There is nothing in this world that can trouble you as much as your own thoughts: your thoughts about an event, person or situation can in fact trouble you far more than the event, person or situation itself.
We like to blame our circumstances for our troubles. However, if it were our external situations that caused all our troubles, anyone in the same circumstances would end up in the same troubled reality. But this is not the case. For example, two colleagues may be told there are going to be redundancies. One immediately thinks “this is terrible, how am I going to pay the mortgage?” and they may feel sick and panicky. The other colleague may have totally different thoughts - “thank goodness, I’ve been looking for an excuse to leave. I may get a big payout and be able to travel the world” and they may feel liberated and excited. The situation is the same but the thoughts and corresponding emotions around it are totally different.
Thoughts = emotions = reality
Our thoughts create our emotions which in turn create our reality. You can’t feel an emotion without thinking something first. Stop now and try to feel angry. Pretty tricky to do without thinking about something first isn’t it?
So, if our thoughts create our emotions and our emotions create our reality – our thoughts ARE our reality. Pretty sobering realising that!
We have all been guilty of letting our thoughts run wild. A simple comment from someone or a small mishap can send our thoughts spiralling out of control and our emotions are quick to follow.
Think of an average bad day you’ve had. For example, you wake up one morning, realise there is no milk and you can’t have your coffee before work. You get angry and flustered and then it seems sods law that you’re stuck behind the slowest driver and end up late for work. And ofcourse its sods law again that when you get to work your boss is unhappy with you…and it goes on. Well is it actually sods law? Probably not. There is most likely something else at work here: Your initial thought “there’s no milk, I can’t have my coffee’ instigated another thought “I can’t wake up properly without my coffee, this is not a good start to the day”. This then created the feeling of grumpiness and irritability which then attracted more negativity – before you know it you’re stuck behind the slow driver and then you’re in trouble with your boss and voila – your thoughts created your feelings created your reality.
On a positive note, we can experience the same phenomenon but with good days – those days where one good thing happens after another and we think we must just be on a lucky streak! More likely something caused us to have a positive thought, which set off another positive thought which culminated a positive feeling which then created a positive day.
If you’ve read The Secret or similar books about the law of attraction, you’ll know this. It’s not external circumstances that are responsible for our reality, but our thoughts around them.
Controlling our thoughts
This is all well and good – but what do we do about controlling our thoughts? Sadly, there is no magic button we can press to allow us to erase any thoughts that are no good for us. It’s a practice and like any practice it takes time. And a bit of patience.
Here are my top ten tips on things we can do to take more control of our thoughts and ultimately our lives:
1) Be aware
If you are familiar with Eckhart Tolle you will have heard of the term ‘be aware that you are the thinker’. Being aware that you are thinking is the first stage in taking control of your thoughts. There are different types of negative thoughts;
jumping to conclusions – “my boss is shut in the office with my colleague and they have looked over at me; they are clearly talking about me”;
comparing yourself to others - “my sister is so much more intelligent than me”;
seeing the negative rather than the positive – “I’ve just got a promotion, that means I’m going to have to put more hours in and I bet my colleagues will start to dislike me now”;
dramatising – “my daughter is late home from school, something terrible has clearly happened to her”;
overgeneralising – “I have failed this test, I’m no good at anything, I always fail”;
predicting the future – “all my girlfriends have cheated on me so this one will do the same”.
The key is to try and catch yourself when you are having a negative thought, and simply be aware of it. Don’t judge yourself. Just be aware. The more you do this, the easier it will become.
2) Send the thought away
You can use a number of techniques to do this depending on which works better for you. The key is to remind yourself that ‘it is only a thought’. If you are a visual person you might visualise your thoughts as clouds floating past you, or leaves in a river drifting away. If you’re better with words, tell yourself “it’s only a thought, I’m sending it away”, or “stop, just a thought, carry on”. If you’re kinaesthetic, notice the thought and feel it as a weight in your head, then sense it bursting out of the top of your head and floating away. Feel the lightness and space left in your head afterwards. Or if you’d rather be more playful, picture a cartoon character you think is a bit foolish and visualise him or her repeat the thought out loud, preferably in a really silly voice.
Meditation is a great way to calm your thoughts. Sitting for a few minutes and focusing on your breath can slow your thoughts right down. You may be really practised at meditation but if not – you don’t need to sit for half an hour and have no thoughts (who can do that after all!) Just spend a few minutes focusing on your breath and every time your mind wanders (which it will), bring it back to your breath. Or there are some great apps out there for guided meditations – try Calm or Headspace. You can download lots of different meditations from these apps, ranging from around two minutes to 30 minutes.
If you haven’t already jumped on the mindfulness wagon it might be a good time to start. Mindfulness is basically keeping your attention in the present moment. If you think about a time when you’ve been totally engrossed in something you love – you’re being mindful at this time. To help you introduce mindfulness into your day, you could pick certain tasks or times of day to be mindful, for example; brushing your teeth, having a shower, walking to work, doing the washing up. Whenever you perform that task remind yourself to focus only on what you’re doing (use all five senses – what can you see, smell, hear, taste and feel?)
5) Use visualisation
Doing daily positive visualisations can help direct your thoughts to a more positive outlook. There are some great videos for this – have a look on You Tube for visualisations about manifesting your perfect life or perfect day.
6) Be a reporter
If your thoughts are increasingly negative, try to bring yourself back to the facts. You can do this by pretending to be a reporter (for a decent news broadcaster!!). View the situation from an objective point of view, focusing only on the neutral facts. For example, you’ve had an argument with your mum as she was looking after your children and you were late home. Rather than thinking “she’s had a go at me again, she’s so angry with me, she thinks I’m a dreadful parent, I probably am, this is the second time I was late home this week”. A reporter may say “She arrived home and her mother pointed out that she was late”.
7) Look for alternatives
Looking for alternatives simply means acknowledging that your first thought might not be the only option. Using the above example, an alternative way of looking at the situation may be “mum was upset that I was late because she is really tired as she’s been working so hard herself” or “mum pointed out how late I was because she’s worried about me working too hard and burning myself out”.
8) See the positive
We all hear that happy people are the ones who see opportunities where other people see difficulties. If you look hard enough, many problems will have a silver lining; it is about being open to the possibility that this is the case. For example, you went for an interview for a job you really wanted and got turned down. Rather than wallow in self-pity you may choose to realise this could be a blessing. An even better opportunity may be around the corner or it may inspire you to re-assess your work situation and take the decision to work for yourself.
9) What would you say to someone else in your situation?
If you suffer from negative thoughts about your own abilities or you regularly judge and blame yourself, when you catch yourself doing this – stop and re-frame the situation. Put someone you love in your place. Would you view your best friend so harshly and blame him/her? Or would you be compassionate and understanding towards them?
10) Write in a journal
One good way to banish negative thinking is to put all thoughts down on paper (or your laptop/tablet screen). Get all the thoughts out; let yourself go, don’t edit anything. You can then read it back and rip up the paper or hit delete.
Try out these different ideas to find out which ones work best for you. Then try to integrate them daily. This takes practice and you may forget. So it may help to leave yourself reminders; post-it notes on the fridge or your computer, pop-up reminders on your phone. Keep reminding yourself to practice. With perseverance and patience you really can take more control over your thoughts and consequently your life.