Are you stuck in negative thinking patterns? Or perhaps you’re not paying attention to you’re thoughts, and are unaware of how your thoughts impact your emotions.
Often times, we approach our thoughts as though we are actors. Our thoughts, those little things that occur inside our heads that we don’t give voice to, often occur automatically and unconsciously. When this happens, we respond to them as if they are our lines to be read, given to us by our mind.
What would happen if, instead of thinking like an actor, you tried thinking like a director or a writer? Before responding to your thoughts, ask yourself “is this thought helpful?” or “Do I really want to be thinking in this way?”
Our mind is constantly comparing our experiences with those of others, or holding others to expectations we’ve created. These judgments happen in our minds, can trigger intense emotions and distract us from the moment.
In order to change your thinking, you must focus attention on your thoughts. Try viewing your thoughts as an internal dialog in a movie, a conversation you’re having with yourself. Usually, we experience our thoughts as if we’re one of the characters in the movie. But try instead to watch the movie. Pretend you are the director or screenwriter. Notice your internal dialog. What do you say to yourself during the course of the day? How do you analyze or interpret different situations? When you’re stuck in traffic, do you tell yourself “this is unbearable?” If you make a mistake, do you call yourself an “idiot?”
Now notice which dialog makes the actors (in this case, you), the most emotional. As you bring your awareness to the content of your thoughts, observe it’s connection to your emotions.
To change your internal dialog and tone down the intensity of emotion, try to describe the situation in your mind, rather than interpret it as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ For example, in traffic, you might say to yourself “I’m moving very slowly.” You can acknowledge whether this thought is helpful or harmful to you; for example, you might acknowledge that the traffic will make you late to work. You can also acknowledge how it made you feel; for example, how being late to work makes you anxious.
Changing the content of your thoughts won’t eradicate emotion, but saying to yourself that you feel anxious will typically result in a lower intensity of emotion than the thought “this is unbearable” or “I can’t stand it.”
It’s very hard to think in non-judgmental terms, but it’s an important skill to learn. Judgments have a significant effect on the way we feel. They can also cloud our perceptions and leave us responding not to a situation as it is, but to a situation as we’ve judged it to be.
Thinking man photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 19 Sep 2012