What are you thinking? How changing your thoughts can change your life.

Imagine coming home and walking into the kitchen.  This is a wonderful kitchen because the work surface is clean and white and shining. On it is a large blue ceramic bowl filled with fresh fruit; vivid green apples, dark purple grapes and bright yellow lemons.  Imagine picking up one of these lemons, running your fingers over the skin, feeling the texture of the surface, raising it to your nose and smelling the distinctive, clean, sharp smell.  Also, on the surface are a wooden chopping board and a knife.  You take the knife and you slice the lemon in half.  A fine mist of lemon juice scents the air, you notice the segments cut in half and perhaps some of the pips too. Raise the cut side to your nose and take a deep breath, enjoy the aroma.  Now sink your teeth into it, take a big bite.

By now you’re probably noticing an increase in the saliva in your mouth, yet there’s no lemon!

This is the power of thought.

Your mind can’t distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined, which is why what you think is so important.  You’re are making up your reality all the time, based on the way you think about yourself, other people and the world.  Your imagination is so powerful that the opportunity to create a positive reality is always there – so why don’t you use it?

Over 90% of your thoughts are negative.

This is normal and it’s nothing to stress about, it’s just how humans evolved.    When our brains were developing however many millennia ago there was a need for man to be afraid all the time.  The world was a very dangerous place and life was tenuous.  So, the primitive brain had to be on the look-out constantly for danger and it saw it everywhere.  The man with the brain that said ‘Watch out there’s probably a bear behind that bush’ survived, the one that said ‘Nah, I bet it’s just a shadow, nothing to worry about’ got eaten.  So, to keep us safe it scans our world every second of every day looking for threats – and it’s diligent, so it sees threats everywhere; in the world, in our bodily sensations, in our memories. It worked well for cavemen, but what this means in the modern world, where we don’t often have to fight tigers or worry about wolves, is that it’s become like a fire alarm that’s just too sensitive and keeps going off at the slightest hint of smoke –it fires ‘just in case’.  It’s constantly shouting ‘danger’ and that message comes out in negative thoughts.

So, there’s nothing wrong with you if your thoughts are predominantly negative.  The problem comes when we begin to believe the thoughts and the stories we all tell ourselves as a result.  This can lead to self-sabotage, low self-confidence, anxiety, stress, phobias and unhelpful habits like comfort eating and binge drinking.

I have a ‘not good enough’ story.  I grew up in a critical environment where I got noticed mainly for what I did wrong rather than what I did right.  So this ‘not good enough’ story shows up regularly in various guises; ‘You screwed up again’, ‘Do you never learn’, ‘I can’t believe you made the same mistake again’, ‘They’ll think you’re stupid/a fraud/an idiot/ a faker/silly’ etc. etc.  I am self-aware enough now to know that this is just a story, there’s no evidence, it doesn’t bother me.

You’ll have your favourite stories too; negative messages which, if you believe them, will keep you in protection and not in growth – and growth is where we want to be to be happier.

If you’ve never examined your thoughts before you might be surprised to learn that there are common negative thinking patterns– I think you’ll recognise more than one!

Black and white thinking/all or nothing thinking:I’ve COMPLETELY failed’, EVERYONE else is successful except me’. ‘I’ll NEVER be any good/be loved/stop smoking/ lose weight …’Etc.

Mind reading:They obviously think I’m boring’.  ‘People must think I’m stupid’.  ‘I know they don’t like me; they don’t have to say it, I can just tell’.

Emotional reasoning: You think that because you feel something it must be true.  ‘I’m feeling anxious/scared/worried, something must be wrong’.  ‘I’m feeling nervous, so I’m bound to be about to fail’.

Crystal ball gazing: Predicting the outcome, usually negative.   ‘I just know it’s not going to work/be good/be fun/work out’ etc.  or ‘I know I’m going to embarrass myself at this party/wedding etc.’

Over generalisation:I ALWAYS mess up presentations.  I’m NEVER going to be able to do them well’. Labelling is a form of overgeneralization. We label when we make global statements about people or situations based on specific circumstances. For example, you might label yourself as “boring” despite evidence to the contrary.

Disqualifying the positive or mental filtering: This is a very common one where you fail to see anything positive about yourself or your behaviour.  And if you do see it you just discount it as ‘nothing’. For example, after a party where you had a good time and made people laugh you focus on one thing you think you got ‘wrong’ and ruminate on it. ‘I forgot so and so’s name, that’s so bad, they must think I’m horrible’.

Personalisation/blamings: Blaming yourself for things that may be out of your control.  ‘The holiday was awful; it was my fault for suggesting that hotel’. ‘The meal was terrible, nobody enjoyed it, I should have found somewhere better’.  Listen for the should have/must/need to verbs here.

Catastrophising:NOTHING is ever going to work for me’.  Really, nothing? ‘The presentation was a DISASTER’. A disaster?  What? l like a tsunami or an earthquake?

Self-blame:  You take responsibility for things that are out of your control. ‘She looks cross. It must be something I’ve done.’

These thoughts are known as ‘automatic negative thoughts’, the ideas that pop into our heads uninvited, like burglars, and leave behind a mess of uncomfortable emotions.

If you suffer from anxiety, low self-regard or lack of confidence your inner critic can be very loud and you just want to shut it up, but you’ll never stop the thoughts from coming – you’d have to remove your brain to do that and I’ve never found that to be very helpful.

This is just the nature of your mind. The problem is not the negative thoughts, it’s what you do with them.

You can easily fall into the trap of doing is believing your thoughts and buying into their nonsense.  Then you enter into a struggle with them and this creates strong emotions.  It can seem like you’re in a tug of war competition with a huge monster. You have one side of the rope, it has the other and in between is huge bottomless pit.  You’re pulling backward as hard as you can, but the monster keeps pulling you ever closer to the pit.  This can make you very anxious and even depressed because you’re being pulled by the negative thoughts. Your hands are bleeding, you’re tired and it’s all you can do to keep from falling into the pit. What’s the best thing to do in that situation?  Maybe you think you should pull harder, try to suppress the thought or distract yourself.  Some people do this by comfort eating, binge drinking, exercising hard or go to extreme lengths to prove it isn’t true by aiming to be perfect.  But then the monster pulls harder still.  What else could you do?

Drop the rope. Learn to manage your thoughts and emotions. The monster’s still there but you’re no longer fighting it.

I help clients all the time to turn down the volume so that the inner critic becomes like background noise, not loud enough to interfere with what they want to do or trigger them but useful as a guide from time to time.

By learning how to manage your thoughts and emotions you’ll find you feel more confident, behave in ways that benefits you; self-sabotage becomes a thing of the past and your self-esteem naturally rises.  You feel more in control, more adult, calmer even.  You begin to see the world in a more optimistic light which means you behave more positively and that can only be a good thing as we know that what you project comes back at you.

In my ‘Happier with Hazel’ podcasts, available on iTunes, Spotify or my website, I talk about anxiety, stress, managing unhelpful thoughts and emotions, and so much more with practical tips and techniques.

But If you have blocks you know are holding you back, whether its anxiety, stress, phobias or old beliefs that no longer serve you then why not get in touch to learn how I can help you overcome them and more quickly than you might imagine you begin to reap the benefits of a new, more powerful way of thinking, feeling and behaving.

 

www.hazelmccallum.co.uk
hazel@hazelmccallum.co.uk
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