Ever smelt a bad smell in your house and tipped up every piece of clothing and turned over every item of furniture to try and find the source of the odour? Ever heard a continuous dripping sound right before going to bed so you switch on all the lights, check every tap in every room, open the windows to see that in fact it’s not raining and you still can’t find the culprit for the sound keeping you awake? Ruminating on negative thoughts is a similar kind of feeling. An unsettling, repetitive, “round-and-round in circles” way of thinking, and similarly it also seems to happen when we are trying to get to sleep, right?
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives” -Henry David Thoreau
I like to think that because we spend every moment with ourselves, it pays to be good mates with our mind and to be very diligent about what we choose to think about. It is important to realise that we are not our thoughts, and that we can actually somewhat separate ourselves from them. Dr Caroline Leaf, a leading researcher in Neuroscience, believes that we frame our whole world with the words that we choose to listen to… CHOOSE being the operative word here.
“Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Moment by moment, every day, you are changing the structure of your brain through your thinking. When we hope, it is an activity of the mind that changes the structure of our brain in a positive and normal direction.” – Dr Caroline Leaf
Step back, Observe and Respond.
Simply put, Dr Caroline Leaf believes that we are designed to be able to observe our thoughts, “catch those that are bad, and get rid of them.” As cliche as it sounds, I have found that taking a deep breath in and out can allow us the ‘pause’ we need to step back and observe our thoughts. We can then respond in a calm constructive way, rather than in an immediate reactive manner (which then gives authority over to that thought). We have a choice to be passive and let our thoughts dominate, or we can be aware of the thought that is passing by, catch it, and decide with authority whether we want to let that thought occupy VERY precious space in our mind.
Often, negative thoughts can be very subtle and we can let them have their way if we aren’t mindful. If we don’t learn to pick up on those thoughts right away, we can allow them to settle in our thinking. The more we allow this to happen, the deeper the thought path will be etched into our regular way of thinking and thus feeling and operating. This can be dangerous. After a while of letting our thinking go this way, we can end up off course and far away from our true north. Just as a ship travelling one degree off course, over time it can end up in the VERY wrong destination.
If you’re anything like me, if there is something unknown coming up I lie awake at night letting myself think about every possible bad situation that could happen. We don’t want to come up against anything unexpected that we feel we haven’t mentally prepared for earlier- so we think of everything that could go wrong. There is some merit to this as at the very primal level we are wired to look out for anything that might be dangerous to our survival. And yes, this extends to our thinking. When this happens (and it’s usually at night) I find it helpful to think about only the things that are in my control right then and there. Things such as: What I know to be true about myself- my strengths and capabilities and my ability to respond to any situation when it comes up, at the time that it comes up – only then can I respond to it. Try thinking about what is true in the moment, rather than what we think might happen in future. All too often what we think might happen, never does. We only ever have the present moment to deal with, so if we keep remembering this we can handle it- one step at a time.
It is important we take vigilant control of our thoughts. Wherever we go, our minds come with us. We have authority to choose what to let go that extra mile in our minds, and I believe in the transformative power we have to choose what thoughts we allow to dominate our lives.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (KJV) – 2 Timothy 1:7
” Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (KJV) – Romans 12:2