Your Life and Love Yourself, by Theresa Conti.

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Theresa Conti
Theresa Conti was born and raised in New York. She is a Certified Life Coach, Energy Healing Practitioner, Workshop Facilitator and Author with more than 25 years’ experience. Her books include Alphabet Affirmations: Transform Your Life and Love Yourself, and I Am the Treasure. Theresa specializes in helping her clients manage their stress, and develop inner resources, like confidence, courage and resilience, so they can live with greater ease, realize their goals and dreams and better meet life's challenges. She is also a qualified English teacher and editor and often brings her coaching skills into her teaching to facilitate her clients’ learning. She offers a complimentary consultation to get acquainted, discuss your goals and see how you might work together. She can be reached at Theresa@reconnecting2you.com.

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