The Secret Bias Inside You That Undermines Your Hopes & Dreams (And How To Shut It Down)

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Your subconscious mind is like a child, taking everything you say as literal truth.

Think of a time when you watched an intense movie and felt your heart rate increase. Maybe your shoulders clenched or your body felt hot. You knew the movie was fiction, yet your body acts as if the threat was real.

That’s how powerful your subconscious mind is and that’s why it’s so important to make it work for you, not against you.

It may sound impossible to control your thoughts, but watching where you place a majority of your focus will have an incredible impact on your life.

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The curse of the negative bias

Can you think of a time when you finished something and, while you may have gotten multiple compliments, you couldn’t stop thinking about the one criticism you were given? We’re wired for negative thoughts and memories to stand out. 

There are good evolutionary reasons for remembering more negative thoughts than positive ones. Think of early humans having to remember where a threatening situation happened. It served a purpose to remember which plants caused illness or which caves are occupied by a bear.

Those who forgot these threats were less likely to survive to pass on their genetic material.

Now that we no longer need to worry about cave bears and poisonous foods, the negativity bias is less helpful. Our sense of well-being is enhanced by focusing on the positives, but that built-in drive to focus on the bad is hard to override. 

Confirmation bias

When we focus on the negative things we think about ourselves, our abilities, and our lives in general, we begin to see confirmation everywhere. Another result of our evolutionary development is that we’re hardwired to see more of what we already believe is true.

We make assumptions about how others see us and everywhere we look we see proof of these biases. Yes, I really am ______ [an idiot, socially awkward, unattractive, talentless, etc.]!

As these assumptions pile up over time, you develop fears around them. You may decline social gatherings because you’re certain people don’t like the way you look, talk, or act. You may stop a creative practice because you think people will surely laugh at the end results. You begin to act smaller as a result of these inaccurate assumptions, which only reinforces the assumptions. 

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The role of focus

These assumptions can be made to work in your favor. With practice, you can just as easily believe people are thinking positive things about you. This is where your focus on comes into play. 

Once you understand that your brain is designed to focus on the negative, you can begin to notice it and change it. And, when you shift focus to positive details about yourself, your confirmation bias will shift too. Before you know it, you're making positive assumptions about how people perceive you. That built-in confirmation bias shows you examples everywhere you look. 

Even more amazing, is that the improved self-outlook is attractive. People gravitate toward those who feel good about themselves. Your new attitude about how much people are probably thinking good things about you, allows you to be more relaxed and self-assured, aka, likable! 

A positive feedback loop has been created! This is the best form of self-hypnosis.

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How to make your thoughts work for you — instead of against you.

1. Mindful noticing

Most change starts with mindfully noticing. This is simply taking an honest look at what has your attention throughout the day. I often work with clients who think they have a positive outlook on things yet are surprised by what they find when working with this practice. 

A good way to remind yourself to check on your thought is to set a reminder on your phone once an hour. Other ways of remembering to notice your thoughts is to wear a piece of jewelry in a place you’re not used to, like a ring on a different finger. As you notice it, you’ll be reminded to see what you've been focusing on. You can even purchase a bracelet that vibrates once an hour, as a reminder.

When the reminder alerts you, jot down a few words about what you were thinking and how you were feeling. This inventory of your thoughts and feelings will bring you fresh insight into your patterns of focus.

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2. Congratulate yourself for noticing 

It’s common for people to be less aware of their habitual thoughts than they think. It’s important to congratulate yourself for noticing a negative thought, feeling, or pattern, rather than scolding yourself. You don’t want to pile on negative thoughts about your negative thoughts! 

When you stop to notice what you’re thinking and feeling, no matter what it is, tell yourself “well done” for noticing. We tend to avoid things that make us feel bad, so you don’t want the noticing of thoughts and feelings to become something you shy away from. Instead, do a little dance and be silly. 

Feel good about the fact that you checked in with yourself. The positive feelings not only interrupt anything negative you might have been thinking or feeling, but they also begin the process of shifting focus to something positive about yourself.  

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3. Cultivate a positive mindset

A positive mindset doesn’t happen through force, it happens through curiosity. Become curious about your mind, your thoughts, and your feelings. Your thoughts are not who you are. They are passing through and are ever-changing. Rather than trying to force change (which doesn't feel good and therefore will encourage resistance), ask questions. 

Pretend your mind is like a child you love. You can’t wait to see what it comes up with next.

Test the accuracy of your thoughts by asking if they’re true. Do you know for certain that whatever you've been thinking about is not an assumption? Ask yourself what positive possibilities exist, instead. Maybe, that thing you’re worried about in the future will go better than you think. Maybe, a conversation you had was appreciated by the other person. Is there a way you can reframe whatever you’re focusing on in a positive light?

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Ways to grow

Even if you check the validity of a negative thought or feeling and find it to be true (Yes, I really did screw up that proposal and it got turned down.), how can you use it to learn or grow?

Focus on the opportunity to improve. Think of life as a practice where you’re always getting better. Again, be curious and make it a game. 

Don’t take things personally 

Other people’s judgment says more about them than it does about you. Other people are also worried about how they’re being perceived. Stay on your side of the street and recognize that other people’s opinions are informed by their life experiences and are subjective. 

If someone offers honest advice you can use to improve yourself, then thank them. If someone has said or done something hurtful, then chalk that up to their subjective opinion. You don’t know what they’re going through. If it’s not honest, helpful guidance, then let it go. It’s not about you. Find something fun to shift your mood and change your thoughts. 

What we focus on throughout the day determines how we feel about ourselves.

That focus is self-hypnosis and is more changeable than you might think. Inventory your thoughts and feelings and find ways to improve them. Remember to approach the processes with joyful curiosity. Don’t scold yourself when your intention is to improve. 

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Nicole Corbett is a certified hypnotherapist and shamanic healer who combines spiritual and intuitive traditions with hypnosis to help clients reframe and release old patterns.