When you and your partner discuss a hot topic, do you handle it in a way that enriches your relationship — and ultimately your happiness — or does your experience put more emotional distance between you and polarize your positions? Many couples fall in the latter category.
Think about it. It’s tempting, isn’t it, to use our capacity for logic to build a case against the other? The feel-good neurochemicals in our brain pull us in this direction, particularly, if we’ve experienced this reaction in early experiences with parents (and who hasn’t?). Defensive reactions may be fruitful if you’re an attorney and your success depends on winning cases; in couple relationship, defensiveness poses a serious threat to intimacy and fun.
The key to dealing with triggering thoughts and emotions successfully is to be able to reflect beyond the particular trigger, setback or challenge of the moment.
Awareness is perhaps the most important step to staying present in order to change toxic thinking patterns.
Any thought patterns that drain your energy or block you from accessing your capacity for possibility thinking, for example, can be thought of as limiting beliefs. They are limiting because they limit your capacity to realize our hopes and dreams, to create happiness and live fulfilling lives.
Look over the list below and see if you can identify any ways in which your brain may trick you out of happiness. Chances are good that you have.
“If only I didn’t have so much to do.”
This thought pattern tricks our subconscious mind into thinking we’d be happier if we didn’t have to “work” at staying emotionally healthy and connected with our partners (this type of thought can talk us out of being happy at work or school or some project we’ve wanted to tackle as well!). We imagine that a life of no expectations would be ideal, and how wonderful it would be if it came without effort, as it does talking with strangers or coworkers. We are tricked into thinking that we’d be happy if only we could sit back and relax, not have to work at communicating. Truthfully, idleness often leads to boredom and depression, loss of hope and meaning. We are wired for progress, and inclined to be industrious, creative. At every level, emotionally, mentally and physically, we remain strong and supple to the extent we stretch and keep stretching past our limits. It’s a law of physics, known as use it or lose it. While relaxation and fun are also vital, in case you haven’t noticed, challenges are necessary to grow and invite us to keep reaching for the stars, to keep learning how to create and generate happiness, for example, and not just wait for it to come to you. So, why not rise up and invest your time on something that would benefit you and your relationship, for example, how about daily acts of kindness, thoughtful responses, being present when they’re upset without giving advice? Don’t be surprised if you find their, and your happiness factor rise.
“If only my husband/wife (parent, child, etc.) would do so and so …”
This thought pattern tricks us into believing we are unhappy due to our partner’s (parents’, children’s’ etc.) failure to give us the love we need. In fact, thought patterns of blame are not only the most common, they are the most harmful to us. Thoughts of blame not only deceive us into feeling powerless, they also teach us to complain, whine or demand, instead of making clear and con side requests! In fact, our brain gets tricked into thinking these harsh attacks are requests! They are not. They shut down our partner’s brain and prevent them from hearing the content of our message. In other words, they waste good energy that could go into clarifying what we want, and making requests instead. Of course, it takes two to tango; each needs to own their part to resolve an issue. Making requests and steering away from blame statements, and taking personal responsibility to use our energy wisely in this way is the beginning of true happiness.
“If only I had a different past like my partner or some others I know.”
This thought tricks us into thinking we are a victim of our own life or partner. As a result, our brain or subconscious mind, then selectively focuses on evidence that proves what we believe is true. This thought should come with a warning label: “Say this often if you want to always feel you get the short end of the stick.” It’s critical to understand that our habitual thought patterns shape our character, sense of self, esteem and self-concept, and thus our actions accordingly. Why not instead speak the truth that supports the vision of a future you want to create, how you want to show up in this future? Then, together with “acting as if” you have what you want in your imagination (not 24/7, just a few minutes, a few times a day!), formulate a strategy and then work hard to achieve it. There are no shortcuts or secrets to happiness. What is often called “secrets of success” are usually simple habits, such as replacing toxic thoughts with thoughts that support you to feel enthusiastic, safe, effective and valuable in life, that seem so obvious that we dismiss or ignore them in disbelief.
“If only I had the right breaks in life like so and so who had such and such.”
Similar to the previous thought, this one deceives us into thinking we are a victim of fate, and that we’ll only be happy when we get the right job or the right house or the right car or the right break in life — or the right partner! This pattern keeps us looking out there for something or someone to rescue us, all the while, we’re sitting on power we do not realize we have. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting circumstances to be better or different. Research shows that improved circumstances do not automatically make us happy. They merely create a temporary high that quickly wears off. And what we’re left with is thought patterns that trick us out of being happy! If you truly want lasting happiness, you must first “see” this type of thought for the bottomless pit it is. Believing “nothing good ever happens” to you is an energy drain to your brain and body. Whereas success takes years of hard work and preparation, this thought tricks us into thinking it has to do with luck. Replace any of these thoughts with ones that energize you to actively pursue your dream with your whole heart and you might be surprised at the “luck” that comes your way. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
“If only my partner would stop wanting change or trying to change me.”
This thought pattern can trick your brain to avoid or detest change. Considering that change is characteristic of who you are as a human being, this belief system is seriously limiting. By laws of physics, such as “use it or lose it,” we human beings are designed to either continually grow throughout life, or we regress. There is no standing still without loss of gains. We are wired for progress, and we need thoughts that support us to be all we can be. Humans cannot change the laws of physics that govern life. It’s a waste of time and energy. Stop hating change, and embrace it instead. Life is a journey of constant change. Some of which we control and some we don’t. Sure, you may want to ask your partner to take a different approach, i.e., to make requests and not demands, which trigger your resistance and desire to not cooperate. Resisting change or trying to limit positive change, however, is self-defeating to you and your relationship. It will increasingly drain and rob you of your happiness. Start with being open and getting comfortable or accepting of the idea of positive change, and learn to go with the flow, when necessary, as something you are doing to increase your happiness (and when your partner is happier, so are you and your relationship!). Couple relationships are top notch schools where the “differences” and “tensions” very often are invitations that custom made for each partner to stretch and grow. So develop the habit of replacing limiting thoughts of, “Why should I do what I don’t like” or “It’s not me” or “Why do I have to change,” head-on and be open to making changes that would grow you, your partner, and your relationship. A deeper sense of gratification is practically a guarantee.
“If only I could believe … I’ve tried everything, nothing has worked, why would it work now?”
This discouraging thought pattern tricks us into thinking we have tried “everything,” giving up, and feeling sorry for our self, perhaps even a habit of wallowing in self-pity. This blinding thought also prevents us from seeing that, because this belief accompanied our efforts along the way, our approach may have been self-defeating. It’s essential to believe in our self-efficacy, believe in our partner’s ability, and to have positive expectations for good outcomes, regardless of results. A mindset that is geared to win, views any failure as an opportunity to learn and get better. Perseverance is key to your happiness, thus, it’s vital to hold beliefs that energize your momentum and enthusiasm. Know that tomorrow holds the realization of your dreams, and never let your mind trick you into giving up.
“I’ll decide when I know for sure what to do.”
This thought pattern tricks us into over-thinking every decision, flooding our brain with too many possibilities. Naturally, there’s nothing wrong with exploring possibilities, weighing the risks, and making a plan; in fact, these are essential. Nothing happens until a choice is made and action is taken. Actions energize momentum. It helps to become aware of thoughts like this that trick your mind into getting too anxious, perhaps over finding the “perfect” one solution rather than one option of many. You’ll need to replace and break free of such thought patterns, with ones that empower you to think of yourself as a choice maker of your life and choices, free to make mistakes and learn from them, as the creator and choice maker of your life.
“I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it.”
This thought tricks us into denying the effects of our bad habits and rationalizing rather than changing behaviors. In other words, making excuses. This seems common when it comes to making choices to live a healthy lifestyle or practice healthy communication skills. In some circles, it’s considered a strength not to care what one eats or drinks. In others, it’s thought that one should be able to say whatever they want, how they want to say it. These beliefs are limiting as they believe us to continue doing something that poses a risk, such as smoking or verbally attacking a partner, to partners physical or emotional health and well being. Research shows a healthy lifestyle can not only prevent serious diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, but also supports our mental and emotional mental health and sense of peace and well being. Similarly, sticking to key communication guidelines and treating one another with dignity, particularly in difficult moments, tells your partner you value them enough to stretch out of your comfort zones to be present to listen, understand, validate, thoughtfully respond and so on! So, it’s up to you to disallow your thoughts from tricking you out of a healthy lifestyle and healthy communications.
Don’t let these tricks of the mind (subconscious) steal your happiness!
It’s a fact, your own brain and body, by design, can deceive you into thinking you need something you do not, and avoiding something in your best interest to do.
Living to realize all you can be as individuals and a couple, for example, and holding that vision in that moment, is infinitely more powerful and wise use of your energy, in terms of charting the direction of your lives and relationship, than arguing over the details of who’s right or wrong.
Your mind is a complex structure that can be your very best friend, or worst enemy, when it comes to your happiness.
Success is the ability to ride any disappointment like a wave and learn to enjoy the ocean. It’s an essential preparation on any journey that prepares you to succeed any destination.
When you discover the miracle-making power you have to shape the experience of your life, you find authentic joy and strength and hope will be your constant companions. It is only from this place that you rule your world.