One of the most important things I do for self-care and mental/emotional well-being is to declutter my mind as much as possible. Whenever I let some of my practices go, I feel out of sorts and become disempowered. The power shifts to unwanted thoughts, largely negative, unhelpful or down right debilitating. I believe the greatest power struggle we have in our life is with our thoughts.
If you have been accepting these thoughts as part of life, think again! It is not so much your work overload, financial difficulties, relationship, family or personal problems that are the source of your stress but the negative thoughts you have about them. Our negative thoughts are causing anxiety, worry, fear and stress which raise our level of stress hormone called cortisol which, in turn, can cause ill-health, raised blood pressure, weight-gain, poor skin, hair loss, memory loss, helplessness or even depression. Ultimately, we might succumb to anger, resentment, violence or at the very least strained relationships.
In 2005, the National Science Foundation published a report based on research about human thoughts per day. It reveals that the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% are the same repetitive thoughts as the day before and about 80% are negative.
Here are a few types of negative thoughts that might be spoiling your life:
- Toxic thoughts such as “I didn’t get enough sleep” or “I don’t have enough time”.
- Generalising thoughts such as “I never win anything”, “Men are…”, “He never listen to me”.
- Thoughts associated with guilt and shame. They usually contain words like should, must, have to, etc.
- Pessimistic predictions/assumptions such as “I’ll never earn that kind of money”, “I’ll never meet a good man”, “I won’t get that job”.
- ‘Mind reading’: attributing thoughts to others without tangible proof or magnifying others thoughts or feeling towards you.
There is no short cut to a positive mindset but I believe that you can train your mind to cut down on negative thoughts in a very significant way. It is really a matter of tackling them as soon as they arise.
- Toxic thoughts need to be either deleted or replaced by their opposite immediately. For instance, “I didn’t get enough sleep” could be ignored or replaced by “I’ll be just fine after a good shower” and “I don’t have enough time” by “I have all the time I need to do what needs to be done”.
- Generalising thoughts need to be challenged very seriously and I highly recommend Byron Katie’s method The Work. The idea is to take apart a belief, prove it, disprove it and turn it around.
- Pessimistic predictions are pretty useless as they are purely speculative, yet they often serve a purpose. Either they reinforce a long-held belief or they believe they will protect us from disappointment or hurt. I tend to disagree with that because they don’t have any impact on the outcome and just spoil your life.
- ‘Mind reading’ or lending thoughts to others without proof is most often impossible to prove or disprove unless we ask which is never a good idea. With this type of thoughts, the best thing to do is to remember that thoughts are not facts. The simple question “Do I know this to be absolutely true today?” should rein in many wild assumptions.
- Last but not least: worrying. Worrying is a thief of serenity that keeps us stuck in passivity. In reality worry can be remedied either through trust or action. For instance, if you worry about your credit card debt, you will be stuck in a loop of negative thoughts. However if you shift from worry to action, you will look for solutions, like ringing your bank or looking for interest free deals. If you worry about something that you can’t do anything about, then you have to trust the other person or the Universe and believe that everything will be turn out fine as it usually does. Yes, it feels like a leap of faith but trust defeats negative thoughts and feels good.
- Journalling helps with the process of questioning our thoughts. A journal is a great place to unveil negative thinking patterns and confronts them. I often end up an entry with solutions and definitely more clarity.
- Physical activity releases oxytocin, the radical opposite hormone to cortisol and as such it lowers the risks generated by stress. Whether you have a dance party in your kitchen, go for a walk, to the gym or a fitness class, just moving your body changes your physiology radically and dissolves your negative thoughts. Just do it!
Negative thoughts stick around because we believe them, not because we want them or choose them. Andrew J. Bernstein
… So, stop believing what you are thinking!