THE BLOG
02/08/2013 03:08 pm ET Updated Apr 10, 2013

Stop the Merry-Go-Round

I recently watched an old film in which the main character wrote murder stories that came true in real life -- following which the main character cried about the losses in her life. "Stop writing murder stories," I thought. Was that decision not logical and obvious?

The character represented those of us who are stuck in our negative patterns, unable to see that we are scripting our own tragedies. With sincere motivation to step away from creating and recreating misery, however, each of us can in fact step off the merry-go-round of disappointment and stride forward in a journey of peace. First, we need to become aware of our patterns; second, we need to become willing to change them; and third, we need to mindfully create new, positive habits.

To begin, notice the thoughts that are rotating in your mind, then connect them to the outcomes you experience in life. To help you through this process, you can work with a counselor, coach, or mentor; creatively express yourself through writing, painting, or dancing; or get still and quiet, through meditation, guided imagery, or deep breathing exercises. I personally use variations of all three methods, and I encourage my counseling clients to do the same.

With the exception of certain forms of mental illness, we all have the choice to think and act differently. Just one focused, positive thought, in fact, can serve as our escape vehicle out of a rut. By simply concentrating on a painting we love, for example, we immediately can shift our mindset from misery to one of gratitude.

Here is how the science works: In a vicious cycle, thought patterns create grooves in neural pathways, in turn reinforcing the same thought patterns. "When neural pathways have been activated repeatedly, nerve signals travel quickly and easily over the synaptic connections that make up the pain pattern, like a train over a well-used track," explains Martin Rossman, M.D., integrative medicine pioneer and founder of The Healing Mind. [1] By focusing on positive and healthy thoughts, however, we can develop new neural pathways, or mental train tracks, until the old pathways of negative thoughts fall into disrepair.

Affirmations, for example, are "the truth told in advance -- marching orders to the psyche," elaborates David Bressler, Ph.D., LAc, president of the Academy for Guided Imagery and former White House commissioner on complementary and alternative medicine policy. "You are stepping up to the plate and taking a leadership role ... you're writing a new script. You're telling a new story to the audience -- the organs in your body -- about what's possible here." [2]

In other words, by cycling through the same negative thoughts over and over again, we work ourselves deeper into a rut. By consciously choosing new thoughts, however, we break the cycle and create new possibilities.

Once we open the door to a new reality, the next challenge is letting go of our attachment to our self-perceptions. To stop scripting the death of people in her life, for example, the movie character needed to let go of her identity as a murder author and re-conceptualize herself as something else -- such as a romance writer.

If you always think, "I am sad whenever it rains," take action to break your attachment to that narrative. Imagine yourself as a random young child, seeing wet stuff come out of the sky for the first time. Like an actor, take on that role 100 percent and see what happens. You just might find yourself lifting your face to the sky, opening your mouth to let in the raindrops, jumping into a puddle, or dancing in the rain.

Who might you become, if you risk dropping the cloak of your identity for just a little while? Experiment with it: If you are a perfectionist, allow yourself to do something rough around the edges today. If you always are on time, arrive 10 minutes late and see what happens tomorrow. Have fun mixing it up and seeing how you feel. As behavioral therapy has discovered, change itself facilitates change.

If you seemingly lack the willpower to modify your habits, contemplate what is most important to you in life, and consider if you are lining up your behaviors with your priorities. A lack of willpower is often an indicator of a conflicting priority. Perhaps you want to lose weight, for example, but you do not want to give up fried foods. Get clear on which is in fact more important to you.

The next step is to consider whether you truly know the essence of who you are and what you want. Many of us have taken on roles that are far removed from our hearts' desires, and we have played these roles for so long that we have forgotten our core identities. The more you indulge a false construct of yourself, the farther removed from yourself you will become, and the more you will spin on that merry-go-round of negative patterns. Through counseling, expressive art therapies, or mindfulness practices, however, you can invite your heart's desire to (re)surface. To help quell any resistance you may have to this process of awakening, keep in mind that you can acknowledge your heart's desire without having to act on it right away.

Ultimately, however, in order to effect change in your life, you do need to connect your thoughts to your actions. True, peace leaders emphasize the power of thought: Guatama Buddha says, "We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think," and Peace Pilgrim echoes, "If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought."

If the movie character were to just fantasize about changing her profession, however, without actually taking any steps to manifest that change, she would continue spinning on the merry-go-round -- this time, perhaps, with a deluded sense of how her life was going and where she was heading. Thoughts need to be reflected off of an objective mirror. You can have a positive thought, but you will not move out of your rut unless you put your body into the motion of that thought.

As we step off the spinning wheel and allow for new possibilities in our lives, we need to develop corresponding habits that support the blossoming of those possibilities:

- Commit to working with a life coach, mentor, or counselor, for at least four sessions.

- Get up 15 minutes early and meditate -- through writing your dreams, reading positive thoughts, or breathing deeply and steadily.

- Start a new, positive and creative hobby, such as playing music, making videos, or redecorating your home.

Creative pursuits get us out of our heads and into our hearts. By keeping us physically active, they also distract us from negative mental chatter. In addition, in as little as three weeks, our pursuits become our new habits. As such, through active and creative self-expression, we do not just dump out a dirty bowl of water. We also clean out the bowl and fill it with fresh, clean water.

One or two rides on the merry-go-round can be enjoyable, but a life-time of rehashing the same life lesson is depressing. The peace walk is a flow, like a stream moving toward a larger body of water. And so it is my wish that the waters of your life manifest less in tears and more in a river flowing toward the ocean.

References:

1. Martin Rossman, MD, "Martin Rossman, M.D., on Scientific Reasons for Natural Pain Relief through Dance," Dancing with Pain blog, February 21, 2008.

2. Loolwa Khazzoom, "The Power of Self-Healing," Massage and Bodywork magazine, September/October 2009.

For more by Suna Senman, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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