Most likely you have heard that your thoughts have power. Often your thoughts live in the past or the future – rarely do they reside in the present. The past is full of your successes, your failures, your rejections, your hurts, and your joys. While the future is your dreams, the past is full of your life lessons. Yet, not everything we think or say is aligned with our highest self. What happens when the stories we tell ourselves limit us?
All of us can relate to and understand fear. Whether you are walking down a dark alley or about to hit send on a job proposal, the fear is real – and there is a perceived threat to your survival. Of course, walking down a dark alley makes more sense that you would be afraid for your safety. Yet, all fear is trying to keep you safe and secure. Any change to your present circumstances is going to be altering and slightly jarring – even if it is a positive change. For example, a new job will require a new routine, a set of new rules.
According to Dr. Athena Staik, thoughts “create inner standards that spark neurochemical dynamic processes, which selectively govern your choices and actions with precision.” The more you ruminate on a thought the more you dig neural pathways to return to the same thought pattern over and over. For example, the more you drive the same course to work every day the more familiar and habitual it becomes, the more you tune out during the drive and yet you arrive to your destination. Like your thoughts the more you continue to think the same way, the more you arrive at the same place.
Your Subconscious at Work
These mental impressions live in the subconscious and contribute to your suffering and your joy. According the Jennifer Read Hawthorne the average person thinks approximately 60,000 thoughts a day, 95%- 98% of those thoughts are the same, and 80% of those thoughts are negative. The subconscious is self-perpetuating – always feeding into itself like the hamster running on a wheel getting exhausted yet going nowhere. The more unaware you are to what is occurring in your subconscious mind, the more you are sitting in the backseat of your life.
The subconscious mind is what influences your actions and feelings – and yet, how aware of what your subconscious is doing? To change your life is to change the stories you tell yourself. This is must come at a conscious level.
Tools to Change Thought Patterns
1. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BODILY SENSATIONS
Becoming aware of your bodily sensations is the doorway to presence. Only when you are grounded in the present will you be aware of how you think and talk to yourself. Physical exercise such as yoga and tai chi are great ways to ground into your body. So is meditation and conscious breathing (paying mindful attention to your inhale and your exhale).
As you go about your day, stop and ask yourself:
- How rested am I?
- Am I rested for the task at hand? Do I need to step away?. Am I hydrated? Am I hungry?
- Do I need to go to the bathroom? Am I taking care of my basic needs?
- Do I need to move my body?
- Do I need some fresh air on my face?
A mantra is a mind tool that calms down the “thinking brain,” the neocortex, by giving it a singular tunnel to travel through rather than letting it scattered into the past, future, likes, and aversions.
Repeating an affirmation is a great way to replace your negative self-talk with positive reinforcement.
3. REDUCE TRIGGERS
As you notice your thoughts and how they affect you, you may also begin to notice what particular activities trigger negative self-talk. Notice if when you are social media if you subconsciously criticizing or comparing yourself to others. Do you binge watch television shows at night and then berate yourself in the morning for not being able to get up early to meditate? Notice what activities create more anxiety and depreciating thoughts and begin to reduce those activities. Be sure to congratulate yourself for every step to take to change your actions and your thoughts
4. RE-LABEL YOUR THOUGHTS
Once you become more present with yourself and familiar with coming into the present moment, you will start to hear (and feel) your obsessive thinking. Rather than pushing negative thoughts away, rename them. For example, if you find yourself perceiving a co-workers success as a threat to your own self-worth rather than fixate on their success (and your lack of success) rename these thoughts as “My Motivation” or “My Inspiration.” Redirect the thoughts into the positive.
5. REPEAT (AND REPEAT AND REPEAT…)
Hawthorne, Jennifer Read (2014). Change Your Thoughts, Change Your World. Http://www.jenniferhawthorne.com/, 2014. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.
Marsh, Sarahjoy (2015). Hunger, Hope, and Healing: A Yoga Approach to Reclaiming Your Relationship to Your Body and Food. Boston & London: Shambala. Print
Staik, A. (2016). The Neuroscience of Changing Toxic Thinking Patterns (1 of 2). Psych Central. http://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships/2011/08/the-neuroscience-of-changing-toxic-thinking-or-behavior-patterns/. Web. 19 Sept 2016.