5 Ways to Retrain Your Brain

Retrain your brain for happiness

Your Beliefs Might be Holding You Back from Happiness

This post was originally published on March 23, 2017, and updated on July 20, 2020. 

What is a belief, and where do our beliefs come from? This is an important question to ask and understand, because the beliefs we hold about ourselves and our world have a profound impact on how we navigate life.

A belief is a feeling of certainty about ourselves, or what something means. Beliefs act as a map, or internal guiding system, taking us toward our goals—or away from them. Do you know whether your beliefs are propelling you toward the life you want to live? Are they supporting your desire to say “Yes!” to life?

Or, are your beliefs creating unnecessary obstacles in your path and causing you to miss out on what you want most from life?

Our beliefs come from our thoughts and are a very powerful energy field. According to a 2005 National Science Foundation article, the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Astonishingly, 95% are the same thoughts repeated every day. And of those repeated thoughts, 80% are negative. It’s an unfortunate fact that our brains are hardwired to give more attention to negative experiences than to positive ones.

But there’s good news: We can retrain our brains! Our thoughts can become our words. Our words become our beliefs. Our beliefs become our actions or behaviors. Our actions become our habits. And finally, our habits become our reality.

So, we create our reality with our thoughts—which is why it’s so important to retrain them toward positive!

How do we do this? Tony Robbins says, “The first step in replacing old, disempowering beliefs with new, empowering beliefs is to understand the five places our beliefs come from.”

1. Environment. You have to free yourself from the stories you tell yourself.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years by the South African apartheid government. He was confined to a small cell, had only the floor for a bed, and was forced to labor in a quarry without adequate clothing or food. But, he did not allow his environment to destroy him, and instead rose above.

Our personal circumstances can be extremely difficult at times, but within each of us is the power to choose what we believe in order to become the “captain of our soul.” Do we let our stories create new meaning and purpose in our lives? Or do we let them destroy us?

2. Events. Events can greatly impact our lives and cause us to form beliefs, sometimes even unconsciously, that affect our view of the world and ourselves.

From our wedding day, to the birth of a child, to a traumatic event in our lives. These major life moments can affect us in both positive and negative ways. It’s what we do with these events that can redirect the trajectory of our lives in either meaningful or purposeful ways—or send us down the dark and lonely alley of demise.

This doesn’t mean we should deny our pain and suffering. Rather, we must ask, “How can I shift my perspective and create meaning and purpose from my experiences. How can I grow in new ways?”

I have a colleague and friend, Ashlee, who has encountered immense tragedy in her life. In July of 2015, her daughter Kate was killed in an ATV accident. This event caused Ashlee to suffer the worst kind of pain imaginable. And it’s a pain I know she still lives with daily, and deals with moment to moment.

But you know what else I know? I know Ashlee continues to choose hope. She is taking her anguish from the loss of her precious, vibrant daughter, and creating meaning and purpose. She formed Play for Kate, an organization that gives back to her community and honors Kate for all she encompassed in life: her strong work ethic, her contagious smile, and her upstanding character. Ashlee’s strength and spirit serve as constant reminders to me that only we can control how we react to events and how we let those events impact our lives.

3. Knowledge. “Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is potential power. Applied knowledge is a dynamic tool in knocking down the walls of limiting beliefs.” – Tony Robbins

Being a life-long learner is directly related to a person’s success in life. For years, I’ve read every self-empowerment book I can get my hands on. And it’s a habit that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the people in my life, including one particularly judgmental “friend.”

“Why are you always trying to improve your life?” Why can’t you just be satisfied?”

Well, what this “friend” didn’t know is that with every book I read, I strengthen a secret weapon: my knowledge. It is potential power, especially so when I take that knowledge and use it to elevate my life.

Warren Buffett was once asked about the key to his success. He gestured to a stack of books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

But successful people don’t read just anything. They are highly selective and opt for education more often than entertainment. There’s always a self-improvement, educational, or success how-to book on my nightstand. When I run the streets of Tell City, I’m listening to a helpful ebook or a meaningful podcast. I watch videos that inspire, encourage, enlighten. And I do this all the time! If we want to change our beliefs and the realities of our life, then we must seek the knowledge we need, and then do something with it.

4. Past Results. “Past results do not equal future results.” – Tony Robbins

All of us have beliefs inspired by our past achievements—and our failures. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. At 30 years old, Steve Jobs was removed from the company he helped build. Walt Disney was told he “lacked creative imagination.”

But these famous “failures” decided that their past results would not negatively affect their future results. We build confidence by building on our successes, even the small ones. And then a ripple effect begins to take place. Those small successes start to become really big ones.

5. Future Vision. Just as past experiences impact your beliefs about what is possible, so does your imagined experience of the future.

This is the Power of Visualization! I’m a big believer that when we visualize our successes and create our beliefs with absolute certainty, we will attain them. And that’s how we create our future.

But visualization isn’t just simply imagining a new job, a happier relationship, a better life. You need to write your visualizations down, seek out pictures that match the visions you hold for your future. Then, you have to feel as if those successes have already happened to you (or are quickly on their way). Only then can you begin to create the life you want.

So, here’s the good news: Our brains are malleable, thus they are retrainable. Happiness researcher Shawn Achor says, “We can retrain the brain to scan for the good things in life—to help us see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels.”

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