THOUGHTS – SOME HELPFUL TIPS FOR UNHELPFUL THOUGHTS
Humans are thought machines and we can have on average 60,000 of them a day – they grip our attention and can have great power over how we react, feel and behave. Thoughts seem to come out of nowhere. Thoughts can seem random but are automatically generated by the function of our brain. These triggers are due to the senses (site, sound, hearing, touch and smell) feeding in information and the brain then makes “sense” of it and is kindly highlighting to us as something “to take note of”. As a child I used to love to play in the sea with beach balls – have you ever tried to fight with a beach ball in the sea or pool to push it under the water? I would spend hours playing in the sea and despite my best efforts the ball just seems to pop right back up a again, eventually I would just let go and watch the ball drift away. I was then free to swim! Resisting and trying to suppress our thoughts is like fighting with my beach ball. Remember what you resist persists!
Be also aware of your self-talk as this can be a large component of triggering the “hamster wheel” effect of a seemingly never ending stream of thoughts. With this in mind we know that we are only in control of a small part of our thoughts – those in the conscious mind. For instance, when we blurt out loud thoughts that have just popped into our awareness – these come from the unfiltered unconscious mind as a result of triggers in our environment.
A question I am often is asked is: “What are thoughts made of?” The truth is we are still finding out. Despite all the advancements in science, brain imaging and neuroscience we are still unable to locate thoughts. Imaging techniques show brain activity but we cannot trace thoughts or indeed consciousness yet we know they exist Charles Jennings from MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research states that :
“They’re really just electro-chemical reactions – but the number and complexity of these reactions make them hard to fully understand and somehow that’s producing thought… Given the complexity of what’s happening inside your head. It’s not easy to trace a thought from beginning to end. That’s a little like asking where does a forest begins”
The brain is a judgement machine and is constantly filtering data received and comparing-evaluating and predicting outcomes. In some cases its like a hyper-vigilant security guard on duty 24/7 seemingly never to rest. Even in the night giving you intrusive thoughts when you just want to go to sleep – messages of what needs to be done or about what’s happened that day. Whilst these thoughts seem to come from nowhere especially at night the chances are is that they have been on the boil before bed and during your day. People commonly us distraction, tasks and busyness to block out thoughts in the day but they are there just like the beach ball – waiting to pop up.
There are many ways of dealing with our thoughts and I have attached to this a useful selection of some techniques. The techniques give you the power to direct your attention or provide an anchor in the midst of a potential emotional storm (including using the breath as an anchor). They provide people an opportunity to get some distance and new perspectives, about their situations thereby freeing the individual to set outside their habitual ways of thinking and thought patterns that automatically “pop into mind”.
Thoughts are part of your habitual ways of thinking and as a result the way you behave. The insights and discoveries about the mind through neuroscience; cognitive and behavioural science; positive psychology and mindfulness give us all hope. With these insights it is possible to see that thoughts are only mental events (and some will have you believe they are not!) and not facts and that we are not our thoughts.
Some helpful tips for problematic thoughts:
- Be inquisitive about mindfulness and the benefits gained from having a mindful approach to your thoughts. Mindfulness isn’t just about meditating its greater than that. We know that if you need to be committed and maintain practice and awareness. There are some great books and content out there. A good book to start with is “Finding peace in a frantic world” Danny Penman and Mark Williams.
- Mindfulness is very useful for people working with the bodily sensations and not trying to escape from them.
- You have a choice on whether you follow your thoughts. Some people find it helpful to say STOP to them self or imagine a big stop sign. This gives you the power to step back and make a decision.
- Give your main news headlines a title – you know all the content as I’m sure you have re-visited many times. This helps you stop re-visiting the past and re-traumatising you.
- Make the commitment to stay in the present and not re-visit the past or project out in the future into events which may never happen.
- Use the breath as an anchor – take some long out breaths this helps relax the nervous system and de-activate the fight flight mechanism. There is lots of scientific evidence on the power of breathing exercises and especially around coherence.
- Look at your life balance and see how perhaps this can be better balanced.
- Take some down time and honour yourself. We are not machines and need this regularly to maintain a healthy mind and body.
- Switch off your technology the World won’t grind to a halt if you don’t. Take some time out from your phone, tablet, PC and social media.
- If you need help find a coach or mentor to help. It’s more common than you think.