Q. How can you transition away from an attitude of personal powerlessness and defeatism?

A. Everything begins with a thought—a thought you hold onto or a thought that you change. That thought may be empowering or disempowering, hopeless or hopeful, helpless or helpful. For years Dr. Wayne Dyer has taught that if you want to change the way you feel you must change the way you think. The problem often is that you get stuck in learned patterns of negative thinking that continue to spiral around in your brain in an unhelpful feedback loop. When a negative thought pops into your mind you may hang onto it instead of taking action to think a different thought.

What you think results in a picture or representation of your thoughts being placed in working memory. Your brain makes no judgment about whether what is in working memory is helpful or unhelpful. Rather, it perceives that “if you put it into working memory it must be important to you and my job is to help you achieve it.”

It is really quite simple, although not necessarily always easy, to change the way you think. The simple part is to create a healthier and more functional replacement thought, which will result in a healthier and more functional picture for your subconscious to follow. The challenge is to choose consistently to immediately replace a negative thought and picture with a healthier replacement thought and picture.

When Jill tipped the scales at 247 pounds and her height was only five feet, she felt not only uncomfortably heavy but powerless to do anything about it. Her “temptation,” as she termed it, was fried foods. It didn’t matter whether it was potato chips or French fries, deep-fried macaroni and cheese, or fried ice cream. If it was fried she’d over indulge. One of her favorite sayings was, “If it’s green it’s trouble; if it’s fried gimme double.”

Jill would walk around the house saying, “I don’t want to eat fried foods anymore.” Of course that put a picture of fried foods into her working memory, which meant that her brain pushed her toward fried foods at every opportunity. This resulted in her actually eating more of them. Talk about feeling defeated and powerless!

When Jill was challenged to create a healthier replacement behavior, she said, “I enjoy eating crisp celery sticks and fresh apples.” That changed the pictures in her brain’s working memory. Now her task was to remove all fried foods from her home environment and, when she was hungry, choose to nibble celery sticks and fresh apples. The same principle applies to other areas of life. Change the way you think, let your new words create a new picture in working memory, and then use willpower to focus on the new picture. You can do it.