Letting Go of Judgment with Stuart Smalley
Posted On Dec 09, 2016
How many self-defeating thoughts have gone through your mind today? I’m betting at least a few. We all have them- parts of ourselves we feel we should improve upon, tasks we ought to be better at, reminders of mistakes we wish we hadn’t made popping into our train of thought. On the other hand, how many encouraging, positive or compassionate thoughts have gone through your mind in the last hour? If you are like most people, the negatives outweigh the positives by a large margin.
I used to think that affirmations were too hokey. Every time I saw reference to their use or ideas for positive mantras to practice my Judging Mind would pull up the recording in my head of Stuart Smalley’s Daily Affirmations on Saturday Night Live saying “because I am smart enough, and good enough, and gosh darn it… people like me.” It was a funny skit, but that doesn’t mean that affirmations are ridiculous. (You can find a sample here of Senator Al Franken in the role if you have no idea what I am talking about.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ldAQ6Rh5ZI
Put simply, it turns out that your brain believes way too much of what you tell it. We like to think of ourselves as collecting good facts, interpreting the information from our senses accurately, creating true memories, evaluating and making good decisions; and our brain is just chugging along and throwing all the information we give it into the right area for us to use on demand. We like to think so but we know that isn’t how it works- we can’t even remember what we wanted to do when we walk into the next room.
Neuroscientists are learning more about the adaptability of your brain all the time. We used to think that we had a finite amount of brain power- IQ was a fixed number, you were born with a certain number of brain cells and if you killed them off (for example, by using drugs) then you could never get those cells back. Now we are learning how not only our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs can change, but that the physical structure of our brain also continues to grow, develop, and change- contrary to what many of us learned not so long ago.
Our conscious self is growing and changing all this time, and so is that automatic pilot, hot thought generator that sometimes makes tears come to your eyes and you aren’t quite sure why. Affirming messages can be useful and have an impact on how we see ourselves, our relationships, and our world.
The unconscious mind can be influenced by our intention, and where we focus our mental and emotional energy. I had a difficult time understanding affirmations as useful in the past because I couldn’t get past envisioning them as a type of “magical thinking.” I am a practical and down-to-earth kind of person and that part of me is always present in my work. I want to use tools that have a good chance of working- not just “pop psych” and certainly no snake oil. I see now I had initially put affirmations into that box. I have learned to use affirming phrases or quotes to bring some balance to the overwhelming time/space advantage that self-defeating, critical and discouraging thoughts have in our heads.
Here is an exercise I like to call the Smalley Triple. Give it a try!
Consider a situation that happened in the last few days when you ended up feeling bad about yourself or your behavior. In this situation, I feel badly for dismissing a tool that might help people based on my own fear that I will be seen as ridiculous or laughed at- like Stuart Smalley.
Pick 3 strengths that have relevance to your situation. I have chosen humility, open-mindedness, and humor and playfulness from Seligman’s 24 character strengths.
Write an affirmation using those 3 strengths and write it down on an index card or as a note in your phone. Here’s mine: I am strong when I can admit mistakes and keep my mind open, and people really do like me!
Repeat your sentence 5 times (out loud or silently really doesn’t matter- your brain can hear you).
Repeat the affirmation a few times a day for a week. See if those new messages don't start popping into your head when you least expect it.
Marsha Jones, MA, LMFT is a therapist in private practice in Lynnwood, Washington. She works with adults and teens, specializing in treating depression and complex trauma/PTSD. She enjoys working with veterans and military families and served as a US Army MP. She loves to read anything but especially fantasy, and her nearly grown kids say that she spoils her cats too much. Her husband is also her business partner and you can learn more at www.buildingskillswa.com