Recent studies show that the average human mind has over 50,000 thoughts a day. How many of these thoughts are helpful and how many are unhelpful? Studies have shown that at least half of these thoughts are unhelpful and the more we push them away or block them out, the more they return with extra power and velocity.
How much impact do negative thoughts have on your life? Have they developed into stories that play through your mind, day in day out?
One of most common stories is the, ‘I’m not good enough’ story. Nearly all of us have some derivative of this story whether it’s the, ‘I’m not a good enough friend, employee, provider, lover etc. Other stories could be, ‘I’m a failure, I’m a fraud, I’m broken, I’m unlovable’ and so on and so on. Our mind is a great storyteller, it conjures up all sorts of unhelpful things that stop us from being our best possible selves, friends, lovers, employees and humans.
Here are four ways to retrain your mind in order to make unhelpful thoughts have less impact on your life. Different techniques work for different people, so give them all a try and determine which ones work best for you.
To begin, bring to mind an unhelpful and recurring thought, then try the following techniques.
1. Remind yourself that it’s only a thought
By silently saying to yourself, ‘I’m having the thought that I am a failure’ rather than, ‘I am a failure’, you are reminding yourself that it’s not a truth but a thought.’I am having the thought that I am a failure’ has much lest impact than, ‘I am a failure’. You can also try, ‘I am noticing I am having the thought that I am a failure’.
2. Sarcastically thank your mind
Once you have noticed a thought as a thought, silently and sarcastically say ‘thank you mind’. This reminds you to be compassionate with yourself whilst acknowledging it is nothing more than a thought.
3. Name the story
Give that repetitive story about yourself a name. It could be the, ‘I’m a stupid failure story’. Make the name as ridiculous as you like. Every time you notice yourself having this thought, say silently in your head, ‘oh it’s the I’m a stupid failure story’. You can then add on, ‘thanks mind’.
4. Silly songs
Once you notice yourself having that unhelpful thought or story, sing it to the tune of Happy Birthday, Mary Had a Little Lamb or anything else that you like.
Some of these techniques may seem a little crazy, however the aim is to assist you to distance yourself from your unwanted thoughts rather than trying to push them away. For maximum affect these techniques should be practiced in conjunction with mindfulness practices such as mediation.
Why these techniques work?
Firstly, they allow you to notice when unhelpful thoughts have consumed you.
Secondly, they teach you to distance yourself from your thoughts and help you to recognise that your thoughts are not truths or demands and are not always helpful to obey.
Thirdly, by allowing thoughts to be there even though you might not like them, you learn to make room for them and give up the struggle with them. This makes them less powerful and have less impact on your life.
Lastly, they teach you a lightheartedness that allows you to show compassion towards yourself.
When trying these techniques your mind might start telling you, ‘this won’t work for me’, ‘this is stupid’ and so on and so on. Stick at it. Whilst you may not see drastic changes straight away, you will see changes.
These techniques come from the work of Dr. Russ Harris, an expert in ACT. This style of therapy incorporates the most helpful parts of a range of existing psychology theories in conjunction with eastern philosophies such as mindfulness. To read more about ACT click here.