How to Control Your Thoughts in 5 Simple Steps
Step 1 – Learn to Stop Your Thoughts
One of the first things you need to do is to learn to stop in the middle of your thoughts (good, bad, or just boring). At various times throughout the day, catch yourself thinking. How are you feeling? What are you thinking about? Why are you thinking about that topic?
This is much easier said than done. Usually, when you’re feeling frustrated, upset, tired, or angry about something, your tendency will be to “press on” or “fight through” or “get past” whatever it is that you’re feeling. This is not a good strategy.
The angrier and more emotional you become, the dumber you get.
It’s easier to see this in others than it is in ourselves. If you have kids, think of how dumb your kids become the more frustrated or angry they get. If you don’t have kids, borrow your friend’s kids for a day. If that scares you, think of that guy or gal at the office who is hot-tempered. You’re no more immune to this result than they are.
Instead of pressing on, take 5 minutes to stop what you’re doing, and think about your thoughts. The next few steps will help.
Step 2 – Identify Your Negative Thoughts
The better you become at stopping your thoughts, the faster this step will become for you. In the meantime, I can give you a tip to make it a little bit easier: begin with how you’re feeling and work backwards. Every feeling we have is the direct result of something we were thinking. Therefore, if you’re feeling anxious, begin by stepping back for a minute, and asking yourself, “Why do I feel anxious?”
Maybe it’s a project or a meeting you’re dreading. Maybe you have to fire someone on your team or meet with the principal at your child’s school. Figure out what that thing is that’s making you anxious.
But don’t stop there!
What about it is making you anxious? Did you previously have a bad experience in a similar situation? Did you miss your last deadline? Did you receive some toxic feedback from your boss? Was it something else? Identify what that root cause is.
Keep in mind that the event making you anxious is usually just the vehicle your mind is using to create the emotional state – it is rarely the root cause of the emotional state.
Step 3 – Write Out Your Mental Movie or Mental Tape
If you did the last step correctly, you’ll begin to identify the movie, or tape, that is playing in your mind. It could be the meeting in which you were chewed out by your boss. It could be the time you flubbed the presentation or the conference keynote. Maybe it’s the sound of your dad’s voice telling you you’re worthless.
By default, the majority of people have negative mental movies and tapes that fire off inside of their minds – not positive ones. When a current situation reminds us of a previous situation we tend to replay that movie or tape. Even if we had five successes and one disappointment, it is the disappointment our minds will return to because most of us want to avoid pain more than we want to seek out pleasure
What you need to do is identify what that movie or tape is and writes it down. Why? Because you want it out of your head. Inside of your head, it has power and seems much larger than it really is. Written down, it is now outside of your mind and you gain a distance from the emotion that it creates.
The term for this is dissociation and writing out your mental tapes is just one form of doing that. It’s also the easiest because it requires nothing more than a pen and a sheet of paper. Dissociating yourself from an event means to remove yourself from the first-person position in the memory.
If I were to ask you to think of a painful time in your past and to remember it as if it were happening, you would put yourself right back in that situation. It would stir up emotions and you would feel yourself becoming angry, bitter, frustrated, depressed, etc. That is referred to as associating – putting yourself inside of the event. By default, this is how our mental movies play – with us back in the position of pain.
By writing out your mental movies (what happened, what was said, what was felt, etc.) it removes you from being immediately associated with the pain and allows you to step back and gain a little bit of outside perspective on the situation.
Step 4 – Find the Lie
Behind every negative mental tape is a lie about ourselves that we are choosing to believe whether consciously or subconsciously. A key step is to identify what that lie is. The lie could be that you’re worthless or that you’re a failure or that you’re a nobody. Maybe you were told that you are dumb or that you’ll never find a spouse who will love you. Whatever it is, identify it and write it out next to the mental tape.
Step 5 – Recognize the Truth
The only way to combat a lie is with truth and right now is the time to seek out what the truth about you is. At this stage is where I pray, read my Bible, and ask God to reveal to me the truth about who I am created to be. Your process may be different. I might also talk to Lisa or a close friend about this. I’ve worked with counselors and I work with a coach who can offer me an outsider’s perspective. Whatever route you choose to take, you must determine the truth.
Once you have the truth ready to go, write the truth next to the lie. Write the truth in the first person and write it in positive phrasing. So, instead of writing, “I am not a failure,” write down, “I am a successful person who has accomplished many great things.
You Can Control Your Thoughts
I hope that this exercise empowers you and demonstrates that you can control your thoughts – both negative and positive. You can use it to increase the number of positive thoughts and emotions you have simply by using some of the tools in this post.
I’d love to hear your stories or experiences with controlling your negative thoughts. How have you overcome negative thinking? Leave a comment below and share with the community.