Mind Springs Health column: A peer’s perspective — thoughts on thoughts
“I do not fix problems. I fix my thinking and then problems fix themselves.”
— motivational speaker Louise L. Hay
We live in an information-rich era where it seems like there is more available to us than we can assimilate and process in a lifetime. What I’ve seen, as we are bombarded with this veritable storehouse of data, news, social media and feeds coming at us from all directions, is that there is a wealth of opinions and feelings (many of which are negative) that form as people measure what they are seeing and hearing along with what they know. It’s no wonder that for many, our minds swirl and overflow with automatic thoughts that seem impossible to turn off at any given moment.
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As if that wasn’t enough, many of us strive daily to navigate the thoughts that stem from traumatic events, challenges to self-esteem, anxiety and so on. I have had many conversations with people who have shared that they would love to get their minds to a place where the thoughts aren’t coming at them like a fast pitch machine in a batting cage. Negative and intrusive thoughts, as well as thoughts in general, do seem to take on a life of their own, don’t they? What if I told you that you could play an active part in managing these thoughts? I hope you’ll stay with me for some helpful steps you can start taking today to begin doing just that.
Firstly, consider fact versus story — evaluating your thought to see if it is a narrative that you have woven around a situation, or if it is factual. As a young single mother I had an interaction with my younger son that left me mentally drained and had no resolution. It escalated as it seemed that neither of us was listening to what the other had to say, so I left his room dejected and spent. My young daughter asked me what was wrong, and I replied that I feel like a failure as a parent (narrative). In her sage wisdom, she shared that I wasn’t a bad parent, her brother was just being what he was, a teenage boy (fact).
Just say no — literally. When a thought comes to mind, you have the power to welcome it or not. When you choose to mentally say “no” or “stop,” and maybe even say it out loud, it can be an effective way to stop the cycle of thought long enough to begin to evaluate it further.
Create a new thought. In the situation with my son, the story I told myself (what I knew at that time about myself based on my experiences and low self-esteem), assessed and determined that I had failed. If I had created a new thought it might have looked something like, “Parenting can really be hard, and I’m pretty drained right now. I did my best for right now, and I’ll take a breather before rethinking how I can talk with him moving forward.” Whether or not a resolution would have followed is something indeterminable, yet it certainly would have changed my mindset enough to see things more clearly.
Finally, limit information. Today’s news and social media can exacerbate fears and anxious thoughts, especially if what is being shared/reported/retweeted relates to you. I would like to challenge you to take a hiatus to see if this makes a difference.
Thoughts can certainly be startling and overwhelming. They capture your attention and derail your day in so many ways. Isn’t it empowering to know that you can temper their influence? I’d like to offer the words of Bob Dylan to bring this to a close, “Gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules…”
Jill Davis is an author, musician, actress and Peer Services Coordinator for Mind Springs Health who would like to hear your thoughts on thoughts. Think about it, then email her at Peers@MindSpringsHealth.org or on Facebook.
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