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Ten to One

By Thea Iberall

I used to beat myself up. If I messed up, I'd call myself names. I'd have deep regrets for things I didn't do and yell at myself. Everyone else was better than I was. They were smarter, could play piano better, do sports better, sound more intelligent. They could write better than me. They were friends with each other and didn’t like me even though I bent myself into a pretzel to be liked by them. If I misspoke about something, I’d feel a deep humiliation. People said I should love myself and when I tried to do it, I didn't believe it.

One night, in a tearful call to my mentor where I poured out the mess my life was in, she asked me to write down ten good things about myself. I could barely think of anything.

I own a condo. I have a PhD. I’m not using things to numb out my feelings...

I called her the next day and she told me to do it again.

I own a car. I have a job. I have a tennis partner...

When I called her back the next day, I asked her the point of this. She asked me if I was willing to commit to doing this, that whenever I said or thought something negative about myself, to stop and write down ten good things about myself. I agreed to do it. What was the big deal.

I got small pads of paper and put them in my office, my house, my car. The first problem I had was to catch myself when I said or thought the negative thing. The things I said about myself weren’t pretty but I really wasn’t aware that I was doing it. It took a while, but I started hearing my negative self-talk. Remembering my commitment, I would look for one of those little pads of paper and I would write down ten positive things about myself.

I’ve kept eight plants alive for a year. I had a dinner party for friends. I ate 3 meals today and nothing in between...

If I was driving, I'd park and write them down.

I can play the piano. I'm a good researcher. I had my first story published...

Slowly, my car and desk were filling up with small papers. It started getting easy to think of things for my list.

I’m good at tennis. I’m healthy. I'm funny...

I cleaned my car of all the papers. Slowly, it filled up again with more lists.

I'm a good mentor. I help my parents. I am curious...

Deeper, more core things found their way to my lists.

I’m a supportive friend. I am a kind person. I’m smart, loving, patient...

I started noticing something. There were fewer pieces of paper. I was shifting my treatment of myself. It became only occasional that I said something negative about myself. After a long, long while, it became pretty rare. Rare, but not non-existent. I still do it when it happens.

I often reflect on the process I went through. For me, it felt like I was reprogramming my brain. In my neuroscience studies, I remember my professor explaining that the brain’s job is to keep us alive so it will go with its tried and true techniques no matter how bad they are for us. Our brains don’t care if we are unhappy, it just cares that we are alive. It won’t jump into the unknown. In order to convince our brains to do things another way, the task is to slowly retrain it. I think all those physical actions of writing down lists of ten good things about myself was a way to focus my attention on a new way of thinking. By practicing replacing one negative thing with ten positive things, I overpowered my go-to circuits. I reprogrammed my brain so that I slowly began treating myself with true and supportive love. I integrated acceptance of myself into my core beliefs.

I loved the lesson of ten to one. It’s too easy to get caught up in day-to-day problems and annoyances, to get caught up in the collective unconscious. A few years ago, I realized I needed another action to keep my priorities aligned with something greater than myself. So I decided to start saying ten things I am grateful for. For the gifts from my parents—my health, my brains, my curiosity. For the gifts from everything and everyone around me—love, friendship, insights.

If the list of good things about myself was an elementary education in learning to accept and love myself, the gratitude list is an advanced education in accepting and loving everything and everyone around me.

Go into this week with the attitude that your peace, your health of mind, and your heart mean more than getting everything else done. That your smile matters, That feeling rested matters. That holding the hand of your loved ones matter. So pause lots, function at a pace that doesn’t pull you apart. Honour the things that make you feel good inside, the things that make you feel alive. Give time to those things this week. Make time the gift it is, by giving it to what really matters to you.

Participants' Reflections

  • Heartfelt and many thanks.

  • This struck home with me. The productivity coach Tony Stone would make us write 100 things. The interesting thing about that, was once you got past the self-congratulatory first five or ten, like I’m working towards world peace, you get down to like I trimmed my fingernails last night. When you get to number 100, it makes you realize how many minute things in our lives we have to be thankful for. I highly recommend it to everyone.

  • Thank you for that. As I was listening, I was also thinking of the grooves in my own brain. The one that stood out came during my meditation. I have a groove in my brain that at any moment, something bad will happen. The other shoe will drop, something terrible is going to happen. I know it’s from an event that happened when I was five years old and I fell out of a car. My mom was driving and she didn’t know I fell out. Fortunately, there were no cars behind us. I got up and started running towards the car. I remember eating animal cookies, having the best time ever after going to the zoo, and then there I was, in the middle of a street. It’s taken all this time into my adult years to figure out why I have this anxiety—something bad is going to happen. I go from zero to oh my God when I hear fire trucks. Thank you for that. It’s giving me more courage to continue working and creating that new road.

  • Your reflection yesterday about the affirmation—I knew this would fit in with that. I had a similar incident happen when I was ten and I was left behind. I do believe in this process of gently moving our brains along.

  • I just think it’s amazing that our brains are able to shift like that. It may take lots of pieces of paper with ten things on it. I think it’s incredibly hopeful and possible. I know those negative thoughts come up for me a lot less than they used to. That’s amazing. No sense being down on myself all the time. We can change.

  • You can. It takes work. It takes awareness. That’s why awareness is always the first step.

  • One of the lines that struck me was the one about pacing and not being in chaos. I thought, I’m not pacing, I’m not busy. But I realized that my emotions are chaotic. I can feel that kind of vibration in my body. I think it’s because where we are in the world. It’s not what I am doing, it’s my reaction. So the breathing is good for me. To come back to the breathing and calm my emotional state.

  • It’s good to have awareness about the energy around us that can affect our emotions. And to keep breathing.

  • I know this isn’t productive but I don’t know how to undo it. I often feel badly that I don’t have a bachelor’s degree and I’m computer-illiterate in today’s world. I often go to those negatives. I define my self-worth by the lack of advanced degrees and technical skills. I’m willing to make a commitment to write down ten positive things about myself.

  • Thank you all for joining us today on this spiritual journey as we wander through our authenticity, learning how to find peace and serenity no matter the insanity that is going on in our lives or around us. Thank you. Have a very blessed day.

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1 Comment

Aha, you can retrain your brain. Far out!!!!

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