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The power of positive thinking

Updated: Mar 2

I’d planned a route for my run and was three-quarters of the way through, feeling I was doing pretty well. “I don’t even need to stop for a rest”, I thought to myself proudly, “I won’t stop running ‘til I reach the end”. Unaccountably, my legs started slowing down and I lapsed into a walk! How could this happen, when I had been giving myself a pep talk?

My father-in-law is about to putt the winning shot from the edge of the green. “Don’t miss this one,” he tells himself as he hits the ball, and frustratedly watches it sail wide of the hole.

Why is that we seem to do the opposite of what we want? That our body takes over and thwarts our desires?

The key is in the messages we are giving our subconscious brain, which responds much better to positive instructions. It ‘hears’ and acts on the positive commands in a sentence and skips over negative ones such as “don’t”, “won’t”, or “shouldn’t”.

So, my subconscious brain had picked up on the messages “stop for a rest; stop running” and took that to be my instruction. The golfer had effectively told himself to “miss the shot”.

This quirk of the brain manifests itself in all different aspects of our lives. Maybe you’ve noticed that there is nothing more enticing than a door that says “Do not enter”? Or that when you see the sign in the park warning you not to walk on the grass, suddenly it’s almost impossible to resist the impulse to walk on the grass! This also explains why it can be so hard to give up bad habits, even when we really want to. We tell ourselves “Don’t eat that chocolate bar” or “Don’t light up a cigarette” but it makes us want to do it even more.

Practice positive self-talk

So if we want to make effective changes to our lifestyles, whether that be to lose weight, become more confident, or lower our golf handicap, we need to understand and exploit the way our brains work.

One way we can do this is to be aware of how we talk to ourselves, and try to give ourselves only positive instructions. It can take some practice to catch ourselves using negatives, as it is such a natural way to express ourselves. We often use sentences that we intend as a positive but in fact contain a negative.

Be on the lookout for the use of negative words such as ‘don’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘shouldn’t’, or ‘mustn’t’. And each time you notice yourself using a negative, try to reframe the sentence into a positive. For example, you might tell yourself to “Step away from the chocolate bar” or “I am going to putt that ball directly into the hole”. Try to focus your thoughts on what you wish to achieve, rather than what you want to avoid or refrain from doing. After a while, it will come much more naturally to you, and you will reap the benefits.

Using Affirmations

Another way we can turn the subconscious to our advantage is through the use of positive affirmations, or mantras. The effectiveness of this was first discovered in the 1920’s by Émile Coué, a French psychologist. He realised that if we repeat a positive sentence over and over, it will start to become true. This works even if we do not believe the sentence.

He instructed his clients to repeat the sentence "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better" out loud, on a daily basis. People who did this every day noticed a significant improvement in their well-being.

You can use Coué’s famous sentence, or maybe come up with your own: something targeted at a specific issue you want to change. Think about a change you really want to make. Then put it in the present tense, as if it has already happened. Note that affirmations work better if they are believable, so indicating a move towards a positive is more effective than stating a change has already happened. So for example, if you would like to be more self-confident, your affirmation might state “I am becoming more and more self-confident every day" or "I am getting better and better at coping with challenges". Write it on a post-it note and stick it somewhere you will read it every day, like on the bathroom mirror. Set a reminder on your phone so it will flash up daily with your affirmation. Or make it your home screen.

Positive visualisation

Our brains respond to positive visualisation as well as language. If we imagine something going well, it is more likely to happen. For example, a tennis player who spends time visualising themselves playing the perfect serve will find that their performance on the court improves.

If you have a job interview coming up, find a quiet place to relax, and imagine yourself confidently meeting the interviewer, answering all the questions superbly and being given the job. Make sure you put in lots of detail, such as how you are dressed, where you are and what you say. The same technique works for a driving test, an exam or a public performance.


Hypnotherapy incorporates all of these concepts to help you make really effective changes to your behaviour and lifestyle. During a clinical hypnotherapy session, your therapist uses positive language and suggestions which your subconscious will respond to. They will work with you to formulate positive affirmations which tell your subconscious you already are the person you want to be. And use guided visualisation and rehearsal so that you are totally prepared for success, whether that is on the sports field, in the interview room or at the supermarket choosing healthy food.

Call us now to find out how Stepping Stones can help you harness the power of your mind to improve your life.

This article was first published in Hypnotherapy Directory

a notepad with affirmations written on

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