Health and Wellbeing Exercises

Cognitive Restructuring: How we can use our thoughts to create healthy behaviors

Sometimes, I open my yoga classes by asking my students to create an intention for their practice. I invite them to think about a positive attribute that they’d like to cultivate more of in their lives. Maybe it’s peace, patience, or positivity itself. Maybe they want to feel stronger or more capable, or they want to feel more joyful or fulfilled. We take a moment to seek out this quality, this positive element that we want to create in our lives and then we set our intention by taking three deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and saying silently to ourselves, “I am” and then exhaling through the mouth, saying in the mind this positive quality and releasing it into the space around us. I remind them that our thoughts become our actions and our actions represent who we are. I ask them to hold the intention with them while we practice, matching movement to breath, and adding in this layer of repeating their intention, their mantra, their “I am” affirmation.

Affirmations are a hugely powerful tool. But why? What’s so special about repeating a thought to ourselves? What can it really achieve? Muhammad Ali said, “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief, and once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” Sit with that a minute. Muhammad Ali. One of the most storied and famous boxers of all time. And yet, he didn’t just dominate his sport as an Olympic athlete. He also became a Grammy nominated musician, a film and Broadway actor, and a published author. It seems like, just maybe, he had a pretty good idea of how to make “things begin to happen” in his life.

Here’s the thing. It’s true. Your mind and your thoughts are so powerful that they can, will, and do affect the trajectory of your life. From how things go on a day-to-day basis to what happens over the course of your entire lifetime. So. I offer you this, when we want to create change in our lives, we should first seek to change our thoughts. Because here’s the insidious truth about the power of the mind and our thoughts. It works both ways. So, if you’re constantly telling yourself you can’t reach a goal, or you’re not capable of doing something, guess what? You’re creating a belief, which over time becomes a conviction, and then, those negative things are happening.

Okay, so maybe you’re feeling like yoga and affirmations and all this jazz is a little too “new-age woo woo” for you. It’s alright. I understand that some folks appreciate a different approach. Here’s the good news. Science is on board, too. In the behavioral sciences, the term cognitive restructuring is used to describe the process of altering patterns of thought to create desired behavior modification outcomes. Here’s an article that delves a bit deeper into the explanation of cognitive restructuring and how and why it works, but the long and the short of it is this. By recognizing negative and erroneous thought patterns like “I can’t stick to my exercise program because it’s just too hard.”, we can alter that thought to a more positive and realistic one like, “My exercise program challenges me and I feel proud when I get through a workout.” See what we did there? We took the negative thought about the exercise program, and found a positive, realistic, reaffirming thought to replace it with. So, when the topic of your exercise program comes into your mind, acknowledge that negative thought but question it. Is the program really “too hard”? If it is, it can be modified to better match your present fitness level. There’s always a way to do the work at a level that is challenging but safe for you. Are you really unable to stick to it? No, you are making an active choice not to stick to it because of the negative thought patterns that are attached to it. Here’s the good news, you are able to change the thought pattern and thus you are able to change the behavior.

That’s what I want you to do this week. Identify a negative and erroneous thought pattern that’s holding you back from your health and wellness. Restructure that into a new, positive, productive thought that will create a belief, and in turn a conviction, and in turn an action, that will serve your goals.

Here’s a personal example. Lately, with all the new things I’m taking on in building my presence online, studying for my certification, and promoting myself as a fitness professional and health coach, I’ve been feeling a little stress from how busy things are getting. I catch myself thinking “I can’t get everything done, there’s not enough time and it’s not even important/getting noticed!” That thought is not only untrue, it’s obviously going to do nothing but derail my success. Now that I’ve recognized it trying to sneak into my head, I’ve come up with this replacement affirmation of positivity and success for myself. “My days are filled with productive activities that increase my joy and contribute to my success as a fitness professional and health coach.” Two things are happening here. I’ve taken the negative statement, approached it with neutrality, and questioned its validity. I am busy. That is true. But it’s not true that I can’t get everything done. That’s just me letting my mind get ahead of me and projecting failure. So, I restructured the first part of the thought to say “My days are filled with productive activities.” This still acknowledges the same fact of being busy, but without casting it in a negative light. The second part of the thought about how the activities “increase my joy and contribute to my success as a fitness professional and health coach” replaces the part of the thought about the lack of importance of the work that I’m doing. That was just self-doubt and anxiety working together to stop my progress. So now, when I start to feel overwhelmed or stressed, I can stop, take a deep breath and choose to focus on my new thought, my new affirmation, that “My days are filled with productive activities that increase my joy and contribute to my success as a fitness professional and health coach.” Honestly, it’s already working. It’s the reason why I’m not having a panic attack over today being a day that my husband worked from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m., I did the morning routine here with the boys, baby brother and I took big brother to school, I traded baby duty with hubby, went to yoga and then a dentist appointment, had lunch with hubby, got in some baby snuggles, am finishing up the blog to post, then we will get in a quick walk in the neighborhood before we part ways again so that I can go study for my certification and write my yoga class before I teach at 7:35 tonight and my husband picks up our older son from school. Then, Daddy will do dinner and bedtime while I teach so that I can come home, write my classes for tomorrow morning, take a shower and get some sleep! Whew, right!? But it is true, I can do it and I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with productivity. I love getting in time with my kids and my husband and doing life together with them. I love teaching my classes. I love what I’m studying and learning. I even love the dentist appointment because it serves to help keep me healthy, happy, and well overall. Also, to ensure that I can keep this thought in the forefront of my mind, I’ve written it down on a notecard which I’ll carry with me this week to help make sure I stay focused during challenging moments!

So there it is! This week your challenge is to find a false, negative thought pattern and restructure it into a positive, truthful affirmation that serves your fitness, health, and wellbeing goals! You can participate by posting in the comments here, or on Facebook or Instagram! Let us know what thought you’re restructuring for yourself and post your own pic of your handwritten affirmation! ✌🏼💖

6 thoughts on “Cognitive Restructuring: How we can use our thoughts to create healthy behaviors”

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it! Sorry it took me a bit to get back to you, I’m new at this and (embarrassingly 😂🙃) only just realized how to reply to comments!!

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    1. Thank you for reading and sharing! I apologize for the delay in response, I’m new to blogging and actually had some trouble figuring out how to respond to comments 🙈😂 now that I’ve figured it out, I wanted to say thanks! As well as encouraging you to keep up the good work! It’s amazing what our bodies are capable of when we tune in to what we need to do to keep ourselves feeling happy, healthy, and well!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No need to apologize. We do have lives outside the blogging world. When I started blogging, I replied to each comment from the post page which got to be overwhelming. Finally I noticed the notifications icon in the right corner. Best wishes!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha, yes! Exactly what happened to me, I got frustrated that it wanted me to “log in” to reply to comments on my own blog! Then just like you said, finally noticed the notifications! 🤦🏼‍♀️🤔😂

        Liked by 1 person

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