Thoughts are powerful shapers of our lives, period. They shape our relationships too, even our character. If our thoughts are limiting, however, they are also energy zapping. Do you have the reins of your thoughts?
It’s no longer theory, it’s science.
Our habitual “self talk” seems to form a meaning-laden story that continually “tells us” who we are, how we should relate to our self, others, and life.
This running commentary, based on findings in the fields of cognitive and affective neuroscience, consists of tens of thousands of thoughts a day that are automatic in nature, meaning they’re not “real” thinking at all. These pre-recorded thoughts activate certain behavioral responses, to include more “thoughts,” all of which totally bypass the higher thinking areas of the frontal cortex.
In many cases, this “story” is based on limiting interpretations of our experiences that activate our intimacy fears, which in turn trigger specific “strategies” that we’ve come to believe are “necessary” solutions to feel quick-fixes of pleasure that never really satisfy, such as blame, wallowing in self-pity, angry outbursts, among other addictive activities, foods or substances, etc.
We become what we most think about. So do our relationships, and life.
When our “story” consists of toxic thinking, filling us with doubts about our self and others, focused on lacking this or that, essentially, apart from sprinklings of “truth” and “facts,” this rigid running commentary is best described as an overall set of lies and illusions, with a selective focus set on “proving” our worst fears, for example, that we’ll never be “good enough,” that others will “always fail” us, that we’ll “always be alone,” and the like.
Studies show that even persons without a history of addiction, for example, can quickly develop addictive behavior … due to an addiction-risk feature of the brain often known as “attention bias.” It appears that, unique to each individual, certain “cues” have the ability to hijack to reward-chemical neural mechanisms of the brain, meaning they hijack the otherwise amazing capacity we have for making informed choices and decisions!
The good news is that we can take positive-action steps to break free of energy zapping thoughts (EZTs)! These steps disallow our thoughts from treating us as if we’re passive bystanders, and to choose to think thoughts aligned with our highest values and aspirations.
And because these negative interpretations release high levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in the bloodstream, they not only zap our energy, and thus our ability to problem solve, but also block our sense of peace of mind and adequacy in realizing the meaningful connections, happiness and harmony we all yearn for in our personal lives and relationships.
You can break the addictive hold of certain foods, drugs, activities or persons in your life … by changing your thoughts, and focus.
Here are seven steps proven to do so:
1. Become consciously aware of your “self talk” or thoughts.
The first step starts with an intention to grow your awareness to your responses to life around you from within. Your senses continually grab your attention, and if you’re like most, you have little or no connection to inner promptings and resources, i.e., of what you are telling yourself in certain situations, and the difference between thoughts in the form of observations that calm you versus thoughts in the form of judgments that unnecessarily trigger you inside. Becoming aware of old thought patterns gives you the option of seeing old thoughts as habits that you can change, rather than “who you are,” for example. When you do, you are exercising one of the most powerful abilities you have to take the reins of your life as a conscious choice maker.
2. Get to know how your brain and body work together.
The next step is to get to know how your physical brain and body are wired to work together with your emotion-feeling heart and body-mind, or subconscious. EZTs are automatic reactions or conditioned habits that have formed ingrained neuropathways in the brain. You learned and have practiced many of them since childhood, and in many cases, they are “hot spots,” or wounds, handed down from one generation to the next. You are not your thoughts, you are much more, the observer. As such, you have the ability to make optimal choices, and one of those is to disallow judgemental thoughts from ruling your emotions and behaviors by unnecessarily triggering defensive behaviors. As an active choice maker, you are in the role of creator, and your life is your masterpiece or labor of love. When you understand this, you can choose to see certain automatic thoughts as old habits, that were never your own! This understanding can free you to expand your capacity for compassion for key others in your life, your partner, parents, or adult children.
3. Identify the EZTs that most impact or trigger you.
Thoughts such as “I’m undeserving,” “I’m a loser,” “I’m unworthy,” or negative forecasts, such as “I always or never…” or “I fail at everything” are at best total wastes of energy. You always have a choice, so choose to never lever EZTs define you and limit what you believe is possible for you and your relationships. They will not disappear overnight, however. Like a difficult colleague or employer, they can be very “useful” to us, if you shift to thinking of challenges as opportunities to learn and grow your capacity for resiliency, which involves dealing with difficult emotions. Identify the situations that upset you, describe your immediate reaction, and note what you tell yourself in those situations. Keep a written record of such events for a week, or at least a couple of days here and there.
4. List the negative effects of EZTs on you and relationships.
Once you identify and record the EZTs and situations that trigger them, list the negative effects these have had on you, your life and relationships. EZTs trigger patterns of negative emotional states, counter-productive behaviors, compulsions/addictions, as well as compulsive negative thought patterns. The more you understand the negative impact of certain thoughts, the more determined you will be to make the necessary changes, and to make this a lifestyle. These changes to increase your health and happiness are worthwhile and deserving; however, they will not be easy to make. You need to connect clearly to the purpose and reasons that will inspire a deeply determined, caring part of you to be ever-ready-to-do-what-ever-is-necessary.
5. Use the “Stop, Breathe, Think” skill.
You can decide what thoughts, images and emotions drive your mind, emotions and behaviors; and you can shift away from old negative ones, to affirming what you want to believe instead. The Stop-Breathe-Think skill is one method. First, when you become aware of an EZT in your head, state the word “STOP!” passionately and firmly to yourself, aloud when possible. It also helps to make a physical gesture with your body, such as standing up and raising your fists, or tapping your fist on the palm of your other hand. The second step is to take deep, long breaths to calm your mind and body. The third step is to turn on conscious thoughts, for example, to think about what you’re telling yourself, to identify the emotions and feelings you’re feeling, and to say something calming to yourself, such “I’ve handled this emotion before, I’m capable of handling this again” or “I’m not my emotions, I’m the creator; even though I’m upset about this situation, I totally love, value and accept myself just as I am.” At any moment, you always have a choice, and when you choose to shift away from EZTs to optimal thoughts and emotions instead, you are sending a strong message to your subconscious mind, that you are a capable agent and creator.
6. Honor the positive intention of the EZT.
Regardless how negative, belittling, and de-energizing a thought is, most always, it’s connected to a positive underlying intention! The EZT, for example, may just be an old habitual, albeit misguided attempt to get yourself to do better in some area, by shaming or belittling yourself. Most of us have been conditioned by well-meaning parents to instill our self, and others, with painful emotions, such as fear, guilt and shame, in order to gain their cooperation. Consider for example a mother who tells her son “You are such a lazy boy!” Is it her intention to belittle him and crush his sense of self? More often not! She is merely misguided, and trained in a prevailing belief in our culture, that “making others feel bad about themselves is the fastest, or only way, to motivate others” to cooperate or become good citizens. In all fairness, if the mother knew the harmful impact of such words or this belief, she’d likely change, as many parents today have, seeking parent education classes, books, etc., to help them learn ways of motivating children that use more positive psychological approaches.
7. Stand up to each EZT!
The last step is to ask yourself certain questions, such as the ones below, geared toward exposing the underlying falsehoods or illusions of each EZT, by gathering the following information:
What evidence is there that disproves the EZT?
How is this EZT an exaggeration? An overreaction? A generalization?
Does it involve either-or, black and white thinking? If you were to use both-and, possibility thinking, how else might you see this situation? What are other explanations?
Does this thought empowering you to be your best? Does it conserve or waste your energy — by activating your body’s survival response?
Would you say these words to a friend in a similar situation?
Your ability to declare freedom from EZTs is a choice, and intention, to access powerful inner resources ever available to bring more harmony, inner peace and happiness to your life and relationships.
When you choose to see the best possibilities in yourself and life, and others, you are open to feel gratitude for what you already have. The felt experiences of joy, appreciation, happiness, accomplishment, in turn, generate a sense of abundant health, attracting more of the same. Doing so on a regular basis grows your confidence in extracting value, and thus transforming, most any situation to an opportunity for growth and expanding your capacity for compassion and wisdom.
This view of life as a journey of learning and transformation empowers you to see any challenging events or persons as opportunities to grow, and to learn to love from an expanded sense of curiosity, resiliency and adaptability, knowing that, wherever you are, life is preparing you for continued success in transforming fears and challenges into assets.
It’s just the way the mind works.
Wisdom, you may say, is a discovery of how life works, and doesn’t work. Knowing healthy ways to feel good about your self and life is not an option, it’s an imperative.
You deserve to a “new” story of your life, consciously created, one that uplifts you in every way to believe in yourself, to hope in the possibilities for an ever brighter future, and most importantly, to know that you’re never alone, as your life is ever prompting you to meaningfully contribute and connect from within, to keep reaching for the stars, regardless of failings or setbacks, and to enjoy every moment of your transformation.