by Kevin Stacey
© 2002 TrainRight, Inc.
1. ‘Turn up the volume’ on the thoughts you’re thinking. Ask yourself the question- “How much do I hear what I’m thinking about?” This ability of self- awareness is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Some of you may remember the Mel Gibson movie, “What Women Want”, where his character had the ability to hear all of thoughts the women around him were having. It is so eye opening to actually hear what it is we are dwelling and focusing on. At times, it can be absolutely comical!
Thinking, or the ability to produce thought, is just a function that we have. However, it goes on all of the time. Just like many of the other repetitive things we do during the span of a day, we tend to think without awareness. How many times do you blink your eyes a day? How many times do you breathe a day? Studies show that we think several thousand thoughts a day, as many as 50,000. Since thinking is more internal, it can be harder to be aware of. But, since thoughts determine how we feel, it’s so important to pay attention. I think the saddest thing is to feel upset and not even realize your thinking upsetting thoughts, or what those thoughts actually are. Without first of all having self awareness of these thoughts, reducing your self-created stress is impossible. Techniques to turn up the volume and increase the awareness of your thinking:
2. Ask yourself, “Are these thoughts reality or just thoughts?” Studies by behavioral health researchers show that 77% of what we think about is negative, counter productive and works against us. Sad, but true- the things that we say to ourselves can be so bogus! Imagine for example if you have a small child who tells you about the “monster” who lives behind the books in her bookshelf. Would you say to her, “Tell me all about the monster, what it looks like, when it comes out, and what scary faces it makes?” Of course not. Rather, you would want her to understand that there is nothing holding those ideas in place but her own thinking, her own internal dialogue. What if the same girl, a few years later, said, “No one at the school likes me, I don’t have any friends, and I never have any fun.” Wouldn’t you also try to teach her that the thoughts she was having about herself were just thoughts and not reality? The reason we can watch an upsetting movie like “Hannibal” and then go out for a meal is that we are always one step removed from the film. We understand that it's just a movie. Once the movie is over, it's over. It's no longer with us, and we go on with our day. The same is true with thought. It's only in our minds.
Once a thought is out of our mind, it's gone- until we think it and replay it again. There is nothing to fear from thought itself, once we understand it's only a thought. Most of us can easily recognize this for other people, but not for ourselves. If a driver of an automobile gets cut off by another car and narrowly escapes a accident, a thought may pass through the drivers mind “I should kill the other driver.” Most of us would dismiss it as a ridiculous thought. We see other people thoughts like freeway driver as just being thoughts, but we usually fail to see our own the same way. For one person, the thought “I wonder if she’s upset with me, I bet she is,” might cause distress. Yet, this same person may recognize the freeway driver as “just having a thought.” Why do our thoughts seem so real? Because we are the ones who create them.
Ultimately, what determines your level of mental health and happiness is the relationship you have to your thinking. Do you believe that just because you think about something, it must be taken seriously and analyzed? Getting upset with your own thoughts is like writing yourself a nasty memo, then being insulted by it. If you are absolutely, 100% psychotic, every thought that you have is viewed as reality and must be acted on. Everyone has an inner critic, or worst case scenario voice inside of their head. To what extent do you listen to yours and to what extent do you discount or dismiss it?
3. Dismiss the thoughts that contribute to self-created stress. If negative emotions and feeling are caused by negative thoughts, what good is it to dwell on negative thoughts, thoughts about your problems and imaging things worse than they are? Whatever we focus on grows bigger, and we become what we think about most of the time. If we dwell on our negative thoughts, a few things will happen. First, you’ll feel, anxious and/or depressed. Secondly, you’ll become an expert in your problems instead of their solutions. Third, therapists will love you! The good news is the mental law of substitution, which says that only one thought at a time can be held by the conscious mind. I know that it can seem like we are thinking of 10 things at once because our minds work very fast, but if you wee to slow it down you would see that it is just one thing at a time. If you were focusing on all of the work you had to do today, and then if the fire alarm suddenly went off, you would no longer be focusing on the work you had to do. Instead, you’d be focusing on getting out of the building!
These techniques build on themselves. If you’re able to be self aware, and hear what you’re thinking, if you understand that you’re the thinker and the creator of what you think about, if you realize that negative feelings come from negative thoughts, and if you have a bit of a skeptical view on your thinking and don’t accept every random thought as reality, then you can easily dismiss you negative thoughts.
I’m not talking about mind control, and monitoring every random thought that passes through your mind. I mean the things that you dwell and focus on. There are so many things in life that we have no control over- other people, places, things. But if there is one thing in life that we have total control over, it’s what we choose to focus on and dwell on. If you’re not in charge of what goes on in your mind, then who or what is? If you planned a special evening out and you started to think about work, you would probably catch yourself and say, “this is not the time to think about work, this is a night to enjoy myself.” The truth is that we can dismiss any thought that we want to.
How to dismiss: Do you know people who are good at changing the subject? That’s exactly what we want to do when we notice ourselves going down a negative train of thought. What I do is shout the word CANCEL in my mind. Not only do I shout it, I see a picture of the word CANCEL on the screen in my mind in big, bold, white letters with a black background. I do this many times a day, whenever I notice myself starting to go down a negative road.
About the Author
Kevin Stacey helps companies and professionals achieve maximum productivity and effectiveness through stress management and time management training. He is available to speak on these topics. For more information visit http://www.TrainRightInc.com or call 1-800-603-7168.
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