If you’ve been in pain for a while — whether physical or emotional — you may have given up on feeling better. Chronic pain can do that to you. It wears you down and paves the way for some pretty negative thoughts such as:
- Nothing will help.
- Why bother trying?
- I’ll never be able to (insert any activity that seems too stressful or challenging) again.
But here’s what I’ve discovered. Once you bring those upsetting, negative thoughts to conscious awareness, you’ve taken the first step toward feeling better. Because now you can turn your thoughts around with two simple, but powerful techniques:
- The Mood Switch Method, a left-brained tool from the cognitive therapy field.
- Guided imagery – a right-brained form of imaginative, creative thinking.
Combining these techniques to activate both sides of the brain can create powerful mental, emotional, and even physical shifts. I know because I’ve used them myself to overcome fear and start feeling better.
How my new thoughts paved the way for feeling better
When I developed osteoarthritis in my knees in my early 30s, feeling better seemed like a long shot. I was in pain and desperate to regain some control.
Over the next decade, I worked on overcoming the worst of my chronic pain through dietary changes, herbal supplements, and mind-body techniques. During this time, scientists were also busy discovering the many benefits of strength training for arthritis.
I had a strong desire to lift weights. Not only did I want to increase my strength, I viewed weight lifting as a way to regain control and freedom. Yet I was hesitant to start lifting weights. The reason? Negative thoughts were holding me back.
It was time to examine my negative thoughts with the Mood Switch form. I was surprised to discover that two main thoughts were the culprits:
- What if I get hurt?
- What if weight training makes my pain worse?
Once I had pinpointed the specific thoughts underlying my fear, I was then able to create helpful, logical responses to counteract each negative thought. These are the thoughts my more logical, left brain came up with:
- If I get hurt, I can get better. I’ve always recovered from flare-ups in the past.
- I have strategies to reduce pain that I didn’t have in the past.
- Soreness is just temporary.
Guided imagery for an extra confidence boost
Reading my logical responses over and over, I began to feel more confident. To give myself a final boost, I practiced this guided imagery exercise: Every day, I spent about five to ten minutes vividly recalling and imagining how it felt to lift weights before I had arthritis.
I pictured myself bending down to grab the rough-textured barbell, contracting my arm and leg muscles, and experiencing the thrill of lifting the barbell smoothly and effortlessly above my head.
Over the past 25 years, research has demonstrated the power of guided imagery to improve health, creativity and performance.
Through picturing powerful sensory images (that we create ourselves or listen to on a tape), our senses, emotions and whole body are activated to assist with conscious goals.
Guided imagery boosts our confidence, strength and skill to achieve a positive outcome in a relatively short time with minimal effort.
With my own confidence activated, I began working with a personal trainer to create a customized weight-lifting regimen. I now go to the gym twice a week, and I have become much stronger. I even surprise myself by looking forward to lifting heavier and heavier weights.
But, I’m not writing this to congratulate myself — even though I really do like being stronger!
My point is that we can actually overcome obstacles and improve our physical and emotional health by:
- Systematically identifying negative thoughts that hold us back
- Counteracting our negative thoughts with more logical, helpful thoughts
- Using guided imagery to focus our imagination and achieve our goals
So the next time you encounter a challenge, counteract your negative thoughts by using both sides of your brain.
- First, use the Mood Switch Method to activate the more logical, rational left side of your brain.
- Second, use guided imagery to activate the more creative, emotional right side of your brain.
Your negative thoughts won’t stand a chance! You’ll not only begin feeling better, you’ll be able to do more than you ever thought possible.
Please let me know one of your fear-based thought (you can send a confidential email to firstname.lastname@example.org). In a future post, I’ll share logical, helpful responses to counteract readers’ most common fears.