Your brain is constantly taking in information, analyzing it, and creating meanings out of it.
It’s one of the amazing ways our brains are always working for us on autopilot – keeping us safe and keeping life ticking ahead with ease.
However, that doesn’t mean this system is without its pitfalls.
Today we are talking about helping your brain make meanings of things that support your growth instead of keeping you trapped in the same old cycles.
Don’t get what I mean?? Read on, it gets clear, I promise!
A few years back during my first coaching certification, one of the key lessons was that the things people are going through aren’t as important or influential as the meanings they make of the things they’re going through.
Humans are designed to make meaning out of everything. Like computers, we are always analyzing things and taking in information to be processed. Then we make it mean something.
But how does our brain know what to make things mean?
Humans are programmed through experiences, lessons, and the examples that were set for us very early in life. You received the majority of your programming before the time you even started to form clear memories. This is all subconscious, but what that means is that a story you learned when you were 2 or 3 years old might still be dictating your beliefs and reactions regarding events happening today.
Yes. And also annoying.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be functioning as an adult. Taking responsibility, learning, growing, and adapting.
So when your brain is on auto-pilot from 3 year old you, it’s time to become aware and take charge!
These stories dictate the meaning we make of circumstances in our lives.
To give you an example, let’s look at weight gain.
You step on a scale and you’ve gained 10lbs (or about 5kg). Now that by itself doesn’t actually mean anything. It is a fact. An experience. But your brain will make it mean something!
For many people, weight gain is considered bad or wrong. You might get a narrative in your head of “I’m so lazy”, “I’m ugly and disgusting”, “I need to get to the gym more”, or “what’s wrong with me?”. The story is that gaining weight makes you undesirable and wrong.
Alternatively, if you’ve struggled with a low weight much of your life and you’ve been trying to gain weight, if you stepped on the scale and saw that you’d in fact gained 10lbs you’d be ecstatic! You are successful, moving toward your goals, and it would be cause for celebration.
Can you see the difference?
The event itself is neutral. The same 10 pounds. It’s your brain, your experiences, and your beliefs that make the meaning.
The same is true of so many other circumstances.
Think of getting a raise at work or signing a new client in your business.
It could be cause for celebration!
Or it could be cause for crippling anxiety because you feel like you can’t measure up and are bound to fail.
If you took an hour every weekend to go to a spa and really indulge yourself, you could feel horribly guilty because you don’t feel you’re worth it, or that you’re taking money and time away from more important things.
Or you could feel yummy, nourished, and on top of the world. Period.
Understanding that it’s the meanings behind circumstances that dictate how we feel and not the circumstances themselves is HUGE!
This is a fairly simple concept, yet it’s so profound because it impacts literally everything in your life.
Your body image
Your internal dialogue
Now you may be saying “that’s great and all, but what the heck do I actually do about it??”
Don’t worry, I got your back.
Here are some super simple steps to help you start to change the meanings you’re giving things.
Remember, though these steps seem simple, they are not always easy. It’s all a practice.
- Become Aware
Begin to notice your thoughts, stories, judgments, and the pattern of what you are making things mean. Be mindful, be present, and get curious about it! Do your best not to judge yourself if you notice negative or harmful stories arise, simply notice. Without seeing them, we are powerless to change them.
- Check In
Once you’ve begin noticing your stories and seeing the patterns, start asking if they’re supportive or not. Are they healthy? Or harmful? Do they lift you up or let you down? If they’re supportive, then great! Keep at it. If they’re not supportive then onto #3.
- Decide and Switch
If you’ve checked in and found that your stories and the meanings you’re making of things aren’t helpful, then it’s time to change. Decide what you want them to mean instead! And the great thing here is that they don’t actually have to mean anything. You can choose to be neutral or assign no meaning at all. It is possible to just allow things to be as they are. Let those 10 pounds just be 10 pounds. Not good or bad. You get to decide this.
Once you’ve decided that you want to do things differently and uplevel your thought processes, it’s time to get conscious of it and get it happening on repeat. Often people do this once or twice and then drop it, but this is most powerful when it becomes so ingrained in what you do each day that it becomes your new normal. Keep it at the front of your mind.
As long as you’re alive your brain will continue to make meanings of things – it’s how it’s hardwired! Which means that as long as you’re alive it’s your job to stay present and make sure that your brain is choosing what’s best for you instead of just following that childhood programming to be in charge all the time.
Some tools that can be very helpful in this process include things like mindfulness meditation, journaling, coaching, tapping, and affirmations or reminders in your environment (such as a reminder taped to the mirror).
Beginning to notice and transform this old programming may be challenging at first, but it quickly becomes second nature and will improve your outlook, your mindset, and boost your happiness forever more.