Have you ever tried to think a new thought, and heard your brain say “I don’t know what to think”?
We all have, because brains like to be efficient, and coming up with new thoughts requires them to expend mental energy!
But despite your brain’s protests, it actually is capable of coming up with new thoughts if you learn not to take “I don’t know” for an answer.
That’s why I want to teach you an easy brain hack today for getting your brain to generate new and different thoughts that you can learn to think.
That hack is the thought ladder.
A thought ladder is how we go from thinking one thought to thinking something new. It creates the pathway for you to travel toward your goal thoughts.
In doing so, thought ladders help sidestep a major pitfall of thought work: trying to believe something that’s too positive, that you don’t believe.
Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself. You discover thought work and get excited, and decide to change your negative thoughts to their exact opposite.
Maybe you struggle with thoughts like “my body is gross” & decide to practice the thought “my body is beautiful” instead. Or you have thoughts like “I’m an idiot” and want to swap them out for thoughts like “I’m smart and capable.”
But you think it, and...nothing happens. You don’t feel any different.
This is totally normal, and it doesn’t mean that thought work doesn’t work or that you are broken or did anything wrong.
It just means that the thought you are thinking is too much of a 180 from your current thoughts. Your brain will be side-eying those new thoughts from the moment you suggest them.
These new thoughts won’t provide any relief because you don’t believe them. They may even feel worse to you than your current thoughts because they’ll trigger other thoughts like “this isn’t working” or “I’m doing this wrong” or “this is pointless.”
The thought ladder is the solution to this conundrum.
How does it work?
First, I want you to draw yourself a ladder.
At the bottom of the ladder, put your current thought.
Now, put your goal thought at the top of the ladder.
Your goal thought is a thought you don’t believe yet but would like to believe.
If you’re not sure what your goal thought should be, try imagining the opposite of your current thought. You can also imagine someone who has the feeling or result or beliefs you want. What would they be thinking?
Pro tip: only put one current thought at the bottom and one goal thought at the top. This isn’t a Picasso ladder, with four eyes on one face. And keep these thoughts simple, too! No semicolons or long compound sentences. You’ll thank me later.
Now check in with your body - how does the goal thought feel? If it feels positive, even just for a moment, then you actually are ready to believe that thought and don’t even need the ladder. (Remember that your brain having other thought objections doesn’t mean you don’t believe a thought. The question is how it feels in your body when you think it.)
If you don’t feel anything, then you’ve got a good goal thought - remember, it’s a goal because you don’t believe it yet!
Once you’ve chosen a goal thought, it’s time to brainstorm some ladder thoughts.
Ladder thoughts are what will take you from your current thought to your goal thought. They’re not meant to sound like something you’d find in a Hallmark card or an Instagram post. You want a ladder thought to feel one of three ways:
- Slightly positive
- Neutral (no feeling)
- Still negative, but less intensely negative than your current thought
As long as it fits one of those criteria, it’s a good ladder thought to practice.
To help yourself come up with some ladder thoughts, try the following on for size:
- Think of a thought you like, and attach an opening qualifier like “I am open to believing” or “I am learning to believe…” For example, if your goal thought is “I am inherently worthy,” a ladder thought could be “I am learning to believe I am inherently worthy.”
- Try training your brain to question your current thought by attaching an opener to it, like “It’s possible my brain is not reliable when it tells me I am not worthy.”
- If you’re struggling to believe a ladder thought, try distancing the thought from you by depersonalizing it. Our thoughts are most painful (and therefore more difficult to change!) when they are about us. When you apply your thoughts to other people, it can help you get more perspective on the thought. So, if you have the thought that you’re a bad mother because you yell at your kids sometimes, you may not be able to believe you are a good mother just yet. But you may be able to believe the thought “there are good mothers who yell at their kids sometimes” or “a person can yell at her kids and be a good mom too.”
I encourage you to experiment with things that help you brainstorm ladder thoughts. Come up with a few ladder thoughts for each thought ladder you’re working on, and then read each ladder thought and see which one feels best to you.
Keep in mind that “best” doesn’t necessarily mean “looks good on paper.” It may not seem like an exciting inspiring thought, and that’s ok. That’s what the goal thought is for, and you’ll get there eventually. But you have to climb the ladder first.
Once you pick a thought, what should you do?
Practice practice practice.
I can’t stress this enough - often my students will stop practicing their ladder thoughts and then blame it on the thought and tell me the thought “stopped working.” In fact, what stopped working is you -- you have to practice a thought until it becomes second nature to you. It’s not a one-and-done affair! You don’t expect to lift weights once and become ripped, and thought work is the same way.
Once your ladder thought becomes natural to you and you don’t have to practice it on purpose to believe it (eg you find your brain just thinking it spontaneously) then you move onto a new ladder thought.
This can be one of the original ladder thoughts you brainstormed that seemed a bigger reach before, or you can do a new ladder where the current thought at the bottom is the ladder thought you have internalized.
Or, sometimes, after just one ladder thought you’re actually ready to go straight to the goal thought! To determine if you’re ready to do that, try thinking the goal thought & seeing how it feels to you. Does it feel good? True? Or does it still feel wrong? Your body is always the guide.
The thought ladder may not sound very exciting or sexy at first, but that’s exactly what makes it so powerful - it’s a practical tool you can use to pave your way to your wildest goals in life.
If you work on your ladder thoughts every day, you will build the life you want.
And what could be better than that?
I'm a former lawyer and now a Master Certified Coach. I work with high-achieving women who believe in empowerment, but don't always feel empowered. I teach my clients how to overcome social conditioning and their own self-critical thoughts so that they can create more confidence and get what they [...]