A train of thoughts...
Have you ever noticed how one negative thought, suddenly turns into two, then three, four, five... before you know it, you are absorbed and caught up in a hundred, two hundred thoughts coming towards you at high speed, just like a train?
That’s the thing with thoughts; before you know it, you are emerged in a sea of them.
One little thought sneaks up on you, "oh, I’m not sure you look very nice in that" or "perhaps you shouldn’t have said that, it didn’t sound right" or "why do you bother?". The thought may be quite innocuous and the inner voice quite small; a little voice in your ear. It may also be accompanied by a familiar physical feeling, perhaps a sinking feeling in your stomach or an ache in your shoulder; maybe a twitch or a tingling in your fingers.
Then we hear another thought arriving, fairly soon after the first (the voice, your inner critic, may be slightly louder now, the physical sensations taking more of a hold)... "you really don’t look very nice in that, mind you, you NEVER look nice", "you are always saying the wrong thing, why don’t you just shut up!" or "don’t bother trying anymore, you are useless!".
- The train approaches (the first thought).
- You get on board, perhaps without even realising you’re doing so (this train journey is so familiar to you now, you may not even question the destination anymore).
- The train picks up speed (the second thought).
- Going faster now, well on your way with the journey (the third, twentieth, hundredth thought; each trying to outdo the last one).
- On you go, thought after thought, off on your journey of negative thinking and we can only imagine how you’ll be feeling by the end of the trip.
Using the analogy of a ‘train’ may not work for you, so perhaps you could visualise it in a different way. Whatever works for you, try it as a tool to understand how your thinking can speed up and take you somewhere that you do not want to go.
Someone may say to you "when you hear that first little thought, just chase it away". However, you may not be fully conscious of your thought processing until it is too late and you may also feel you deserve these negative thoughts; believing them to be true.
If you have been told you are stupid enough times, you will believe you are stupid and that will become your default position. You may be very successful in your job, have a loving relationship, lots of friends and a wonderful life. Unfortunately, as soon as something goes awry in life, as it does, your default position will be triggered.
"Your mind is intimately connected with memory." (Williams/Penman 2011)
There are so many times in our lives, where we seek the facts and evidence about something. If someone suggests we buy from a certain company, we will usually check reviews and feedback. We will find out as much evidence and truth about something (or someone) to base any decisions we may make. This is vital for keeping ourselves safe and making the best decisions possible that may affect us.
Yet, the odd thing with negative, self-critical thinking, we just seem to accept what the voice is saying. We don’t research or check out why we’re punishing ourselves and if we do come to understand why we are doing it, we often do very little, if anything, to challenge or change it.
Try to become an observer of your thoughts and become aware of how you behave when you feel things are beginning to go wrong or you can feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with something. Notice the first thought and rather than chase it away, just acknowledge and accept it is there. Allow yourself to notice and become aware of why it is there; understanding why it is pulling you in to a negative direction (a familiar place). Take steps to change your behaviour so that you are taking control and stopping the train before it is able to pick up speed. This may not necessarily resolve the issue or difficulties you are facing in life but by taking the negative thinking out of the equation, it helps with finding clarity; enabling you to find a more positive way of dealing with problems.
As with most things, this takes time and patience. You may have been used to listening to this inner critic for a long time and negative thinking may feel very familiar to you. Our brains naturally follow familiar patterns of behaviour and you are learning to change those patterns.
Notice the first thought.
Acknowledge it is there and understand why.
Make the decision to not follow this thought and take control.
Change the destination of your thoughts.
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About Jayne Phillips
Jayne is a fully qualified, BACP registered therapeutic counsellor, working in private practice.