You are fully in charge!
If experts say that we have about 70,000 thoughts in a day, no wonder that we get tripped up by our constant mental chatter. Have you ever paid attention to how illogical and irrational these thoughts can be? And the worst part is that we even tend to believe much of it, which leads to completely misguided and unhelpful beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world! Learning to see thoughts as cues instead of threats help us become more resilient and productive in the way we feel about ourselves and others.
Research shows that most of our thoughts (up to 70%) are predominantly negative. That might come as a shock to some people and it is usually because this negative chatter takes place unconsciously. At the same time, most of us do recognize the critical voice in our head saying: “I can’t do it” or “why did I do that”. These statements do not makes us feel good about ourselves.
So why does the mind focus on the negative? First of all, thoughts are really just reflections of our feelings. Emotions are cues or signals that let us know how we feel about a situation. Most of the times they are involuntary and it is up to us how we decide to responds to them. From an evolutionary standpoint, fear kept us safe by triggering “fight or flight” if prehistoric man saw a saber-toothed tiger. However life threatening situations are not an everyday occurrence in today’s society. Unfortunately our mind doesn’t always distinguish the difference between a “real” threat (eg. a bear) or a “made up” threat such as “I don’t like what she/he is doing to me”. Two very different situations that create the same response in the brain following a “fight or flight” response (either attack back or run away).
What makes a thought seem real is the attention we bring to it. By focusing on “what it means” or “analyzing” it makes it more tangible or solid. The connection between the thought, the evoked feeling, and the meaning we choose to apply to the situation/person is what makes it “real” and hard to get rid of. It is essentially a negative story we create that becomes like a movie in our mind. Linking thoughts to a, many times, false interpretation of an event is what creates discomfort (negative feelings).
Most of our thoughts are merely reflections of our feelings. That means positive thoughts are associated with positive feelings, which feel good. However, negative thoughts lead to or spring out of negative emotions and usually creates a problem to “fix”, which is why the mind stays focused longer on the negative. Negative emotions/thoughts require more detailed thinking, more subtle distinctions, and therefore a broader spectrum of names.
In today’s society we are less dependent on these negative feelings to protect us from harm, and many times is a misguided automated system that no longer serves us. As a result we have seen a change of focus from mental illness or pathology to positive thinking and mindfulness, which instead highlights positive psychology and overall well-being.
Every moment, particularly this present moment, is a choice to feel either good or bad. Every interaction or reaction we have is rooted in either fear, not being true to ourselves, or love, being true to who we are. When we are in alignment with who we are and with our own inner guidance system we feel happy and satisfied with almost anything. The more we practice this alignment, the more likely it is for us to interpret situations and negative thoughts as non-threatening and therefore choosing a positive interpretation gets us feeling good.
To reiterate, negative emotions only appear when we have thought or experienced something that doesn’t feel good or something that doesn’t fit with who we are. The longer we think these thoughts (that most of the time are just made-up stories about ourselves and the world) the more we believe them. Hence the word “belief”. A belief is just the same thoughts repeated over and over again until they become a part of our world view or “normal” for us. Examples include, “I have never been good at math” or “I’m always a klotz”. These beliefs are often subconscious and not always available to our conscious awareness. Therefore most of us lead these made-up lives that consist of stories that often are not even close to the truth (who we truly are).
The saddest thing about this is that most of us walk around with these feelings of not being accepted, not being good enough or not belonging anywhere. As a result we create conflicts, “drama” and isolation in order to hide these “flaws” that in fact just make us human. So instead of getting closer to the people around us, which is usually our deepest desires, we push people away by being aggressive, defensive, too needy, or by not being emotionally available (shut down/withdrawn). Often we would rather live with the pain of disconnect than risking showing our true vulnerability and “flaws”. This mechanism is usually to avoid feeling more hurt, rejection, disapproval, or abandonment.
Ahh… human emotions! They are fascinating and actually very predictable when given a chance to be observed, labeled and expressed. They are certainly not as dangerous and threatening as they seem although can feel extremely uncomfortable.
The key here is to know that negative emotions are not the problem. Feelings are actually neither good or bad. They are simply cues from the body that signals we are “off track” or “out of alignment”. Tuning into our bodily sensations is probably the first sign of how we might be feeling. Noticing what is happening in the body usually reflects how we feel emotionally and can create a greater self-awareness of how we are doing moment to moment. Again, it is not the “bad feelings” in our mind and body that is the problem but how we interpret the situation (thoughts created and made tangible) that gets us in trouble.
Accepting our mind chatter is imperative to living a positive, healthy and peaceful life. The thoughts will never go away and creating all positive thoughts is impossible! So stop striving for the impossible and just accept what is. The beautiful part of this is that you are 100% in charge of your reactions to these thoughts and feelings. What feels better: throwing the remote across the room or taking 3-5 deep breaths? Most likely the latter! Learning to react to yourself and others in helpful ways improves confidence, self-esteem, connection with others and most importantly your satisfaction in life.