The average person has over 6,000 thoughts a day. Repetitive negative thoughts are related to worry, rumination, anxiety, and depression. Our thoughts are greatly responsible for our spiritual, emotional, and physical well being. Understanding how our thoughts affect our life is the first step to changing your mindset.
To understand how our thinking shapes our life, first you must understand the interconnection between different aspects of the mind. Human thought is made of two distinct parts. One part is the inner mind (subconscious), and the other is the brain.
The role of the brain is to think, create associations between present experiences and past memories, and make conscious decisions. It does this through the five senses—touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste.
The brain interprets the information that comes through these senses. The way it interprets it depends on your perspectives, psychological rules, and needs. These elements work together to create a thought.
The mind is the gatekeeper of all the information the brain takes in. It decides what will become your mental focus by determining what information is relevant. Thoughts can affect our feelings in negative or positive ways, and they can easily become our beliefs.
Let’s take the hamburger example. Many different thoughts can lead us to go for a Big Mac. It can be a simple thought as, “I am hungry” or it can be something along the lines of, “I deserve to treat myself, I’ve worked hard all day.”
But, it can also be something negative like, “I’ll never get in shape, who am I kidding? I might as well go for a hamburger.” If you have thoughts like this very often, it is time to take action.
Even though our various conscious and subconscious factors shape our thoughts, there is plenty you can do. For instance, a psychotherapist can often help someone who is struggling with negative thoughts and behaviors. One method psychotherapists use to help others change their thinking patterns is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
We respond to thoughts with emotions. We tend to add our own emotional responses to thoughts as simple as “I am hungry.” However, emotions can influence thoughts the same way thoughts influence emotions.
We often carry emotions from other things that happen that day, week, or month, and add them to thoughts that have nothing to do with them. So, sadness from receiving bad news, anger from a fight, or happiness brought upon by an accomplishment can have an effect on your “I am hungry” thought.
Our thoughts and feelings generate our behaviors. Our thoughts persuade us to behave in a certain way. If you are hungry, and you are feeling stressed and sad, you may decide that the best way to cover both the thought and the feeling is to have a hamburger.
Practical Ways of Changing Your Thoughts
If you are dealing with negative thoughts, you don’t necessarily need to visit a psychotherapist straight away nor do you need to start taking medication. For instance, if you are feeling stressed and anxious, you can try some of the following techniques and you can also try natural supplements for stress relief instead of medication.
Write Down Negative Thoughts
Dig deep, and write down thoughts related to:
- Things that stress you out often.
- Your insecurities.
- Your losses.
- Your fears.
Then, write at least one positive thought for every negative one.
- If you stress about work, think about how your job helps others and brings them joy.
- If you fear failure, write about that one time when failure taught you a valuable lesson.
- If you have lost someone, write about the great times you had together.
- If you are insecure about your skills, write about how you felt when someone complimented you on doing a great job.
Use this exercise to counter negative thoughts with positive ones. To shift your perspective, you need to start with small habits.
One of the best ways to introduce positive thinking is with actions. Not feeling like exercising? Go to the gym anyway. You’d rather skip your guitar lesson today? Don’t—go and play.
You can rest assured that you will feel the payout of committing and showing up. This will help build your confidence. Your mindset will begin to change as your confidence grows.
Find an Anchor
When our thoughts are wavering, we should all have something to believe in. Whether you have someone close who grounds you, or have a religious connection with a higher power—hold onto it. When external factors try to weigh you down, your anchor will help you ground yourself.
Some paths to change are simple—all you have to do is dig deeper. By asking yourself questions, you can unearth what is causing a reaction.
- Why do I feel uneasy when I am dining alone at a restaurant?
- Why am I upset that someone else took “my” parking space?
- Why do I feel happy when I buy new shoes?
We rarely ask “why” questions about ourselves, they are usually reserved for external factors. However, when you use these questions to get to know yourself, you realize that external factors are not what brings the feelings of guilt, sadness, happiness, and joy.
This will help you examine your own values. For instance, you may discover that the reason you feel uneasy about dining alone in a restaurant is that you don’t want others to think you have no friends.
This may lead you to realize that you think this way because you care too much about what others think of you, strangers included, and that it negatively affects your emotional well-being.
The Bottom Line
The way you think shapes your life. But, you can use this to your advantage. Changing your mindset is not easy, but it is possible. By working on improving your thoughts, you will get to know yourself on a deeper level and improve your quality of life.