I took this picture while I was out walking our dog last week. It’s a point in the walk when I can make a choice to do the longer, tougher walk or a shorter, easier route. On most days, especially when I’m working, I take the shorter easier route and most days I don’t even notice making any choice. I simply turn right rather than go ahead. It’s the brains way of making life easier. By making decision, subconsciously for me, I don’t have to think about it!
It is ingenious really; but it can mean that I always take the easy option. Unless I consciously make a decision at the signpost, to take a different route, I’ll usually take the familiar path.
There are lots of subconscious patterns that we fall into on a day to day. Patterns of thinking feeling and behaving that are built up over our lives. Some of those will have been paths laid down very early in life, but which still have a big influence on us as adults. Whilst it can be helpful at times, for us to ‘always do what we’ve always done’ there will be times when our tried and tested tactics aren’t what’s needed in the moment.
This idea that we subconsciously follow a familiar path time and time again is particularly relevant when we consider our automatic thinking patterns. We can easily fall into patterns of thinking that keep us stuck. That prevent us from seeing opportunities or different perspectives. Negative automatic thoughts colour our judgment and a constant flow of negative thoughts about ourselves has a really negative effect on our self confidence and self esteem.
But we DO have a choice. We can choose another way. We can decide to take the tougher route, and challenge or change our negative automatic thoughts. Andy Puddicom the creator of the brilliant meditation app, Headspace, has a great animation that shows thoughts like moving traffic on a busy road. It’s a little picture that really helps to remind me that thoughts are transient. Thoughts are just that THOUGHTS. They may not be true. They aren’t facts. We don’t have to take any notice of them. We could let them pass by or we could even take steps to change them!
Here’s a few that you might find familiar;
- Catastrophising – making molehills into mountains
- All or nothing thinking – something’s either perfect or a disaster
- Mind reading – believing we know what others are thinking, and assuming it’s negative
- Mental filtering – when we focus on the negatives
- Discounting any positives – ignoring or discounting positives
- Taking things personally – feeling that it’s ALL your fault
There’s lot’s you can do to change your thinking, if you recognise any of those I’ve listed above. Here’s a few ideas that will get you started;
- Notice them
Get into the habit of noticing and listening to your own negative chatter. A good friend or a coach can help you notice the negative automatic thoughts that leak out in what you say. Notice the familiar thoughts, the ones that come up again and again. Build a picture of the times and situations when the flow of negative thoughts gets busier. This will help you to understand your triggers and your own faulty thinking patterns
- Take control
Put yourself back in control and make a choice. You don’t have to keep hanging onto those negative thoughts. A bit like the traffic control centre on a motorway; you could make sure to keep things moving and CHOOSE NOT TO hang onto that thought.
It sounds simple….and it is, but it’s so powerful. If you can notice when your negative thoughts are hijacking your thinking, you can start to give yourself some control over them. Choose to think differently. Choose to look for and appreciate something good rather than getting fixed on all the negatives!
- Have fun with it!
I’m really mixing my metaphors here, but I often think of negative thoughts, like the worst dinner guests you’ve ever had! They arrive, hang around too long and worst of all they don’t know when to leave!!
This type of work doesn’t have to be serious. Find a way of taking the sting out of your negative thoughts. There’s a great character called Jesse from The Fast Show, you can see him on Youtube! One of his lines was “This week I shall mostly be eating taramasalata!” It always makes me smile – so I’ve adopted a version of that when I notice negative thoughts taking over. So, I might reword my thinking into, “this week I shall mostly be focusing on what’s going well.” Of course you can add your own ending – but you get the idea!
The trick is not to be hard or critical with yourself. These familiar thinking patterns are part of what makes you YOU. They are ways of thinking that might have been helpful in the past – but they’re no longer serving you.
So maybe like your worst dinner guest, it’s time they left?
If you can find a way to interrupt the cycle of negative thoughts that stops you in your tracks, I guarantee you’ll see new possibilities; find more solutions and feel much better about yourself in the long run.
There’s always choice – you can CHOOSE to think differently!
Good luck in your quest to change your thinking. Stick with it!!
If you’d like to work with me on this, please get in touch.