Take control of your thinking
Thinking on paper is a great way to take control of your thinking. Our thoughts can sometimes run a little wild and fuel our stress and anxiety levels. Our minds are a bit like gardens. In a garden if we do nothing, weeds still grow all on their own, but it takes deliberate effort to design and create a beautiful garden. In the same way that unwanted weeds grow in a garden, our minds generate thousands of unwanted thoughts and we have to take deliberate action to keep these thoughts under control.
The quality of our thinking has a huge impact on our feelings, so it is vital to keep our thinking under control. This is not always as easy as it may sound.
Take control of your thinking to help combat stress and anxiety
Seeking help from a hypnotherapist to tackle some of life’s challenges is a tremendous thing to do. Investing time, money and effort in your own well being, is testimony to the fact that you’re worth it. Being the Best You is also a benefit to those you live with, and interact with on a regular basis.
Some people though may believe that hypnosis is a ‘cure-all’ and feel that the magic of their mind will be unlocked immediately and everything will fall tidily into place. That can happen, but anything that you can do for yourself, to support any gains made, is worth exploring.
Working with any hypnotherapist is a collaborative effort and as individuals, we remain responsible for managing our minds on an ongoing basis of course. With this article I hope to provide you with a few ideas to help whet your appetite for continuing to take responsibility for your own progress in managing your thinking – by putting your thoughts in writing.
Automatic Negative Thoughts
In 2005, the National Science Foundation published an article summarizing research on human thoughts. It was found that the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those thousands of thoughts, 80% were negative, and 95% were exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.
It is important to organise your thoughts in a way that best serve you. When you are stressed or anxious, your ’emotional brain’ takes precedence and your ability to think logically is severely diminished. Your thinking is narrowed and it is difficult to get perspective on your circumstances.
The mind could be portrayed metaphorically as a rider on a horse. The rider represents the executive, ‘conscious’ part of your mind that makes decisions and plans; and the horse represents the part of the mind that takes care of all the unconscious activities and processes – of which there are many. This part of your mind, just like the horse, is very powerful. Typically the rider is in control of the horse, and decides the direction and pace of travel. However, if there is a loud noise or other shock, the horse may rear, and the rider may lose control. The logical, conscious part of your mind, can sometimes lose control if subjected to stress, or if suffering from anxiety or depression. Putting your thoughts on paper is a helpful way to take control of your thinking.
What to put on paper.
Simply writing down your anxious thoughts or problems can provide some relief. Putting them on paper helps to objectify your thoughts and put some distance between you and them. Your thoughts are not ‘things’ in the true sense of the word. They are just ideas – some good and some bad. In fact the data above suggests that many are bad!
In another study (Leahy, 2005, Cornell University) scientists found that, 85% of what we worry about never happens. Of the 15% of the worries that did happen, 79% of the subjects discovered that either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or that the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning.
The conclusion is that 97% of our worries are baseless and result from an unfounded pessimistic perception. Writing our thoughts down helps us to recognise that there are many baseless worries, fears, regrets, and complaints.
Keeping a Journal
You can learn a great deal about yourself and your life by the regular discipline of keeping a journal or diary. Even if you spend just a few moments toward the end of each day, you can review the events of the day and get a sense of perspective on things and perhaps consider how you would approach the same circumstances another time.
This is best done regularly in order to record things accurately. The passage of time can alter the way that you remember things and there is often merit in recording events, thoughts and feelings whilst they are still fresh in your mind. By looking back at how you were feeling in the past, during a tough time, you can recognise that despite how bad you felt, you actually prevailed, and lived to fight another day. This can help you to see the progress that you have made.
From the model of Positive Psychology we are taught to recognise the importance for us to train our minds to focus on the things that we can be grateful for. Spending a few moments before we go to sleep at night identifying and thinking about 3 or so things from the day that you can be grateful for is a wonderful habit to develop. I have recently been reading a book by Assen Alladin entitled Cognitive Hypnotherapy, where he states that focussing on negative thoughts leads to negative ‘kindling’ of the brain and may cause negative pathways.
In neurology, kindling is a process in which repeated stimuli sensitize the brain to react when the stimulus is re-applied. So the more you focus on negative aspects of your life, the more your brain is sensitised to react to difficulties in a way that just makes you feel more negative. By contrast if you focus on the positive, and in particular express and enhance your feelings of gratitude, you increase and strengthen the positive neural networks that are created in your brain and this has the potential to make you feel generally happier.
Ask a better question to take control of your thinking
Our quality of life is not necessarily based on what happens to you, but rather what you think about what happens to you.
The quality of your thinking is governed by your mental and emotional filters that determine your perception of the outside world. These filters have been shaped by a number of factors – culture, socioeconomic status, race, religion, values and personal experiences.
These factors influence the stories you tell yourself about who you are, what you’re capable of, and what’s achievable or not. By rewiring the root of these filters, however, you can begin to change your habitual perception patterns. And one of the most effective ways of doing this is by asking ourselves better questions.
Anthony Robbins, a giant in the field of personal development, describes thinking, as essentially asking questions. By asking a better question you can take control of your thinking:
Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers. – Tony Robbins
If things are going badly and you ask yourself, ‘why do bad things happen to me?’ Your brain will find (or make up reasons) to support this – for example, ‘I’m a bad person, I deserve bad things to happen. It’s karma.’
By way of contrast you would be better served to ask a question like, ‘how can I improve this situation? What action can I take to turn this around?’
.Jason Linett, who is very successful hypnotherapist, trainer and best selling author, takes this a step further with what he calls the ‘power of premise’:
Rather than immediately accept negative expectations, train yourself to adapt a flexible mindset. What if every reason you couldn’t do something became every reason why you could? I refuse to buy into that premise. There has to be a better way.
Prepare yourself to let every reason why the odds seem stacked against, you become every reason why you’re going to make it happen
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
Writing down your automatic negative thoughts and challenging them is the cornerstone of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. David Burns is the author of the best selling book Feeling Good, which was published in 1980 and has sold millions of copies worldwide. Feeling Good has helped to bring the concepts of CBT to the public at large, and contains a wide range of sober, logical based approaches to take control of your thinking, and making yourself feel better in the process.
One of the easiest exercises he details is the triple column approach. On a sheet of paper you first describe the upsetting situation. Then you record your negative feelings and emotions that have been triggered by the situation using relevant words like sad, anxious, lonely, guilty and rate the intensity of these on a scale of 0-100. Next, simply draw 2 vertical lines down the paper to divide the rest of the page into 3 columns.
In the first column you simply write the automatic negative thought and rate the degree to which you believe it to be true from 0-100.
The middle column is used to identify the thinking ‘distortions.’ The main premise of this this approach is that circumstances do not makes us unhappy, but rather it is how we think about them that does. We are all prone to thinking in unhealthy ways about circumstances and events and Burns defines a number of common thinking errors or distortions that underpin these erroneous ways to thinking.
All or nothing thinking – looking at things in absolute black and white categories
Over generalisation – a single negative event is viewed as a pattern of never ending defeat
Mental filter – dwelling on the negatives and dismissing the positives
Jumping to conclusions – imaging what people are thinking (mind reading) or predicting that things will turn out badly (fortune telling)
Magnification – blowing things out of proportion
Emotional reasoning – Example, I fell stupid, so I must be
Should statements – you make your yourself miserable by telling yourself how things should have turned out, or how you or others should have behaved.
Labelling – defining yourself or others with a negative label.
Personalisation – taking undue blame for something you were not entirely responsible for.
Create a rational response
The third column is used to devise a rational response to counter the neutralise the affect of the negative thought.
Event: I forget to send Johns birthday card
Negative feelings: stupid (100) guilty (80) sad(70)
Column 1 – Automatic thought
I forgot to send John’s birthday card – what an idiot I am! He will think I’m thoughtless.
Column 2 – Thinking Error
Labeling, Mind reading
Column 3 – Rational thought
Everyone can forget things, and I have been really busy at work. John has known me for years and he knows how busy I am, he probably won’t even notice
More about CBT – Socratic questioning techniques to take control of your thinking
The Socratic method is named after Greek philosopher Socrates who taught students by asking question after question. Socrates sought to expose contradictions in the students’ thoughts and ideas to then guide them to solid, tenable conclusions. This concept has stood the test of time and remains as mainstay of CBT. Once you write your thoughts down, you can recognise the thinking errors and set about disputing them and creating more empowering alternatives in the same way as described above.
Writing these down is the best practical way take control of your thinking. You may believe that you can achieve this in your head, but you can set about this much more systematically if you set out your thoughts in writing.
Examples of Socratic questioning are:
Where’s the evidence ?
Is that fact or opinion?
Is there another explanation?
Brian Tracy, the prolific writer of personal development books affirms in his best selling book ‘Maximum Achievement’, that goal setting is the master skill of success. He has come to the conclusion that ‘success equals goals, and all else is commentary’
He maintains that the top 5% in any field have their goals written down. He adds: ‘we are mentally engineered to move progressively and successfully from one goal to the next and we are never really happy unless, and until, we are moving towards the accomplishment of something that is important to us’.
Earl Nightingale, a pioneer in the field of personal development, pre-dating Tracy, defined success as ‘the progressive realisation of a worthy goal.’
Everyone’s goals are going to be different from others but any goal that has that pull and sense of purpose is likely to be a key contributor to your sense of purpose, achievement and overall feeling of satisfaction with life. You may not be able to achieve every goal that you set yourself, but a goal provides a road map to guide you forward and gives you direction and a framework which can help in your quest take control of your thinking and build a happy and fulfilled life.