Wednesday, July 4, 2012
How to Stop Your Thoughts from Keeping You Stuck
Have you begun a self -improvement project lately? How is it going? Are you feeling stuck, frustrated or confused?
Sometimes you start making changes with great motivation and energy and then stop. Sometimes it gets too hard, you get bored, or the old habit comes back. How can you move through these obstacles and develop the desired behaviors?
One of the things that you need to learn about is your thoughts. Your thoughts act like containers, they put a certain meaning on life for you. These meanings then create a feeling and this feeling fuels your choice of action (or inaction).
Here is an example. You have decided to begin an exercise program. You decide to go to the gym three mornings a week. The first week goes fine. Then, the second week you find yourself struggling and experiencing a civil war inside your head. It can sound something like this: I don't feel like going to the gym today. I should go to the gym , I am so lazy, I am really tired and did not sleep well last night, one time won't hurt to stay home , I am scared that I will not be successful here, I never doing anything right. You get the picture?
Now what is happening here? You are going from missing one morning at the gym to being scared and feeling like a failure, a lazy person who can't do anything right. This meaning that you have given the situation,this "thought track" can result in anxiety, low energy, low self esteem. Probably you are going to give up on this self- improvement project. I bet if you identified with this thinking that this is not the first time your thoughts have shown up this way.
Thoughts are like tracks you lay down. Our brain develops pathways of firing, similar to the idea of tracks. Once you define a life experience or yourself in one way and create these tracks they are going to color your experience of future situations. You can get caught giving the same meaning to new situations over and over again, following the same thought tracks. Your thoughts tend to follow it over and over. This can result in what is termed "kindling" which is a similar to a sensitivity. Your feelings become more intense, super charged when the existing tracks are activated. It will take very little to activate the thought tracks and the feelings and they will come very quickly, often intensely.
Others, your teachers, parents, friends, spouse, children, co-workers, boss etc. are ready to tell you what your behavior means to them and how they think of you. You get hypnotized. You believe what they say to be true. Then, it's as if you are wearing glasses that slant the meanings of incidents in life to line them up with these thought tracks.
What ever the meaning you give to the situation becomes real to you. It is your "reality". It may not be "true", but your experience it as real. For example I am lazy ). Then you act as if it is true and your choices are based on this reality. Often although it appears "real" it is not "true."
So what can you do?
First become AWARE of the familiar thought tracks that you have laid down. Notice your thoughts, there are patterns there. Journal, talk to a friend, learn skills of self awareness.
After you are aware, explore the thoughts. ACKNOWLEDGE the source, how they developed how habitual they may be. Often it is helpful to work with a therapist at this point to understand how these patterns of thought developed. If the thought is not one that you want to continue to hold, if it does not serve you well then CORRECT it.
How do you correct it? Well, thoughts are created by you. They are subjective, and if you create them you can de-create them.
Here are a few exercises for changing your thought:
1. Ask yourself what thought you would like to live by. In the above example, change the thought I am lazy and can never do anything right. What is a thought that will help you to feel the way you want to feel, one that would help you to act the way you would like act. How about I can trust myself? If this new thought feels too far away from your current" reality", try something else. For instance " I am learning how to trust myself." So when you become AWARE of the thought, the I am lazy and can never do anything right, thought, first ACKNOWLEDGE this familiar thought, and where it came from. Now CORRECT it by remembering the new thought, I am learning how to trust myself. Now every time you have the old thought you have an opportunity to change.
2. Take the same example above. This time when you think" I am lazy and can never do anything right" Imagine you see a blackboard in your mind with this written on it. See and sense yourself taking the eraser and erase this thought. Now see and feel and know yourself picking up the chalk and writing I am learning to trust myself". Now how do you feel?
3. Whenever recognize the old thoughts in your mind say to yourself "interesting, there goes that part of me making up those stories again".
Does this seem too simple? Well try an experiment and do one of these exercises for 21 days consecutive days. See what happens. What do you have to lose? What are your thoughts telling you now? Oh no, here you go again!
Go back and restart at the beginning and read this again!