Our thoughts, feelings and emotions create a continuous inner dialogue or voice that steers us through our every waking hour as we react to the world around us. Naturally, our thoughts and mental reactions will change from moment to moment depending on what we are faced with, meaning on an average day, we experience a huge range of emotions. Therefore, it’s unrealistic to expect our thoughts and inner voice to always be positive and upbeat as we are only human and all emotions, whether positive or negative, are meaningful. However, at times our thoughts and ways of thinking can get stuck into some unhelpful patterns, making our inner dialogue a much darker place and our brain can become our own worst enemy rather than the friend we need it to be.
Some of the unhelpful thinking styles we can fall into include:
So where do we go from here? A great first step to take if you feel like your thoughts and emotions are getting the better of you, is taking some time out to reflect on your thoughts during a particular situation that you find stressful or uncomfortable. Start by reflecting on what automatic thoughts popped into your head during the situation, how much did you believe in them and what emotions did they trigger? Then consider which of the above unhelpful thinking styles could be affecting your thoughts about the situation and what could be an alternative way of looking at the situation in a more positive or neutral way. For example, if we make a mistake at work our emotional reaction will become heightened if our thoughts are telling us “you’re not clever enough for the job” and “you’re always making mistakes like this”. However, an alternative way of thinking about the situation could be “you made a mistake this time, but it’s something you will learn from and help you do your job better moving forward”. By practising these steps, we start to become aware of our thinking styles, reduce the amount of influence they have on our emotions and wellbeing, and start to be able to rationalise and change our thought patterns.
As well as reflecting on and working to change our unhelpful thinking styles, it can also be important to learn strategies to disconnect or unhook from our thoughts so they don’t steal our attention away from what’s important. It doesn’t mean we can necessarily stop the thought from popping into our head but instead of it knocking us off course, it’s sent to the back of the room and slowly over time it will lose its power. There are several different techniques to help us practice this, but we will have a look at one of my personal favourites called ‘Leaves on a stream’.
When you have 10 minutes to yourself, sit in a comfortable position and start by taking some long slow deep breaths. Once you are starting to feel calm and relaxed see if you can picture a stream next to you on a warm autumns day. There are several leaves floating down the river beside you. Once you have this image in your mind, then bring to your attention your current thoughts, feelings, emotions, and physical sensation. Focus on these thoughts one at a time, acknowledge it’s there but then choose to unhook from it and place it on the leaves in the stream and watch it float away down the stream. Keep repeating the process for 10 minutes or longer if you can.
With practise and time, you will begin to bring this technique into everyday moments when you start to feel overwhelmed by your mental dialogue. This will then become an important tool for taking control of negative thinking patterns.
One of the most important things we can do is to start to become more of a friend to ourselves. We can do this by becoming more aware of the way we speak to ourselves, the tone of voice we use and the various expectations we pile on each day. Would we speak to a friend in this way? The likely answer is no! So why not start trying to treat yourself as a loved one and reduce how much negativity your inner voice feeds into those unhelpful thinking patterns.
You’re the only person that can be there for yourself 24/7. If you or anyone you know requires some assistance with any areas regarding changing negative thought patterns and/or training your brain to handle negative situations better, please get in touch with one of our team members who would be happy to assist you in becoming the best version of yourself. You can get in contact with us via email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning us on 1300 796 640.