Truly the greatest battles are fought on the battlegrounds within our minds. A question that I often asked clients really showcased this. Imagine the thoughts that you told yourself yesterday were actually heard by the walls of your house. What color would the walls be? It probably won’t shock many of you to know that ‘black’ was a common response.
So, how can we change negative thinking?
These are simplified tips, but they really do work. I should note though that this requires teaching yourself something new and retraining how you think which is a process so don’t get discouraged if this takes time. You do not need to be perfect at it, but the more consistent you are, the easier it gets and the less mental exertion it requires to create the new neural pathway or way of thinking.
The thoughts that we think about ourselves have the greatest influence on how we react to the world.
Our brains are filled with neural pathways or basically paths or hiking trails in our brains. The more we follow a train of thought, the more we create that path and the grass gets trodden down and the trail becomes more ingrained. What you focus on with your thoughts and feelings strengthens the neural pathways in our brains. Our brains are wired to follow the path of least resistance or the trail that has been traveled the most.
Recent research led by a team at the University of College London published 10 years ago has shown that the average time to develop new habits is 66 days. This study shows some important things to note: One, the amount of time each participants in that study took to develop a new habit highly varied (from 18 -254 days). We are all wired differently so how long it takes for us to form a new habit will depend on each unique individual. But most important thing to note that this study showed was that, while the time varied, ALL were able to create the new habit.
So, what are the five simplified tips to change negative thinking?
One. You need to make a conscious goal of what you want to change. Mentally state to yourself what you desire to change. Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and MIT have discovered that meditation (or prayer) increases gray matter in the prefrontal cortex which helps shift the body from the stress response to the relaxation response. Meditation (Prayer) is the highest form of mental training that disciplines the mind to focus on what you want and allows the nervous system to create a state of calmness or homeostasis. Mindfulness is powerful in creating change.
Two. When you begin to have a negative thought, you need to label it in your mind as such and mentally stay “Stop!” Having a label such as “This is not helpful thinking” or “That is harmful” or “This leads to feelings that make me feel bad” allows your brain to create an aversion to the formerly easy way of thinking that it has gotten used to.
Three. Give your brain a task to think of instead. Think what your best friend would tell you (“I am a fixer of mistakes. I can do hard things. I matter. You are in essense building a new neural pathway in your brain or a new way of thinking.
Four. Focus on the results that you want. “I want to be a happier person. I want to be a better mother.” Find an action that would give you those results. (ie smiling, acts of kindness or service.) No act, in the right direction, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
Five. Repeat, Practice, Repeat. Neural pathways are strengthened into habits through the repetition and practice of thinking, feeling and acting. Keep going. It will get easier.
Practically speaking, “Be kind to everyone-including and starting with yourself.” -Brita