Ever listen to yourself think? Really tune in and pay attention to what’s going on in your head? Many of us don’t. Our thoughts are just background noise. Yet we are constantly thinking. Thoughts about the future, thoughts about the past, thoughts about our current situation. There is a non-stop dialog running through our minds. If you are like most people, these thoughts are often negative. Our mind is constantly interpreting and filtering our lives. And many times, the messages are not positive. According to the Cleveland Clinic article How to Turn Around Your Negative Thinking, “Psychologists link negative thinking to depression, anxiety, chronic worry and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But almost all human beings contend with it — even those born with a positive outlook on life. It’s because of the way our brains are constructed. Our amygdala and limbic system are built to notice threats, to protect our survival. In prehistoric times, it may have been a beautiful day on the savannah, but when we were stalked by a predator, we were trained to notice that danger.” While the threat of physical danger is no longer the same, our brains didn't get the memo. It still functions that same way.
What’s more, our thoughts determine how we feel. When we have negative thoughts, we feel stress, anxiety, and sadness. Then, our thoughts and feelings affect our behavior. For example, if you are about to give a presentation at work and start thinking that you are a terrible public speaker, you will feel nervous, anxious and stressed. This will impact how you give your presentation. You might start to sweat, stumble on your words, or rush through so fast your audience can barely keep up. However, if you think positive thoughts, such as I know this material, I am an expert on this topic, or I will speak with confidence. You start to relax, and this will show up in how you present.
The solution is quite simple if you want to change how you feel and act you simply need to change what you are thinking.
It starts with awareness. Before you can begin to change your thoughts you first need to become aware of them. Developing an observer mindset can help. This means tuning into your thoughts in a non-judgmental way. You are simply listening, not judging if the thoughts are good or bad, right or wrong. Just noticing.
Stop looking for evidence to support your negative thoughts. The mind is an amazing thing. Not only is it constantly thinking but it is also looking for evidence it is right. If you have a thought that your boss is unfair you will be looking for evidence of her unfairness. When she does something contrary you might immediately dismiss it as a fluke. But when she does something unfair that action will “stick” in your mind as proof that your opinion of her is correct. Thus, reinforcing your negative thoughts about her.
Either find an alternative thought you can believe or distract yourself. The way to create change in your life is to change your thoughts. The more you practice observing your thoughts the easier it will become to change them. Changing them can be as simple as finding an alternative thought you can believe, but if that is not possible, turn off the undesired thought by distracting yourself. One tool I’ve found helpful to break a negative thought cycle is to go for a walk and listen to music. Over time, it becomes easier to replace negative thinking with more positive or even neutral thoughts that have less emotional charge to them. When you start feeling better and noticing the changes you are creating in your life by simply changing how you think, eliminating negative thinking will become easier and easier.
“Just remember life is all an illusion.....it's your creation and you can dismantle it and re-create at will.” Nanette Mathews