It can be said that most, if not all, of our experience begins from our perception and the consistent thoughts that we think. These consistent thoughts, for better or for worse, affect all areas of our lives. Most of us can remember a time when we were feeling calm and at peace and something triggered a thought (whether we realized it or not) that immediately changed our mood. Before we knew what hit us, we felt sad, low and hopeless. Often our environment has not changed, nothing dramatic or traumatic has happened, yet something has shifted and we no longer feel balanced and whole. It began with a thought. We identified with that thought and then became emotionally connected to that thought.
Don’t Believe Everything You Think
It has taken me over a decade of personal and spiritual development to realize that the phrase “change your thinking, change your life” doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be fully in control of your mind. Most of us aren’t able to monitor or control every thought in our heads and if you’ve ever tried, you know it’s quite exhausting of a task. So, I say, cut your brain some slack, it’s just doing it’s job.
Brains think and, at least in my experience, no matter how much meditation you do, it will still be doing its’ job and pretty darn well. Thoughts will always come and go, but the important piece to remember is you don’t have to believe everything you think. This may seem shocking to some and quite elementary to others, but when I realized this it made a huge difference in how I view my inner landscape. Once I realized that there are many factors that contribute to my thoughts and they are not necessarily what I believe, feel or want to take action on, I felt truly liberated. So I shifted my personal growth work to focus on allowing my thoughts to be just what they are – thoughts. Soon my work became questioning my thoughts and discontinuing to identify or believe in everything I think.
Remember the Mind-Body Connection
There are a few thing we can do when we are stuck in a mental rut. Most of us realize that our thoughts affect our actions, but did you know that our actions affect our thoughts? It is important to remember this mind-body connection, especially when it seems difficult to change our thought patterns. For example, it is less likely to think negative thoughts while you are using your body in a positive way: Try dancing around to some uplifting music and smiling in front of the mirror. Put yourself in an uplifting environment such as taking a walk in a park, practicing yoga or working in your garden. Often you will find your thinking will shift with your body.
Be Your Own Best Friend
Challenging our thoughts and shifting our mindset is a warrior’s journey, yet not everyone is up for the task. For my fellow warrior’s out there, you will need to learn to be your own best friend. During times of change and growth you may feel alone and changing our thoughts may seem impossible. Ask yourself “what do I need right now to feel better?” When negative thoughts arise, talk to yourself as your best friend would talk to you. Often we talk to ourselves in ways that do not promote positivity and thus, inhibit growth. For example, if you have the thought “I will never get well,” you could think of what your best friend would say to you instead and respond by saying, “You are doing the best you can right now, each day you are making better choices for your life and your body. In time, you will see a difference.” There is no sense in lying to ourselves, so be honest, but be kind – just like a best friend would.
It is important to practice mindfulness and bring more awareness to what we are thinking on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean you have to track every thought, but become aware of your most consistent or recurring thought patterns. Our subconscious minds will act on any thought as a command, whether the message is positive or negative. A practice I like to use to generate mindfulness is to sit in silent meditation for at least 5 minutes per day and imagine I am sitting by a small stream of water. There is a tree nearby that has leaves falling into the stream. Each thought I have is a leaf floating on the water. I notice the thought or leaf and I let it pass me by.
Find & Replace
Another practice I have used over the years is to carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go for a week and write down every thought that I have. This may seem daunting, but it is well worth the effort. It will be impossible to write down all of your thoughts, but write down as many as you can. As you write them down, question them: Do I truly believe this statement? Is it true? Only choose to own the statements that are absolutely true for you.
As you look at your list, cross out any negative or hurtful thoughts and replace them with a positive version of that thought. For example a fearful thought about your work or job, such as “I don’t know what I’m doing, everyone is going to laugh at me,” could be replaced with something like “Each day I am learning and growing and improving. It is natural to feel uncertain at times, but I am doing my best.” Consistently replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts and affirmations will eventually become second nature and have an enormous affect on our whole being – mentally, spiritually and physically.
The Domino Effect
When we make the effort to replace our negative thoughts often we begin experiencing positive emotions and have a brighter outlook for our lives. Positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind up to thoughts of a positive future. These thoughts affect not only your mind, but increase your body’s ability to heal itself because it no longer has to fight the effects of stress from negative thinking. Positive thoughts become the domino effect of health and are often the beginning of our journey for a holistic, healthy life.