Take your thoughts to court
"It’s too late to switch jobs now." "What if I make a mistake? It would be a catastrophe." Lordy, your brain’s a chatterbox! But as psychologist Daniel Amen says, "Every thought in your head isn’t true just because you’re thinking it."

Painful thoughts hold us back in two ways: They make us feel crappy, and they keep us from taking action to achieve our dreams. Try this. Think a thought—"Everyone will think I'm nuts to leave this safe, well-paying job to look for one I love"—and then notice how your body responds. You’ll probably feel tenser, tighter and lower-energy. Does that make you want to bounce outside and grab the world by the horns, or take to your bed with a box of Yodels? I thought so. To get rid of painful thoughts, take them to court.

If you’ve ever watched any legal drama on TV—"Boston Legal," "LA Law," "Law & Order: Special Ferrets Edition"— you’ve seen how the prosecution and defense labor to dig up every possible piece of evidence. You do the same thing inside your head, with one crucial difference: You miss a lot of the facts. Why? Because you tend to notice only evidence that confirms what you already think. (Psychologists call this confirmation bias.) If you think everyone will believe you’re nuts for leaving your present life, your efficient brain will helpfully supply all the evidence of previous failures (Remember how your coworkers snickered when you didn’t get that promotion?) and trot right past the mental file of your successes (Remember when you started that design blog and all these commenters loved it?). You’ll have to work harder to dredge up those examples of triumph—the examples that disconfirm your original belief. But making the effort is worthwhile—it literally rewires your brain for success.

Be finicky about your evidence; if it wouldn't hold up in a court of law, it doesn't count. (Most of our beliefs wither when we fail to find hard evidence for them; they really shrivel up when we find counter-evidence.) Once you’ve gathered all the evidence that disconfirms your painful thought, return to the courtroom and make your case. During a trial, both sides take the exact same body of evidence, then proceed to spin completely different stories about what happened. Your mission is to tell yourself a better, more inspiring, motivating story using the same facts--one that will make your Body Compass point true north and move you to take effective action.

In the example above, you might call on all the evidence from the "everybodys" that you care about—supportive friends, family and spouses—who’ve applauded your previous successful forays outside your comfort zone (whether in work, home, community or friendships). "I had no idea how to use WordPress, but I figured it out and now hundreds of people follow my blog every month." "I audited that design course and the professor gave me the highest grade in the class." "When I made that programming mistake, I lost a day of data—no big deal--but I also figured out three new ways to drive SEO.") Notice how this better story uses the same facts to help your body feel energized, lighter—and how that feeling motivates you to leave that stultifying job behind and strike out for more fulfilling territories.

Read Ask Your Body, Not Your Brain »
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