The five words that changed my life. Ironically, I was the one who uttered them to myself. That’s right, I talk to myself. So do you. My story is a familiar one. I didn’t have the first clue about valuing myself or loving myself and for the longest time, I had no idea that was a problem. I had a great childhood. I still have the most incredible parents when it comes to feeling loved and cared for. In very concrete ways they expressed their love for me since before I can remember. I’ve always just known their love. I grew up in an incredible community and was involved with some wonderful people through my entire childhood and into college. I share that so you can be aware that even people with the healthiest of upbringings have major struggles with insecurities and negative thought patterns. I used to think that I was the only one. Now I know I’m like every other person on the planet. Several years ago, when I hired a mentor, I knew that there were things in life that I wasn’t able to figure out and I knew I needed help. Insecurities and limiting beliefs, attached to things like fear of loneliness, finances, my own sense of worth, and intelligence, had been haunting me since I was an adolescent. But I didn’t know how to deal with them. So I found a mentor I trusted and that I knew had turned things around in his own life. His name is Mastin Kipp. I had taken a couple courses from Mastin online and I had quickly begun to build a rapport with him. We had similar stories, which helped with my trust.
When I first starting working with Mastin, he began describing exercises intended to help with learning to love myself. At first I thought they were absurd. Mirror work. Self-affirmation sentences. Telling myself that I loved myself whenever I felt a sense of shame for making a mistake. One morning while I was alone and practicing these exercises, I said out loud, with a heavy dose of jaded arrogance, “this is TOTAL HOGWASH!” (ok maybe I used a stronger description). What I said to myself next surprised me.
“How’s that working for you?” I was stunned. I couldn’t remember the last time I was content. Thinking the way I had been thinking for so many years had led me to this point. How was that working for me? Not well at all. I realized that I needed to make some major changes, but I didn’t know what. So, even though it went against everything within me, I decided to give these exercises a chance. Slowly, after practicing these exercises, I began to notice a difference in my overall thought patterns and demeanor. I had once prided myself on being an over-analytical perfectionist and cynic. But along the way, I stopped identifying with those characteristics. I didn’t know how it worked scientifically, but I saw the evidence. As my friend Mike told me, “you don’t have to know how an engine and transmission work in order to drive your car.” Mike's one of the most intelligent people I know and so I asked him to explain it to me. He's great at breaking down complex matter into laymen's terminology. So he did.
The most ancient part of the human brain is the limbic system. Our feelings of fear, anger, and aggression originate there. The limbic system is fast and ruthless, and we’ve used it for survival for as long as we’ve been around. Thanks to its speed and efficiency, the limbic system can make judgments and decisions much faster than the newer hardware in our heads. Our brains are like a muscle–what we use most gets strongest. Negative, critical, fearful or aggressive thinking tends to strengthen the response of our limbic system in our daily living.
More recent structures in human brains like the neocortex and the anterior cingulate cortex are the parts of our brains that produce love, compassion, and empathy. If you focus on those types of thoughts, you will enhance the neural circuits in the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex and it encourages your brain to support that way of thinking. Intentional focus toward these kinds of thoughts has been clearly demonstrated to have helpful physiological and psychological benefits. You can actually begin to find your identity in those thoughts and feelings.
Why do I tell you all of this? Simple. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe my story resonates with you on some level. Maybe you’re tired of being cynical, judgmental, critical of yourself, and influenced in major ways by your insecurities. Maybe you know you need to value yourself and love yourself more but you just don't know how. Maybe when you hear me always talking about loving yourself, accepting yourself, and sharing practical ways to begin to do this, you are skeptical. Maybe you also think that doing any kind of ‘positive’ mental and emotional exercise is too ‘Stuart Smalley-ish’ for you. Maybe you think that is too 'touchy feely' could never work. Maybe you’re thinking, ‘I’ll just stick with what I know.’
Well let me ask you, with the most sincere and humble of intentions, how’s that working for you?