Not too long ago I was on the phone with my friend and life coach, Laurie Gerber. I was sharing some of my doubts about an upcoming book project I am planning with my literary agent. Actually, I was somewhere between sharing and spilling my anxiety out all over the place – with a little whining in there, I’m sure.
Laurie, who happens to be pregnant and loves hypnobirthing, in her matter of fact and loving way, called me out on my roll of self-doubt and said, “Girl, you need a hypnobirthing class!” I laughed at the thought of me, at 48, with 4 grown kids and 2 grandkids, being pregnant and actually needing a hypnobirthing class. But then my mind quickly shifted to the idea of hypnobirthing ourselves through times of overwhelming challenges, new and scary transitions, self-doubt, and really any other obstacles we have to overcome.
You see, hypnobirthing is about making mindset shift. We reframe the internalized notions we have about birth as unbearably painful, dangerous, and impossible to do naturally, into a positive way of looking at ourselves in relationship to birth – as skilled, capable, and able to ride the intensity of the waves (i.e., contractions) to the other shore. And we gain skills and tools for doing so, in the form of learning to recognize our inner fear dialogues and replacing them with new messages of power and strength and ability.
Laurie then went on to remind me that as a midwife and physician (I attended births for three decades!) I would never say the discouraging, doubt-filled things to a mom in labor that I was now saying to myself. I’d be telling a mom in labor that she could do, she’s got the power, and she’s capable. So why was I telling myself I was completely inadequate and incapable?
Time for a reframe!
ANTs in Your Brain?
Birth is a powerful and relevant metaphor for being overwhelmed by new challenges, situations that feel bigger than our capabilities, that bring us to our knees with fear, and that make us want to quit and run the other way. But often, as with birth, these very situations are ones of breakthrough – once through the hurdle we’re in a powerful new phase of our lives – be that motherhood, a new career path that we’ve always wanted but were afraid to take the leap, a relationship, or in my case, having the confidence to ride out my voices of inner doubt to create the next bestselling natural health book for women – one of my dreams.
Thoughts are powerful. They shape our choices. They also shape our neurobiology – the inner circuitry that influences our weight, immunity, adrenal function, energy, food cravings, sleep, mood, mental focus, and numerous other influences on your health. How do they do this? Each time you have a negative thought your body releases various stress hormones and immunologic chemicals that impact your well-being. On the other hand, pleasant, confident, empowered, and joyous thoughts put us into a good place hormonally and immunologically.
Most of have ANTs in our brains – that is, automatic negative thoughts. Ok, an ANT here or there never ruined a picnic. Like my self-doubt about my book, an ant or two can be flicked away (or carefully moved if you are averse to flicking away bugs) with a quick reminder and some empowering thoughts. But in the extreme, think about putting your apple pie near an anthill! ANT colonies are actually a condition many of us are familiar with – ANXIETY! They are like a mental vice grip around our creativity. ANTs can keep us from taking leaps, trying new things, and can prevent us from enjoying and trusting in the goodness of the things that are happening in our lives. One of my common ANTs for example, is that after I’ve had a really good business year, I will chalk it off as a fluke, and think, “Well maybe next year won’t be as good and it will be back to the financial drawing board.” My ANTs like to tell me that I am never quite good enough and that success can be gone at anytime.
Replacing the ANTs
You might not be planning to have a baby any time soon – or ever – so hypnobirthing might not be the thing for you! But you may be hoping to take some exciting personal or career risks that you’ve been putting off because of self-doubt that feel as big as having a baby. There may be mighty leaps and changes in your future but ANTs are keeping you from jumping in! You may be hoping to birth your dreams, start an effective weight loss program, or you may be hoping to conquer anxious thoughts that drive you to make choices that don’t bring you health, wealth, or happiness. That's where hypnobirthing your life comes in…
There are 3 keys to successfully reframing your inhibiting, fear-based thought patterns – or Replacing the ANTs with APTs – Automatic Positive Thoughts. If you start to practice these, I promise your life will change for the better! Here they are:
1. Recognize the ANTs
This requires getting mindful and recognizing those thoughts – negative, unhelpful, buzz-killing, doubt inspiring thoughts – for just what they are, annoying, picnic ruining ANTs. And realizing that they are ideas that aren’t even true! To do this, start paying attention to the ANTs. That’s right – pay attention to how many times each day you have some negative thought about yourself. They look like this:
- I’m too fat
- I’m not smart enough
- I couldn’t ever do that
- She’s so much more accomplished than I am (and wow, 10 years younger, too!)
Or how about these:
- There’s something wrong with me and that’s why I didn’t get that job
- That job I got was a fluke or maybe they meant to pick someone else
- S/he doesn’t really like my company and that’s why s/he hasn’t called back since our date…
Get what these look like? Oh, and don’t miss these:
- It’s not my fault
- I would have if you hadn’t…
- If only s/he would have… then I would be happy
Wait, what? Blaming others is a sneaky ANT pattern that keeps you from taking responsibility and let’s you wrongly believe you have no power over your situation! So you've gotta shift those patterns too!
2. Have Tools
We all need tools that let us decompress from and let go of the anxious feelings that typically accompany those ANTS (tight chest or throat, feeling weak or nauseated, rapid heart rate, can’t concentrate, have to poop one too many times). I personally find that taking a few deep breaths gets rid of the fleeting, low-level ANT or two that crawls in now and then. For those ANTs that want to bite on and stick, I need RAID! That’s when it’s time to do a deep breathing exercise, a mini-meditation, take a walk, have some face-time with a punching bag – or pull out my journal and write down those thoughts – and answer them back!
3. Develop APTs – Automatic Positive Thoughts
It’s not enough to just get rid of the ANTs if you've got big goals you want to accomplish – you’ve to got bring in some positive reinforcements – or APTs, Automatic Positive Thoughts. Ok, maybe they aren’t automatic at first, but with practice, you’ll find that they become easy to call into action, that your overall confidence and sense of well-being will grow, and that you’ll really only experience the occasional ANT, which is naturally when you’re facing a big new challenge! Here are a few APT’s you can take from me – or make up your own.
- I am amazing.
- I can do anything.
- I am totally prepared to do this.
- I’ve got this.
- I am strong, fit, wise, and beautiful.
- I love who I am.
- I am the author of my life.
- I can succeed at this (diet, exercise plan, self-love plan, grad school application, fill-in-the-blank) because I know what I need to do; I listen to my inner wisdom, and follow through on my plans.
If You Still Have ANTs, Get an Exterminator – Or a Life Coach!
Sometimes we have so many ANTs, and they’ve been there for so long, that we don't know where to start. Sometimes they are so much a part of our way of thinking that we don't even recognize them. And sometimes our past history comes back to nip us in the bottom – old patterns, habits, beliefs, and family traits are so powerful that we need help getting out from their death grip. When you have so many ANTs you don’t know what to do, or when those ANTs are especially toxic, then it’s time to call an ANT exterminator – aka, a Life Coach. Just like Laurie reminded me to hypnobirth myself as an author of a New York Times best-seller by shaking off my doubts, a life coach can help you to identify and replace your ANTs with empowering and effective ways of thinking that let you take your mind – and your life – into your own hands.
A life coach can take the 30,000 foot view on YOU – see you for all of your strength and power and ability and wonderfulness, and start to help you separate the wheat from the chaff by helping you to figure out how to take ownership of your one precious life – starting with the thoughts that are getting in the way of you living and enjoying it to the max! So if you feel that your ANTs are too big to handle alone, seek out some additional support to get the job done.
You deserve all good things! And yes, that’s another APTs – try that one in the mirror each morning and evening!