My old dog, Kodi <3

Continuing with my unintentional theme of “what I’ve learned in 2017”, I have to say “change your mind, change your life” is an incredibly powerful statement. It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve been doing as I’ve retreated into my home life and spent more time having lunch with friends, volunteering, and generally getting to know myself better.

And I can say without any equivocation: If you don’t like what’s going on in your life, look to your thoughts; look to your beliefs.

My theme for this year? “It’s all in your mind.”

From the mainstream media’s constant stream of not quite honest reporting to my own anxious worrying about every possible scenario up to and including horrific death, I’ve had to acknowledge that until something ACTUALLY happens, it’s well, all in my head.

And yours.

My anxiety has often gotten the better of me, so much so that I’ve spent sleepless nights tossing and turning with outrageous “what ifs” playing out in my head. Years of yoga, meditation, and even medication at times have helped, but never completely solved the problem. But this year I had my “come to Jesus” moment: I either had to fully claim my power or nose dive into depression and anxiety attacks over and over again.

And I am so over feeling helpless.

Don’t underestimate the power of your thoughts. If you think it over and over and over again, it will become a belief. And belief’s are dangerous things. Be very, very, very, super-duper careful what you believe. For example, if like me you believe/d that bad things happen when you’re happy and carefree, bad things will tend to appear to happen when you’re happy and carefree. And you will make yourself miserable to avoid bad things.

The truth is, bad things happen NO MATTER what we believe or think so why not just be happy anyway?

Did worry and misery keep the bad things away the past couple of years? No. So why was I devoting so much of my brain capacity to worry? I’m not talking about constructive thought, like making well-thought-out choices that take into consideration the consequences of my actions. I’m talking about worrying needlessly, believing that I’m a victim without any power to change my life, and otherwise swallowing the idea that anyone or anything has any power over me.

Including cancer.

Many ideas were programmed into us from a very young age, ones we had no say over. Parents, teachers, family, the government, and our culture have drilled certain things into us: about how weak or strong we are, how the world works, and even whether or not we stood/stand a chance to be happy in this life…or even survive.

But we have a choice NOW.

Note: No one in this scenario is necessarily Simon Legree or Lord Voldemort (for those who have no clue who Simon Legree is). Let’s just say that we teach more by what we do than what we say AND we can only teach what we have learned. I’m not pointing fingers; I’m explaining WHY we are where we are and how that actually gives us options, and power.

When we know better, I tend to believe we do better.

We are not stuck with our current programming. We can change it. We can change our minds, thus our thoughts, and thus our lives.

We can rewrite our beliefs and feelings and change the course of our lives one single thought at a time. And this is not some “new age mumbo-jumbo” as Sheldon Cooper might say. This is science.

Neuroplasticity is the scientific term for the malleable nature of the brain…even in old age.

“Whatever you hold in your mind will tend to occur in your life. If you continue to believe as you have always believed, you will continue to get what you have always gotten. If you want different results in your life or your work, all you have to do is change your mind.”

 ~Anonymous

This is not to say its an easy task, this changing our minds. You already know if you try to stop thinking about certain things, it has the reverse effect, right? If you say, “I won’t think about purple parrots” now all you can think about is purple parrots. Try not to laugh in church and you struggle harder not to laugh. Maddening, right?

So how in the hell does one change their beliefs? By NOT suppressing thoughts that arise from those beliefs. Let them float up from the subconscious, then let them go. Don’t fight them. Here’s what I’ve been doing instead: I’ve devoted time every day to identifying old beliefs that don’t serve me and, here’s the important stuff: crafting new thoughts and beliefs, and creating mini-rituals to replace the old with the new.

Like, whenever I catch myself being negative or spiraling down I picture a big, red STOP sign and even say out loud, “Stop!” This isn’t to suppress the thought, but to make me stop what I’m doing and pay attention to the habitual generation of thought. Then I picture that thought floating away like a cloud caught in the wind. Then I give my Monkey Mind something new to focus on: my new, positive thought/belief. And over time, with repeated practice, the new thought starts to become habitual.

I kid you not.

Sounds crazy? I tell you it works. It’s worked best if I focus on one belief at a time until I break that sucker, sweep it away, and methodically reinforce the new belief. Depending on how deeply ingrained a particular belief is, this process can take months. There are shortcuts, however.

Like essential oils. Wild Orange is fantastic for helping bust the shackles of fear. Inhaling the aroma of Wild Orange essential oil WHILE replacing beliefs that generate fear-inducing thoughts was super effective for me. I still diffuse Wild Orange when I sleep.

Rewiring my brain has taken time, and I’m not done. I have some more beliefs I want to change, but I’m on the right path and the proof is in my everyday experiences. This time of year? I’m usually just barely keepin’ my nose above the S.A.D. waters, but not this year. Two new things I’ve added to my yoga, meditation, exercise, and good nutrition regimen are my new, shiny beliefs and a methylated B12 and folate supplement.

Life changing.

So, turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks.