Bruce Davis, Ph.D. suggests that we encounter between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day; equivalent to roughly 35-48 thoughts per minute. With all of this mental chatter going on in our heads, our mind decides which thoughts to pay attention to and which to let go of almost instantly. The thoughts we tend to cling to are those that elicit a response; either physically (like removing your hand from a hot stove), or emotionally – thoughts that I like to call “highly charged”. While some of our automatic thoughts protect us from physical harm, others (like the highly charged emotional thoughts) can cause an opposite reaction to take place; actually provoking harm.
Our automatic thoughts that protect us from physical harm trigger an action, which then allows the thought to dissolve. Unlike these action-induced thoughts, when presented with a highly charged emotional thought, we tend to cling to it, interpret it as truth, and ruminate upon it. Most of these emotional thoughts are negative; things we have come to believe as our reality. Think about some of the recurring thoughts you have on a daily basis. Are they positive and uplifting? Or are they hurtful and belittling? Nine times out of ten, the thoughts we ruminate on are unhelpful, self-defeating, and backed by some serious emotional fire.
Because we believe that thoughts originate in our minds, we assume that they are truths, facts, and absolutes. Most likely, however, these thoughts did not originate in our minds. Most negatively charged emotional thoughts stem from an external source; our response to or interpretation of an event or comment made outside the self. We often get “stuck” on certain thoughts that we believe to be true about ourselves. The power to diffuse, then, lies in our self-esteem. Here are three ways to break the defeating cycle and reclaim the power over your negative thoughts:
1. Recognize that thoughts aren’t necessarily true; they are simply thoughts.
Pay close attention to where your mind wanders. I’m sure you have several crazy thoughts a day that you are able to laugh at and deem irrational right off the bat. The same can be done for highly charged emotional thoughts; notice them, then dispute them. What evidence is there that supports this thought? What evidence does not support this though? Where did this thought come from? Who told you this story? Remind yourself that thoughts are merely thoughts, not necessarily truths, each and every time these negative messages being flooding your mind.
2. Stop clinging to unhelpful thoughts; let them go.
Ask yourself if the thought is helpful. If it causes you pain, it is not helpful. Imagine these thoughts as clouds; put them in the sky and watch as the wind gently sweeps them away. Title your repetitive thoughts as stories (like the “I’m not good enough story”) and when they arise, call them out as such and immediately they begin to lose their power.
3. Replace each negative thought with five positive thoughts.
Every time one negative thought passes your mind, follow it with five positive rebuttals. It may seem silly at first, but soon it will become habit and you will be rebuilding your self-esteem in such way that future negative thinking loses its emotional charge.