I had an interesting conversation with a man in a bookstore the other day. He was talking to me about meditation and how he recently taught a class on mindfulness to a group of mental health professionals who ate it up. He had done so over a decade ago, but did not get an engaging response. It was thought to be too 'new age-y'. As we walked over to a section that had books on this subject, he said (and I paraphrase), "I'm not trying to turn people into Buddhists or anything. I just think the concepts are important and helpful. If you tell yourself you're stupid all day, you are bound to believe it. If you change the message to something more positive, it will have the same effect". He showed me some books, and some simple mantras, similar to "I am worthy, I am loved".
I agree. I spend a good chunk of time with clients helping them to reframe their thoughts that keep them stuck from moving towards a healthier state of mental health. We do so by identifying destructive thinking, such as all or none, black and white, assumptions, catastrophizing, etc. and replacing it with a counter statement. So, the negative thought of, "I'm a failure" could be reframed as "I'm doing the best I can" or "I'm more than the sum of my mistakes", etc.
Scientifically, we can create and strengthen new neural pathways in our brains. If you constantly think negatively, these neural pathways stay stronger as they are used more often. Think about walking in a forest... walk the same route for years and a path will form. When you try to walk a new route, it takes more effort as it's not ingrained as the old path. With time, however, the old path will grow over as it's not used as much, and the new path will become more entrenched. You brain is similar. The more you switch your thinking, these neural pathways will be easily accessible.
It's important to practice thinking positively continuously throughout the day... even when you aren't in a negative mood. This way, when your thoughts turn south, trying to implement changes in thinking will come easier because you've done it before. It's like practicing how to change a spare tire before you ever get a flat.
How to help yourself with thinking positively? The following may help...:
- once a day, write something positive about yourself or that you are thankful for. Don't write down anything you don't believe and it's okay to start small. If the only thing you are thankful for is that your eyelids are able to shut in order for you to go to sleep at night, great! It's a start!
- put pictures or quotes on your wall that inspires and motivates. Sometimes when we're stuck in negative thinking, it's easy to forget the things you like about yourself or why you're fighting for recovery. Having them up on your wall is a visual reminder in time of need.
- in a lurch and out of the house? Have positive affirmations on your phone for you to look at
- ask a friend to tell you what they like about you (staying away from commenting on your body and more about who you are)
- listen to music that contains positive lyrics... a catchy tune is a catchy tune... might as well get a positive song stuck in your head than one that brings you down
What have you done that has helped challenge your negative thinking? How will you intentionally create change this week?