Thoughts and thought models: The art of realistic thinking

If you think of a thought as an atom of energy that can be positively or negatively charged and that can influence how we feel emotionally it might help you to understand what is described in neuroscience as brain plasticity and how it works with our thought energy and ultimately how thoughts can affect our emotions and mood generally.

"Brain plasticity refers to the extraordinary ability of the brain to modify its own structure and function following changes within the body or in the external environment. The large outer layer of the brain, known as the cortex is especially able to make such modifications."

Articles/2012/what-is-brain-plasticity Retrieved at 14:37 hours on 14 January 2016

It is the thought energy we create ourselves that stimulates our left and right frontal cortexes respectively, with a highly stimulated left frontal cortex indicative of a happier, lighter hearted personality and a highly stimulated right frontal cortex indicative of a more melancholic disposition. Human beings can produce between 30,000-70,000 thoughts a day, so it is no wonder that negative thinking can have an effect on mind and body. In knowing that our thoughts are directly linked to our emotions, moods and behaviours and the strong influence they can have over us and the way we present ourselves we can develop ourselves and evolve as human beings in any way we wish. We are the architects of our inner residence or the person we are and therefore we need to nurture ourselves both mentally and physically to be well in a holistic sense.

Negative thoughts can have a detrimental effect on our well-being especially those of a recurring nature. Dwelling on something negative for a long period can leave us in a constant state of misery and make us ill. Recurrent negative thinking about a problem does not solve it, eg. bearing grudges towards others who may have hurt us in the past is not a constructive way to use of our mental energy, it just allows the problem to affect ourselves and ultimately it can now become more your adopted issue and the person who created it. Other examples of negative thinking are catastrophizing (predicting bad or sad outcomes), predicting situations are or might be worse than they are, having a bleak outlook and general pessimism as well as self-criticism and putting and ourselves and others down.

If we think of positive and negative thinking on a continuum with positivity at one end of the spectrum and negativity on the other and sitting right in the balance is realistic thinking. Not there is anything wrong with positive thinking, a positive thought is said to have an uplifting or favourable effect on our mood at the other end of the scale, negative thinking can be in opposition and instead of advocating optimal benefit for all helping us to feel good about ourselves and others it can keep us in a low-mood state of mind. Whilst staying positive is a good thing, it is not always easy to achieve. What is easier to achieve and believe are realistic thoughts about ourselves. We can not convince ourselves that we are experts in a field that we have not tried hard to be successful in or pretend we know more than we do on certain subjects by telling ourselves over and over. What we can do is be realistic. If we have failed or received low marks in a test in any chosen subject instead of trying to convince ourselves we going to reach top of the class when it is unlikely what we can do is let ourselves know that with hard work and dedication we can improve on our results and become competent. Realistic thinking can be easier to achieve than positive thinking, and it can be more effective than positive thinking to shift very negative thinking , as it is more easily accepted as believable. This is because we need to analyse a situation and understand it before we decide basically for ourselves whether to believe it or not. For example we can ask ourselves "What are the facts of the matter? How likely is it that some event will happen? What is actually achievable?" Yes it takes a bit longer to challenge a negative thought in this way, but the likelihood of the belief being internalised is greater than an over-positive affirmation that may border on illogical.

To improve our thought quality, we at first of all we need become aware of our thinking patterns. Meditation is a proven way to channel our energies in a healthy way and which can lead us to a calmer more peaceful place. By sitting and contemplating on our thoughts or focusing our attention on an object in a room, a spot in the distance, or even our own breath we can start to slow down and observe what is going on in our minds and clear out unwanted thoughts or imagery. Slowing down your thought processes helps us to observe and acknowledge what is going on for us emotionally and can give us the opportunity to challenge any over-negative use of thought energy culminating in us encouraging ourselves to think more positively or more realistically. When faced with dilemmas we can start to focus more clearly, therefore we can recognise more easily when we are thinking too much and perhaps entering the worry loop or self-pity circuit. Meditation may bring us to the realisation of what patterns that we have developed over time and that are draining us of good energy. It can help us realise what our default position is on certain issues, how you react and respond to different dilemmas and different personalities or even just aspects of certain people's personalities. Realistic thinking gives us a better awareness of how to change those unwanted thinking habits and realign the patterns to create more beneficial ones.

If we liken ourselves to computers our brain is our hardware our thoughts our software or you might want to think of being a creator or artist with a blank canvas to work on. Therefore we have options we can choose our software, materials and which colours we want to use. We can choose to be more confident, more resilient, more whatever we desire to be. Getting to know who we are and recognising our weaknesses and countering them means that we become stronger people who are more able to cope with the little ups and downs of life and the sometimes the bigger things too.

More information on meditation and the beneficial effects on brain plasticity can be found here:

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, SE1
Written by Julie Sale, MBACP, Dip Couns, PTSD Dip, CBT Dip
London, SE1

The recent revelation in neuroscience of the effects of meditation on the brain and proven benefits of meditation have been of interest to me for a long time since 11-years when I discovered the wisdom of Buddhism and led me to wanting to explore more about different cultures and ideals for living.

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