67 repetitions of a thought.
That is what Dr. Shannon Irvine estimates to be the average time between first having an idea and when the subconscious mind becomes triggered to automate it.
“In the last two years, we have discovered that thoughts really do create your emotions,” the neuropsychologist tells me. “Thought fires before emotion, then your brain connects. You repeat that link enough, and it starts running automatically.”
The culmination of those automations becomes a network, a deeply embedded series of perceptions that impacts everything in your life.
What most people don’t realize, she says, is that the entire thing is negotiable.
When you have a thought for the very first time, it passes and generally doesn’t have too much of an impact on you. However, when it is repeated, your subconscious begins to perceive it not as an observation, but as an important fact that needs to be embedded into the framework of your daily life — an idea that you should, at some level, be constantly aware of.
What we are most keen to adopt into that mindset are often worst case scenarios, deep fears, paralyzing insecurities, and anything else we imagine might possibly be a threat to us. Unfortunately, the majority of our daily actions, decisions and outcomes stem from that same place in your subconscious where all of that automation is being stored.
“What we’re doing is being driven by that automatic program,” Dr. Irvine says.
However, there is hope. She’s used the following process to train 7 and 8-figure earning entrepreneurs not only to achieve greater levels of career success, but to mend relationships, find deep fulfillment, and free themselves of “stressed success,” where you are accomplished on the surface, but unhappy just beneath.
Our job now, she says, is to do some serious inner-work.
How to remove limiting thoughts
Dr. Irvine explains that its the moments most of us avoid — tension, resistance, or cognitive dissonance — that offer us the greatest opportunity for change.
“At these times, we are actually aware of what we are saying to ourselves all along.” She uses the following four step process with her clients while coaching them to use challenges as opportunities for real and lasting change.
First, recognize the thought.
The biggest problem for most of us is that we aren’t even aware of what we are telling ourselves all day.
“Most high-performers go around and think, who am I to do this, most people have imposter syndrome,” Dr. Irvine explains. Then, they just try to out-work, disprove or avoid it. None of these tactics work, because by trying to suppress it, it stays automated.
Instead, we need to just get clear on what we are thinking, and ultimately, what we really believe about ourselves.
Second, record the thought.
Writing the thought down actually “pulls it out” of your subconscious, Dr. Irvine explains.
When people display resistance towards this, it is because of the idea that “what we focus on grows,” or that by writing it down, we are legitimizing or making it more real or likely than it was before. Not so.
“The reality is that it’s already running 80 to 90 percent of your day. There’s nothing more important than recognizing it for what it is.”
Third, refute the thought.
The best thing about our brains, she explains, is that as soon as we are aware of the thought, we will naturally begin to challenge it.
“By saying it out loud, we see it as the lie it is,” Dr. Irvine shares.
If that’s challenging, try to imagine someone you deeply love and care for (the kind of person you’d “jump in front of a bus for,” she says) and then picture saying the thought to them. What this does is remove your negativity bias, which she estimates has us believe 9 times more negative thoughts about ourselves than anyone else.
When we imagine applying the thought to someone else, we see how limiting and destructive it can be.
Fourth, record yourself speaking the new thought.
The final and most powerful step is to re-wire your thinking.
Dr. Irvine suggests doing so by actually recording yourself speaking your new ideas in the present tense (perhaps on your phone) and then listening to it in the morning and before bed. “You’re building a new network in your brain around the truth, around the old belief. You’re showing your subconscious that you’re not aligning with that anymore,” she says.
How to rewire your brain to succeed amid uncertainty
This process becomes vital during times of uncertainty, such as we are facing right now.
Our brain’s first instinct is to “seek the familiar,” Dr. Irvine says. “When everything changes and everything is uncertain and nothing is controllable, our brains are doing what they are wired to do, they are kicking into fight or flight mode… there’s a tiger in the room, so run,” she explains.
Her first advice is to limit our media intake.
“Pick one trusted source, someone reputable in nature, and check in once a day,” she explains, emphasizing that being informed is important. “But then be unavailable to it for the rest of the day.”
This is important because when we’re already triggered, we’re functioning from our sympathetic nervous system. We can’t focus, we can’t create. “This is why so many of us are so tired, so emotional right now. We are being flooded in neurochemicals. In order to re-wire your brain to succeed in certainty, we need to unplug from that,” she says.
Next, she suggests to make bold moves.
“Right now, we need to rise up in uncertain times more than we ever have. Now is the time to create the strongest vision you’ve ever had. We can’t control everything that’s going on around us, but we need to control our vision, and how vibrant and multi-dimensional that is. I am encouraging my clients, students and the people in my community to rise up,” she says.
Next, it’s time to pivot into leadership. Identify the things that need to start getting momentum. Is it going live on Instagram, updating a social media page, sending some emails? Just start taking action, she advises.
What if this comes off as insensitive?
One of the biggest challenges that dissuades people from taking action and leading during times of uncertainty is the fear that doing so will seem insensitive to the realities of our current predicament.
However, there is a way to lead mindfully.
“If we hold back and don’t put the thing out in the world that has the potential to change someone’s life, we are just being selfish,” Dr. Irvine explains. “Lead with your service, lead with your generosity, lead with your service, you are the thing that people are leaning toward, they need you right now.”
Challenges show us who is a problem-solver, and who is a problem-exacerbator.
If you find yourself on the wrong side of that, this is a perfect time to start recalibrating the way you think.