We lack training in thinking positively! Unlike our behaviours & to a certain extend our emotions, the way we think is not observable. Our brains are not in glass bowls with lights going off. We are educated & taught to learn ‘stuff’ & even procedures, but we are not usually taught to observe & change our thoughts. So we bumble along & oftentimes create habitual ways of thinking many of which form repeating loops of negative self-talk. These can go way back into our childhood. It can become so unconscious that it is not until we are in therapy that our depressing self-criticism or assumptions are pointed out to us. Some people are naturally more self-aware than others but most of us develop certain ways of thinking.
I am not suggesting that we monitor our every thought. But it is worth learning to notice how we talk to ourselves internally & what is happening in reaction to circumstances. How we think affects how we feel (& behave) & vice versa. We can actually choose how we think & how we feel if we learn to. Now sometimes this can seem a gargantuan task especially if in a crisis yet some are trained to control fear and deal with disasters. In everyday life, it is important to notice when we find ourselves going down a particularly negative train of thought.
We are wired to think negatively when we go into our primitive flight/flight parts of our brains in order to survive the worst possible outcome. As Ruby Wax points out in “How to be Human”, it is not a nice place to be & unless you are actually faced with a dangerous wild animal or an oncoming hurricane, we really do not need to catastrophise. Our brains need to practice new neurological pathways just as our muscles need to learn how to use new gym equipment. So observe your thoughts & feelings more & teach yourself to choose to change what you are thinking about. We can all start to ruminate when we get stressed.
We get an unexpected bill & Wham! We find ourselves brooding over all manner of similar past experiences & negative outcomes, saying “ It’s going to be one of those days!” & programming an expectation of doom. So as soon as you notice you are thinking this way, catch yourself, even if you are feeling really low, anxious, or angry, recognise & learn to trust that you are only feeling awful because of what you are thinking about & change the focus of your attention. Yes, xxxx happens but why allow it to ruin your day?! You know from experience that you will eventually change how you deal with it, with a new perspective. There is a tendency, once feeling down to feel so resigned, righteous or indignant that we are reluctant to let go of the banner that we are holding up in our mind. Force yourself to think about something positive that has made you happy in the past & keep the spotlight of your mind on that & the associated pleasant thoughts.
Another useful thing to do is to distract yourself with something that does take your attention away from or to exercise. Even at the start of a beautiful walk, you can catch yourself musing over something that is annoying, & since the brain is geared to associate, all manner of depressing memories & thoughts flood in & that hopeless feeling of ‘this is what life is really like’ can creep in. But if you churn your mind to focus on something positive that you like, then your mood catches up & you really do feel better & let go of your need to ruminate. Fake it ‘til you make it can work – even forcing a smile can release serotonin! You have a choice so use your mind wisely! Maybe one day they will be teaching us from a young age how to use our brains more effectively so that we can de-stress & experience happier lives. But until then we have to retrain ourselves or work with a hypnotherapist when the cogg’s have got too stuck to operate well. TRY IT! What have you got to lose?
WANT IT TO HAPPEN – EXPECT IT TO HAPPEN – WATCH IT HAPPEN!