Symbolic activities can be a great method for changing your mindset and attitude in an unconventional way. How often do you actively practice and embrace symbolism in your daily life?
A big part of self-improvement is learning how to play with your mind in a more positive and constructive way.
As someone who has always been a rational and skeptical person, it took me awhile to finally understand the power of using our imagination for self-change.
For many years, I’ve focused on learning tools from psychology to improve myself. I studied cognitive psychology to become a more healthy and practical thinker. I studied behavioral psychology to build new and better habits. I studied social psychology to become a better communicator and improve my daily relationships.
While everything I’ve learned from these disciplines has improved my overall happiness and well-being – and I strongly urge everything to learn about them as well – for a long time, I still felt as though something was fundamentally missing in my life.
It’s important to be a balanced person – this includes paying attention to all the different aspects of ourselves: physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, and spiritual.
One of my weakest areas in life has always been finding that spiritual element. I grew up Roman Catholic, but I never took it too seriously. By the time I received my Confirmation, I had already considered myself an out-spoken atheist. I had the attitude that “If I can’t measure it empirically or explain it logically, then it isn’t real.”
While this attitude is shared among a lot of intelligent people today, it can also become limiting. It often hurts our ability to find and create meaning in life.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that symbolic activities – even small rituals like wearing a lucky shirt during a big exam or kissing your necklace before shooting a free-throw – can play a powerful role in bringing out our best selves in certain situations.*
(*Observing the symbolic and superstitious behaviors of professional athletes was one of the first things that got me thinking, “Hm, maybe there is something to this.”)
To a rational mind, symbolic activities can often seem silly and superstitious – like performing a rain dance to try to change the weather or praying to God to try and win the lottery.
The truth is this is a misunderstanding of the real purpose behind symbolic activities.
The goal isn’t to try to change something external through sheer force of will, but to change something internal so that you are more mentally equipped to face whatever obstacles you may come across in your life.
Do One Symbolic Activity Per Day
Your daily routine often defines where you are going in life. When I want to make a change in something about myself, my first question is usually, “What’s one small habit I can start doing every day?”
If you want to change something about yourself but you can’t translate it into one concrete action, then you’re wishing for change – not creating it.
The same holds true for practicing symbolism. In fact, I recommend everyone practices at least one symbolic activity each day to exercise that part of their mind. I even have “Symbolic Activity” added to my daily habit tracker so that it becomes a consistent habit – I’m currently at a 400+ daily streak.
What type of symbolic activities could you do?
First, a symbol is any word, image, or object that represents something outside of its ordinary meaning. When a superstitious person finds a four leaf clover, it’s not just a four leaf clover – it’s a symbol of good luck and fortune.
If you’re a religious person, you already have a lot of symbols available to you. Christians have the Latin Cross, Judaism has the Star of David, Islam has the Crescent and Star, Buddhism has the Wheel of Dharma, Taoism has the Yin-Yang symbol.
All of these symbols can be used as objects for daily prayer, meditation, or reflection. Once you understand a symbol’s meaning (or the meaning you give it), you can use it to elevate your mind and change your mental state.
If you’re not a religious person, there are still plenty of symbols for you to draw from. It could be a favorite object, an animal, a piece of art, or you can create your own symbols.
When I read about psychomagic a couple years ago, I realized that almost anything can become a powerful symbol if it makes sense to that individual person.
I often create my own symbols and rituals to change my mindset. For example, in the Blue Energy Hypnosis, I use the visualization of a “blue aura” to represent calm, relaxation, and comfort. In my Flying Boulder Ritual, I visualize a “huge boulder” that represents obstacles or hardship, and then I imagine myself picking it up and throwing it off my path.
For awhile, I was practicing my “Flying Boulder Ritual” every morning before jumping in the shower. It only takes about one minute, but it allowed me to tap into that unexplainable energy in myself that I couldn’t access without the help of symbolism.
Currently, I’m practicing a new ritual I designed for myself which I call “I Am Energy.” Here’s how it works.
“I Am Energy” Ritual
Every morning after my mindful stretching I jump right into my “I Am Energy” ritual.
Here’s the basics of what I do:
- Stand up straight in front of a full length mirror with my hands by my sides, making eye contact with myself.
- Slowly crouch down and “punch” the ground with both my hands in front of me, maintaining eye contact through the mirror.
- With each punch I say to myself, “I am energy” as I visualize a red aura leaving my fists and surrounding my body.
- Slowly stand back up and repeat the process 20 times, as the red aura grows and grows around me.
- With each punch, the red aura grows bigger until it starts filling up the entire room.
- With some punches, I’ll imagine a huge red firework springing from my body, exploding above me, and then the red energy sprinkling down onto me.
- At times I’ll also imagine the red energy filling up my entire home, then I’ll visualize a bird’s eye view (like Google Maps) of the red energy growing around my local area, my entire state, my entire country, and enveloping the entire world.
In this exercise, the “red aura” symbolizes energy, motivation, and focus.
The more I practice it, the stronger the symbol becomes. Now whenever I practice this short 1-2 minute exercise, I can physically feel my energy levels begin to rise and elevate.
You can try it for yourself if you want, but it would be even better if you created a symbolic activity of your own. Often these types of exercises can be very personalized and subjective, so it’s important you experiment with symbols that work for you.
You can start with something super small, like holding a sentimental object or piece of jewelry while reciting your favorite affirmations. Or if you’re religious, you can hold a religious object in your hands while praying (such as a Bible, cross, or rosary beads if you’re a Christian).
Try to find a symbolic activity that you can easily do every morning (or night). It doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, just something to engage your mind in a new and different way.
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