How many thoughts do we have in a day? Although nobody seems to be able to nail it down exactly, we know we have thousands of them, conscious and unconscious.
These thoughts turn into our self-talk, telling us what to believe about ourselves and the world around us.
The problem is that our thoughts are not always true, and they’re not always helpful. As Dr. Daniel Amen says in his book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, “You don’t have to believe every thought that goes through your head.”
As I talked about in Lessons From the Carrot Patch, too often our thoughts come in the form of ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts. When we allow these ANTs to go unchallenged, we can start to believe things about ourselves, others, or situations that just aren’t true.
Over time, these negative thoughts can damage our self-worth, impact our emotional health, and result in chronic stress, which can then cause physical illness. In her book, Switch On Your Brain, Dr. Caroline Leaf says, “A chaotic mind filled with uncaptured rogue thoughts of anxiety, worry, and all manner of fear-related emotions sends out the wrong signal right down to the level of the DNA.”
So how do we process those rogue thoughts to ensure they don’t negatively impact our overall wellness?
Many of us are probably familiar with the acronym T.H.I.N.K. as it applies to speaking to others, but what if we use it when we speak to ourselves? This could help us filter our thoughts, learn to be kind to ourselves, and recognize when our thoughts are warning us about real danger.
We can ask ourselves these questions to help us process what we’re saying to ourselves through the thoughts we allow:
- Is it TRUE? Does this thought line up with what I know to be true?
- Is it HELPFUL? Is this thought helpful in any way?
- Is it INSPIRING? Will this thought inspire me to take positive actions, make needed changes, or move me forward in some way?
- Is it NECESSARY? Do I really need to give this thought any weight or does it need to go in my mental garbage can?
- Is it KIND? If I accept this thought, am I being kind to myself or others? Too often, we say things to ourselves that we would never say to someone else. We have to learn to speak just as kindly to ourselves as we would to those who are most important to us.
What I’m suggesting here is not just automatically turning a negative thought into a positive one without actually processing it; I’m talking about capturing those rogue thoughts and actually deciding whether to believe them or not.
Is there ever a time when negative thoughts are helpful?
Often we feel we should be positive all the time and that we should never allow a negative thought to garner any of our attention.
Sometimes, though, negative thoughts can serve a vital purpose. For instance, suppose you have a thought, “This person/situation might be dangerous.” When you quickly run it through the T.H.I.N.K. filter, you may find that it’s true, helpful, and necessary. While it might not be inspiring or kind, it could save your life.
As an example, there have been two incidents on the news recently where people were attacked after getting into a vehicle they thought was their ride-share. Unfortunately one of the young women was killed. The second woman, when interviewed on the news made the comment that something the driver did “should have been the first red flag.” Listening to her inner voice may have helped her avoid that terrifying situation. (Please understand that I am in no way suggesting this was her fault – that lies completely with the perpetrator).
We often want to believe the best in people and think we’re just being paranoid when, as my husband says, “our Spidey senses start tingling.” While we can’t just let negative thoughts go unchecked and run roughshod over our health, we do need to at least acknowledge them and test whether they’re something we need to pay attention to.
While the negative thoughts can serve a purpose, we have to ensure negativity is not our default setting. We have to learn to capture our thoughts, process them, and decide what to do with them. As Dr. Leaf says in her book, “When you objectively observe your own thinking with the view to capturing rogue thoughts, you in effect direct your attention to stop the negative impact and rewire healthy new circuits into your brain.” Rewiring those healthy new circuits into our brains positively impacts not just our mental/emotional health, but our physical health as well.
How’s your self talk? What have you found helpful in processing your thoughts and making sure your self-talk supports your overall wellness? Please share!