“The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”William James
I was on my way to work the other day, and I took the wrong route because I was lost in thought. Initially, I was upset at myself for being distracted. I mean, how dare I be human and mess up and extend my commute by an extra five minutes? We can’t have that! So, I had a choice to make at that moment. Follow that thought process and put myself in a terrible mood, or, look for the silver lining.
Well, let’s explore what would have happened had I chosen option one: I would have driven to work mad and frustrated. I would have walked into work huffing and puffing, talking about what a terrible day I was having, and I would have spread that energy onto my colleagues.
Then, I would have proceeded with having the terrible day that I had just spoken into existence!
Luckily, I chose option two. I decided that I took that route for a reason. That it may have been a blessing in disguise. Who knows? Maybe if I had taken the regular route, I would have run into a traffic jam and would have been stuck in traffic for an hour. Immediately, my mood lifted; I was content with the story I told myself. I used the extra five minutes to listen to a song I like, and I proceeded with having a good day. I wish I could say that I always have this kind of control over my thoughts.
But alas, if I had, I wouldn’t have gotten lost in thought and taken the wrong route in the first place!
Our thoughts can shape how we react and respond to things. In turn, our circumstances and our reality are conceived by our words and actions. I want to challenge you to entertain this idea for a few minutes and visualize what your life would look like if you were to make the following choices and apply them to your daily life.
Choose a Self-aware Mindset
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV
In his book, “Three Magic Words,” Uell Stanley Anderson suggests going on a mental diet for 30 days to break negative thinking habits. In short, this means avoiding entertaining any negative thoughts. This would include any thoughts that put you or anyone else in a negative light.
So I thought it was a good idea to challenge myself with this mental diet.
Needless to say, I failed miserably, and I lasted a week. However, it was a good exercise because negative thoughts would cross my mind, and I would catch myself following those thoughts before even realizing that I was doing this. My main take from this exercise was to become more aware of these negative thoughts when they came up, and although they still come up, I am more conscious of them now than I used to be. Whenever I can consciously do so, I remind myself that I can either choose to follow that thought pattern or let it go.
“Every time we become aware of a thought, as opposed to being lost in a thought, we experience that opening of the mind.”Joseph Goldstein, Insight Meditation: A Psychology of Freedom
The idea behind this is that negative thoughts give rise to negative emotions, which, in turn, give rise to more negative thoughts. This is a vicious cycle! Interrupting the thinking pattern may interrupt the downward spiral.
Listen…I know this is easier said than done, especially for someone who may suffer from anxiety, depression, or a natural tendency for negative thoughts. I am aware of that. And I am not a fan of discounting these thoughts entirely.
Some negative thoughts may be worth observing and exploring. By observing them, we can learn to re-frame them and change the narrative. For many of us, these thoughts stem from limiting beliefs and core wounds. We may need more work to address these deeper issues to see a change in our thought process.
I am trying to say that it’s all about being aware of your thoughts and having the ability to capture them. At this point, you can choose whether it is the right place or time and whether you are in the right emotional state to entertain certain thoughts. For instance, it would be great to follow that thought process with your therapist in the safety of a therapy session, but not so great if you are thinking about it while stressed out and juggling several projects at a time.
Choose a Growth Mindset
If you tie your self-esteem to material and external accomplishments, such as degrees or promotions, your self-esteem will fluctuate based on these achievements. When you inevitably fail because you are human, your self-esteem will fall along with you. This is accompanied by guilt and shame. Such heavy emotions make it more difficult for you to get back on your feet.
“If you can meet success and failure and treat them both as impostors, than you are a balanced man, my son.”Rudyard Kipling
When we recognize our worth, beyond our external accomplishments, we change how we respond to failure and our thought process around that. This gives us the ability to bounce back more quickly and more easily. Not only that, we can learn from our mistakes and refine our characters to ensure that the mistake does not repeat itself.
Choose an Abundance Mindset
When you choose to “look at the cup half full,” you will receive more abundance. Let’s take the dating world as an example. If you go out there with a mentality of scarcity, you are more likely to settle for the wrong man or woman because deep down, you believe that there are not enough good men or women out there to choose from in the first place. The same applies to other areas of your life.
That being said, everything requires moderation. The practice of looking at the positive side of things and looking for the opportunity in every obstacle definitely gives us the tools to navigate through certain life situations. However, the other side of this coin is toxic positivity. This is when we dismiss our emotional pain and our own experience of a situation because we feel pressured to have a positive mindset. In the long run, this can compromise our mental health. You are entitled to your views, thoughts, and feelings. Your feelings are valid, and they should not be discounted. The challenge lies in finding that sweet spot by being in tune with yourself and your emotions and keeping in mind that you have a choice.
“Imagine you could open your eyes to see only the good in every person, the positive in every circumstance, and the opportunity in every challenge.”Rabbi M.M. Schneerson
Choose a Compassionate Mindset
American psychologist, Carl Rogers, developed a form of psychotherapy called person-centered therapy, also known as client-centered therapy. He believed that each person has the tools and resources to grow, develop and maximize their potential, as long as the therapist creates an accepting, judgment-free, empathetic environment in which the person can truly explore their inner thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment.
What if we could create that environment for ourselves within ourselves? What if we could observe ourselves and our thoughts without judgement and shaming? We could grow from that.
We all have that little voice in our head that can be overcritical and judgmental at times. We talked about being aware of this negative self-talk and shifting our inner dialogue. It also helps to practice validating yourself when you accomplish little tasks. Moreover, choose your own positive affirmations based on your values and life experiences and write them down. If it resonates with you, you can choose ” I am” affirmations to claim who you are in Christ. By writing them down and repeating them daily, you create a new habit of regarding yourself positively and replacing that overcritical voice with a more compassionate one.
“Think of yourself the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.”Philippians 2:5 The Message
When you tell yourself, “I can’t do it,” “I don’t know how to,” “I’m not deserving of that,” ask yourself, would you tell your friend these things? Would your tone be this harsh? And that is usually a good place to start. Show yourself the same compassion you would show a friend, and work towards having a more positive, uplifting inner dialogue. This is not to say that we should not be aware of our limitations and negative traits and improve these aspects of our personality. In fact, I’m all about that. This is to be aware of the difference between constructive criticism and putting ourselves down.
“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”Dalai Lama
How do you feel when that person cuts in line at the grocery store? I know I am irate when something like that happens. Like, who do they think they are? What about me makes them think that they can just cut me off? Do you see where I’m going with this? I typically get worked up and go home angry and frustrated while they go on to having a wonderful day.
On the other hand, you could choose to have compassion.
Maybe they had a rough day? Or maybe they were lost in thought? Kind of how I was lost in thought when I was driving that day! You will notice fewer feelings of anger and frustration rising within you, and you will become less reactive in these situations. You will have the ability to respond to the situation in a calm manner by choosing to either let them through or let them know candidly that there is a line. Approaching the world with a spirit of compassion is the key to a peaceful mind. You may be thinking that this would lead to people walking all over you. But I believe that you can show compassion while setting boundaries for yourself. The two are not mutually exclusive. Why do we dehumanize, slander, or misrepresent others to justify our need to distance ourselves or establish boundaries?
You do not need an external reason to put boundaries in place. Give yourself permission to set up boundaries simply because you know you are worthy of holding space for yourself.
Choose a Being Present Mindset
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”Junia Bretas
I don’t want to dive into this topic in too much depth here because there is so much to cover, and I don’t want to deviate too much from the current topic. But bear with me; I’m hoping that this will all tie in with the concept of disciplining our thoughts. Meditation is a great way of learning how to practice being more present. That, along with praying and building a relationship with God, helps me greatly in surrendering the need to know and control the outcome and staying in the moment.
If you are anything like me and tend to be a bit cynical, you are probably rolling your eyes at this. But hear me out! This is not to say that we should not think about our future at all! What would that look like? We need to think about and plan for our future, retirement, finances, and so on. But when we look at the future, we should look at it through the filter of our purpose and then leave it there. We should not dwell on it, question it, doubt it. And this is something I need to work on too. We should pray about it, visualize it, and then proceed to act on it.
Being in the moment will come naturally if you manage your thoughts around the future by shifting your source of motivation from fear of failure to purpose or faith.
In terms of looking into the past, by all means, we all need to look back and do some introspection. We need to identify where we went wrong and grow from our experiences. But what if we were to look back with a forgiving spirit? Would we continue replaying our past over and over in our head with thoughts of “what if’s?” and “why me?”
“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.”Maya Angelou
Thoughts of gratitude play a huge part in this. A good practice would be to start and end the day with thoughts of gratitude. I like to write down three things I am grateful for every day. This keeps me in the present. It keeps me thinking about what I have now, as opposed to what I lost yesterday or could have in the future if I were to keep sacrificing my “now.”
Speaking of which, I love to start my day with making my bed and a prayer. Pay attention to how you start your day. What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Do you check your emails? Or scroll through your social media feed? I believe that the thoughts we entertain at the beginning of our day sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Some moments are so painful or so heavy that they come with a feeling of permanence. Although it feels real, most of the time, it’s not the case. Things do get better! There is a solution! And, we do move on to better and brighter days. Try to think about that when you observe yourself catastrophizing. Think about hopeful thoughts. Thoughts that remind you that there is “light at the end of the tunnel.” Thoughts like, “Yeah, I may be having a rough morning, but I am not going to let this dictate the rest of my day.”
We have been thinking the way we think for a lifetime, so changing our thinking habits will not be easy. It will take time to put these new habits of thinking in place. I am still working on it myself.
Join me as we take this, one choice at a time.
When we have more control over our inner thoughts and what goes on in our inner world, we become more capable of surrendering and releasing control of what goes on in our external world. We try so hard to be in control of our environment because we know, deep down, that we haven’t learned how to manage how we react and respond to perceived threats and sudden shifts in our surroundings. So, paradoxically, to surrender and release control in one area, we must learn how to master it in another.