I’m an owl, not a lark. I like to stay up late and get up correspondingly late. But recently, I’ve tried to shift to a slightly earlier schedule. Yet, I’ve done just the reverse–stay up even later.

Tuesday, I lay down with a book in the afternoon and dozed off. When I woke, I thought, “Dang, now I won’t sleep well tonight.” I knew the power of that kind of thinking to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. I probably wouldn’t sleep well that night precisely because I didn’t expect to. I tried to suppress that negative thought. Yet, I sensed it flying below my conscious radar screen the rest of the day. Sure enough, I didn’t even feel sleepy enough to try to go to bed till about 5 AM Wed.

Adding insult to injury, when I got up Wednesday, my head talk beat me up, “This is awful! It can’t continue. I’ll soon be as out of sync with other people around here as if I were in Asia! I feel like a lazy slug.”

I stepped back and recognized two reasons my mind was working against my objectives. Once I realized that, I applied persuasion skills to my own contrary mind.

You can experience the first reason for my contrariness by doing this: Don’t think of a donut. What image just popped into your mind? A donut, right? Telling ourselves (or others) not to think about something instantly causes them to think of that very thing. The mind processes the “donut” quicker than the “don’t.”

The solution is to deliberately think about something else. If you don’t want to think about a donut, think about a salad. Want to stop that tune that’s been playing in your head all day? Mentally play a different tune, or better, hum it aloud. Want your child to stop thinking about monsters? Tell her to dream about visiting Granny.

On Wednesday, I didn’t want to think about lack of sleep. Instead, I reminded myself why it doesn’t matter when I go to sleep. I can write at any time of day or night. Most of my individual clients prefer to see me after close of business. If I have an early group training session, I know that, when I turn on my trainer mentally, I can function perfectly well on only a few hours sleep. I’ve proven that many times.

As to the second reason for my mind’s contrariness, recall that people instinctively resist being “made wrong.” [See Bridges to Consensus, Chapter 4; and Love on the Rocks with a Twist, short story “Duet for Flute and Phantom,” and “Study Notes” that follow.] The more you indicate that others are wrong, the harder they resist. Hence my “Silver Rule”: Avoid making people wrong, as by contradicting, arguing, reprimanding, criticizing or indirectly implying that they’re wrong by a should statement like, “You should get on an earlier schedule.”

This applies to self criticism, too. Whether you accept your own self-criticism and beat yourself up or you argue with the head talk and try to justify yourself, making yourself wrong is actually physically weakening. In my classes, I often do an impromptu demonstration in which a trainee holds her arm out, and I try to push it down. Her ability to resist me weakens after I instruct her to engage in a bit of self-critical head talk. Conversely, re-focusing on a legitimate self-compliment boosts her strength back up. Words like “should,” “have to,” and “need to” have the same weakening effect as self-criticism.

The solution is to reality-test, rephrase and reframe your wrong-making head talk. [See Bridges to Consensus, pp. 177-8.]

To counter the implicit self-criticism in “This is awful! It can’t continue….lazy slug,” I focused on the benefits of a late schedule. If I get up late, I’m still fresh for those after-business clients. I love the quietness after all the neighbors are in bed. I love looking out my window at the midnight blue pool rippling in the breeze. I produce some of my best breakthrough ideas late at night.

Wednesday night, I fell asleep at what had been my normal time before Tuesdays’s 5:00 AM-er. More importantly, I woke on Thursday feeling positive.

How can you use the skill of replacing thoughts about what you don’t want with thoughts about what you do want? What self-criticism can you reality-test, rephrase and reframe? How can you help others to replace or re-vamp their negative thoughts? I’d like to hear about your experiences.

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