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Unprecedented. That would be one word to describe the rise to national and international prominence of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a woman known for her firm defiance of conventional politics.
This woman who shook up the American political arena entered Congress with a positive, bold agenda and minimal backing from big-money national political organizations. With neither major funding support nor any notable endorsements during her run for office, Ocasio-Cortez resorted to a 21st-century version of old-fashioned “grassroots” campaigns.
Her tireless door knocking, SM posting and crowdfunding efforts fundamentally represented who she is: An average citizen who, against all odds, unseated Congressman Joe Crowley, a 20-year incumbent representing New York’s 14th congressional district. One of her secret weapons in the fight was her mastery of positive thinking and energy.
A behind-the-scenes look at the ground-shaking political phenomenon of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Recently, fans, haters and those in between had a rare opportunity to gain insight into the not-so-glamorous world of 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s improvised political operation.
The Netflix documentary “Knock Down the House” takes viewers for an intimate spin through a time, just a year ago, when Ocasio-Cortez was still tending bar in a New York City restaurant.
We see her bouncing between slinging drinks for patrons and struggling to raise funds in her effort to become the 14th district’s Democratic party nominee in the 2018 general election. Through it all, she maintains her characteristic positive energy and demeanor.
One scene that has gotten a lot of attention shows a nervous Ocasio-Cortez mustering positive thoughts and giving herself a pep talk prior to a public debate with Crowley. A fellow Democrat, Crowley was AOC’s opponent in the primary election (preliminary vote) that preceded the general election.
“I am experienced enough to do this. I am knowledgeable enough to do this. I am prepared enough to do this. I am mature enough to do this. I am brave enough to do this,” she rehearses.
“This whole time, he’s gonna tell me I can’t do this. He’s gonna tell me I’m small, I’m little, that I’m young, that I’m inexperienced,” she adds.
Taking a series of inhales and exhales, Ocasio-Cortez then pushes her arms forward as if she’s removing negativity and re-establishing her positive energy and presence in the space.
How do positive energy, thoughts and self-talk reshape unconscious behaviors?
Ocasio-Cortez’s use of self-talk shows how anyone has the ability to defeat ill-serving thoughts, transforming them into positive mental energy.
Every time you repeat a behavior, you strengthen communication between the brain cells involved in executing that behavior. As psychologist Deann Ware, Ph.D. explains, when brain cells frequently communicate (“fire together”, in neurological terms), “the messages that travel the same pathway in the brain over and over begin to transmit faster and faster.”
Think of the dramatic difference between an aspiring athlete’s struggles and the way a pro makes it all look easy. Through years of repetition, completing each action becomes easier and requires less conscious thought – a habit is born.
So how does this relate to inner dialogue and self-talk? By verbalizing subconscious habits of thought like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did in her moment of distress, you exert control over your mind. Rather than letting thoughts run off in all directions, many of them self-defeating, you channel your brain’s energy toward the positive outcome you want.
In his landmark book The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge shows the miraculous ability of the brain to rewire itself. With regular and conscious use of positive thoughts and self-talk, we can train our minds to default to positivity. And we all know that positive energy is the foundation of a greater feeling of preparedness to tackle challenges.
So… How can I use self-talk more effectively?
- Think about all the people who would like to see you succeed.
As Maya Angelou said in her poem “Our Grandmothers,” “I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.” In moments of great distress, it is important to remind yourself that you aren’t just doing well for yourself. You are representing all the people who have supported you and are rooting for your success. That realization is empowering, and it both reminds and allows you to keep your eyes on the bigger picture.
Download and print Mayu Angelou’s quote here!
- Refer to yourself in the third person.
In a study conducted at Moser’s MSU Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, neuroscientists Ethan Kross and Jason Moser placed individuals in stressful situations. The researchers found that if participants referenced themselves in the third person during self-talk, it led to a quick decrease in signs of emotional distress in their brains.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez clearly does just fine with her first-person self-talk, but the third-person technique can be especially valuable for the rest of us when we feel negative thoughts creeping up.
“Essentially, we think referring to yourself in the third person leads people to think about themselves more similar [sic] to how they think about others, and you can see evidence for this in the brain,” said Moser. “That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can be useful for regulating emotions.”
- Believe in what you are saying.
It’s not enough to just go through the motions of a positive pep talk. You have to wholeheartedly believe in your ability to overcome the challenges you are facing. You have to talk to yourself like you mean it.
Vividly visualize and feel your impending victory. See yourself tired but triumphant at the end of the battle or difficulty. Forming that outcome in your mind can shape the outcome you attract in reality.
One way to start making positive energy and self-talk a habit
Setting our default mental modes to positive takes self-awareness and practice. We must learn to catch ideas that don’t serve us, and then manage them by inserting positive thoughts in their place.
One amazingly effective step in this direction is just taking the time to remind ourselves of all the little (and big!) things that we’re grateful for in life.
This action might seem almost trivial. However, multiple experiments, such as this study on Vietnam war veterans, have shown that there do appear to be “benefits to regularly focusing on one’s blessings.”
With more practice, we strengthen the habit of gratitude, which then makes the act of feeling grateful easier. As our gratitude grows, it becomes a powerful source of positive energy, thoughts and emotions generally.
Psst… You can download and print out our weekly gratitude template here to get you started!
Emotions often seem beyond our control. However, it only takes a moment of self-awareness and a simple reminder of your own power to right your mental ship and keep going strong. As Henry Ford once famously said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”