There’s a quote by the American football player Lou Holtz that goes: “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.” Meaning, in short, that the way you perceive and relate to the things that happen to you is what makes up your reality for the most part.
Why Do We Have Anxious Thoughts?
When your thought patterns and core beliefs are shaped by negative experiences that impact on your self-worth, confidence and sense of stability, a lot of the things that happen to you may be perceived, automatically, through an anxious lens. This can lead to an overwhelming presence of anxious thoughts that are created by your brain in order to keep you ‘safe’, or to use a more accurate word – stuck. Your brain likes comfort and familiarity, so that’s what it will urge you to seek more of.
Most of the time, the anxious thoughts that arise from new experiences rely on a projection or assumption of another’s feelings, when actually they are just a reflection of the way you feel about yourself due to past experiences.
Truthfully, you cannot know how another person feels without them explicitly telling you, and even then it may not be that black and white. Trying to guess or control how you are being perceived by another will only limit the opportunity for authentic intimacy to occur.
This can make it difficult to live life in the way that you want to, to try new things, form intimate relationships, take up new opportunities, and grow and develop as a person. What happens is, you become too afraid to break out of your little bubble, challenge your disempowering beliefs and expand your life.
You may even be able to clearly identify your illogical, anxious thought patterns and see how they may be unproductive or baseless, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an emotional effect on you or feel any less real. It can be conflicting and contradictory, even a confusing experience.
How Can I Challenge or Change Anxious Thoughts?
But luckily, control over these thought patterns and how you respond to them is like a mental muscle that you can strengthen over time. And in order to start building that muscle, you need the right equipment.
So, in this blog post I’ll be providing you with three simple steps for re-framing anxious thoughts into empowering ones, that invite reflection and allow you to identify opportunities for development from a place of self-compassion.
But, quick side note, self-compassion really is the foundation for all meaningful change.
Altering the way you talk to yourself and about yourself to be more compassionate, understanding and respectful will have a real, lasting impact on your thought patterns and core beliefs. Using self-compassion as the lens through which to perceive your thoughts and experiences will make them feel that bit lighter and easier to navigate.
An example of re-framing an anxious thought into an empowering one might be:
Anxious: I can never do anything right →
Empowering: I’m always learning and imperfect action is a necessary part of that; I’m proud of my commitment to improving my skills
It could also look like:
Anxious: Nobody likes me
Empowering: I cannot control how somebody else perceives me, I can only offer my authenticity and trust that it will attract the right people
As illustrated by the examples above, the formula of an anxious thought typically looks like: [limiting belief] + [lack of control].
Alternatively, the formula of an empowering thought typically looks like: [self-compassion] + [recognition of control] + [opportunity for growth].
This could be helpful to remember when you start looking at some of your most common or most recent anxious thoughts and seeking alternatives.
3 Steps For Re-Framing Anxious Thoughts
So, with that in mind, here are three steps for re-framing anxious thoughts into more positive, empowering ones:
1) When you have an anxious thought that is upsetting you or holding you back, identify and write it down somewhere, completely unfiltered.
Then, see if it fits the formula above – see if you can identify the core limiting belief contained within it as well as where the lack of control comes in. This exercise will help you to develop better mental awareness and understand how your thoughts are coming to shape your beliefs, emotions and behaviour – ultimately, your reality.
2) Once you’ve identified and ‘deconstructed’ your anxious thought, it’s time to reconstruct it using the empowering formula.
It might help to think of it as what you’d say to your best friend to help them overcome an obstacle in life. Approach it from a place of unconditional self-compassion, knowing that you will be loved and honoured no matter what you do. Flip the limiting belief (such as: I’m not smart) into an opportunity for growth (I’m excited to learn new things). Recognise where you have control in this situation, such as starting a new course, watching YouTube tutorials, picking up an educational book or reading a blog to learn new information.
3) Now, you’ve done the re-framing work and you have a new, more empowering way of looking at things. Amazing! But just doing the exercise once and falling back into old habitual thought patterns and behaviours likely won’t lead to great change in your life. So, it’s time to practice it.
Meditate on it, remind yourself of it when you’re faced with an anxiety-provoking situation, share what you’ve learned with a friend, journal about it each morning. Be mindful of the language you’re using in your daily life – is it aligned with the more empowering point of view? Or does it reinforce old limiting beliefs? Actively train your brain to recognise the positives and to identify opportunities for growth and development, in line with the empowering formula.
This doesn’t mean you need to adopt a mindset of toxic positivity, or that you’re never allowed to feel anxious, upset, annoyed, angry or any other difficult emotion. There’s no need for either extreme.
It’s about recognising that your perception does not always match up perfectly with reality and challenging that idea (called ‘naive realism’) in a healthy way. It’s all about finding a happy medium, finding ways to think and feel and act that enables you to live a full life free of overwhelming anxiety and low self-worth.
I really hope you found this blog post helpful – I’d love to hear your thoughts about this and to know if there’s any particular anxious thoughts you’re trying to re-frame at the moment! If you’re serious about making meaningful changes and need that extra 1:1 support to help you to unpack and rebuild, book in a free Discovery call with me here and let’s chat make an action plan for you to reach your full potential.
Sending you all the well wishes