We think approximately 60,000 thoughts each day. Many of these will be negative thoughts. Our brain will tell us that we doing something wrong. It will tell us we’re not good enough, and it will tell us we are too slow, too old, too something. It tells us things that are never good.
Our negative thoughts are often a habit and a protection mechanism. We have a primitive part of our brain which did a fabulous job back when we were living in caves, and hunting and gathering our food or being chased by Sabre Tooth Tigers.
Today, we have far fewer threats to our survival on a day-to-day basis. But our brain has not yet evolved to catch up with our new reality. It is still scanning each day for danger. It is looking to keep us safe by defaulting to the negative and finding fault, usually with ourselves.
So, our negative thinking about ourselves and how we are feeling is quite normal. It does not mean that anything has gone wrong. Our brain is just doing its thing.
However, if we start to feel bad about our negative thoughts and judge ourselves and/or beat ourselves up about them, then we will not only layer suffering on top of suffering, but we waste our time, energy and focus that could be spent better.
The answer is to manage our minds. We need to manage our negative thinking in a way that does not deplete us or make us feel worse.
The first step to managing our minds is to know our brains and listen to it. What exactly are we thinking? We want to expose all the thoughts that we are aware of and unaware of. By journaling and writing freely for 10 or 15 minutes on whatever comes to mind without censoring yourself or judging it. If you don’t feel comfortable keeping this written work around afterward, you can always tear it up and through it out. That process alone can be sometime cathartic.
You want to write down what you are thinking about a given situation or yourself which is generating a strong emotion within you. We write it down in order to shine a light on it and understand what we are dealing with.
Now, once you’ve written down everything you want to get out, you may be tempted to start judging yourself or feel hopeless or less than. This is not the point of the exercise.
You and your thoughts do not need to be different or better.
But what we want to do is clean up our thinking about our thinking in order not to wear ourselves down and make ourselves feel worse. We want to be easy about and in our thinking, to be free from judgement or trying to change them. If we can understand what we are thinking, we will see the way we are looking at our world, our lives and ourselves. Then we can start changing our perspective and choosing thoughts that will help us to create new results. It will help us to create the results we want.
By realising that this negative thinking is in fact quite normal, we take some of the pressure off of ourselves to do better. Reassure yourself that these crappy thoughts are exactly what the brain was designed to do – protect us, keep us safe, look for problems. Remind yourself that nothing has gone wrong no matter what you are thinking and feeling. It’s OK.
Next, you want to explore why you might be thinking some of these thoughts. Literally ask yourself: “Why might I think this?” Some of these thoughts might make sense to you. Others may be playing on repeat in your head and it’s probable that these are thoughts you started thinking as a child. You may have started thinking them as a protection mechanism or because of the way you interpreted the world as a child. Your brain may have started thinking these thoughts because it didn’t know better and it couldn’t understand them any other way. We had limited reasoning and immature brains. Then we just drag them into adulthood because we aren’t aware of them and no one tells us otherwise.
Hopefully this information will give you some relief. Even if you don’t make any other changes, knowing that you are perfectly normal and your thoughts are perfectly normal will help.
The next thing we want to do is counteract our negative thinking. After you have journalled your thoughts, it is helpful to make a table with 2 columns: one is your thought, the second is your thought in neutral.
So, if your thought was: I hate my body. In the second column, you could write: I have a body.
Or if your thought was: I really shouldn’t think about my sister in such a terrible way. Your neutral thought could be: I am having thoughts about my sister and that’s OK.
The idea here is to remove all adjectives or adverbs and strip it down to just facts. In this way, you are removing all judgement and reducing the emotion in your brain. You start to notice what is going on in your brain and you start to reduce all the drama.
This will definitely help you to start feeling better immediately, and you’ll start to decondition your brain.
List as many thoughts as you can from your journaling or which you are noticing as you go through your day. Ideally, you will start to do this regularly and definitely any time you are feeling particularly agitated or upset.
Once you’ve created awareness and normalised your thoughts and then started counteracting the negative ones, you can start to choose new thoughts that serve you and help you create the results you do want for your life.
If your original thought was ‘I hate my body’ and now you are practicing ‘I have a body’, ultimately your goal thought might be ‘I love my body’. This might seem like a big leap right now, and that’s OK.
You want to keep practicing your neutral thought until you believe it and it resonates with you. Then you can choose a new thought to practice. Maybe something like ‘My body is OK’, or ‘I like my body sometimes’. This will start you moving towards your ultimate goal of ‘I love my body’.
It’s a process and it’s important to actively practice your new thoughts, but it does become easier and it is very effective.
It’s also very effective to act as if you are already her – the one who believes your ultimate thought. Start behaving as she would.
When we start acting this way, our brain will want to catch up and truly make it a reality. It will want to close the gap. You can do this with any thought or behaviour. Act as if you already are her. It’s very powerful.
Learning to manage our minds is a process and skill. It takes time, effort and practice, but it is doable and implementing these concepts above will help to start moving forward a little with ease and compassion for yourself.
Thinking positive, being optimistic and using affirmations are fine but if we really want to feel better and change our thinking, the best way is to actively create awareness, normalise our thinking, counteract our thoughts and practice new ones.
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