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You might not think about the contents of your thoughts as having anything to do with habits. Habits are exercising, waking up early, and eating healthy, right? Yes, those are habits. In my experience, the most important of all healthy habits is cultivating loving and empowering thoughts.
What we now know is that the brain is a growing, changing mass of grey and white matter. It is trainable.
People such as Jill Bolte Taylor have demonstrated this. In her New York Times-best-selling book, “My Stroke of Insight,” Taylor recalls her experience as a Harvard-trained neuroscientist who has a stroke one day and observes the deterioration of her own mind. She then uses her knowledge of brain science to recover the function of the left hemisphere of her brain.
In addition, there is a growing body of research suggesting the brain has a quality of neuroplasticity, the capacity to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections in response to injury and changes in environment, thinking, and emotions.
I used to have the thought “I’m fat” all the time. It was on repeat, running through my head at all hours of the day.
My therapist told me to think of the voice as “Ed,” a nickname for Eating Disorder.
At first, I couldn’t conceptualize this as a nasty-mouthed voice who wasn’t me. To me, it was fact. I was fat. End of story. I said it to myself over and over again until I believed it as reality, until when I looked in the mirror I couldn’t see anything else.
Unbeknownst to me, I was quickly becoming addicted to this thought pattern. My brain was strengthening this neural circuit each time I thought this thought, and just like how exercising gets easier over time, my brain was adapting to make this thought easier and easier to think. It was right there, ready to jump out at any time.
My therapist also told me I could create a new, healthy voice.
I couldn’t imagine hearing anything other than Ed’s nasty jeers, so I created a “Lianda” voice, named after a lively, blonde-haired, dancing woman who has been instrumental in my recovery. For a long time, I had to imagine Lianda telling me “I’m beautiful the way I am” because Ed convinced me I couldn’t possibly say something so compassionate.
It was difficult at first for me to say this to myself. It felt inauthentic. Whenever I said it, Ed kicked and screamed and tried his best to retaliate with increasingly rude comments. Beautiful, free Lianda was a threat to critical, judgmental Ed.
Fortunately for me, Ed didn’t stand a chance.
I continued cheering Lianda on and she fought and fought until one morning I looked in the mirror and there was silence. I have put Ed down to rest and if he ever tries to come back, I know I can take him.
I have cultivated an army of empowering thoughts in my brain. I can now look at myself in the mirror and see just a body. I have a say in what I say about this human being staring back at me. I say I am beautiful, brave, and strong.
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