Transform Negative Thoughts and Destructive Beliefs

Transform Negative Thoughts and Destructive BeliefsIn the final part of our Super Brain Solutions series, we will continue on our path to becoming effective users of our brain. In this session we will explore ways to transform the conditioned thought patterns and beliefs that play such a large role in depression, anxiety, and emotional pain.  Our intention is to make our mind an ally instead of an enemy.

Everyday suffering is largely mental. We obsess and worry. We are haunted by old hurts and anticipate new ones with anxiety.  For many people, the same four questions keep cropping up to exacerbate these feelings. They are persistent doubts that never seem to resolve themselves:

            1. “What’s wrong with me?”

            2. “What’s going to happen?”

            3. “How will I ever get out of this?”

            4. “Where will the money come from?”

Making these thoughts go away is extremely difficult unless you form new pathways in the brain. Anxious questions roam the mind at will because they are implanted like microchips in the brain’s memory centers. Everyone experiences unwanted thoughts that spring up automatically, and they keep trying solutions that don’t work. They try to ignore the nagging negativity, which is a form of denial, or they reassure themselves that there is nothing actually wrong, which, ironically, only stokes more worry and doubt. Another tactic to deal with self-doubt is to offset it by proving your worth through the pursuit of money, power, and accomplishment. This can result in riches and success but not in the feeling that you’re good enough or that the future holds something dreadful and unknown.

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Let Your Awareness Rise to the Level of the Solution

Let Your Awareness Rise to the Level of the SolutionIt’s necessary to try a new way, one that allows your brain to be your friend and not your enemy. To do that, you have to move from the level of the problem to the level of the solution.  New perceptions are the key to creating new pathways. First, take an honest look at what the four questions are doing to you and where they come from.

Let’s examine the first doubt, “What’s wrong with me?”  This thought arises from personal insecurity, self-doubt, and judgment against yourself. When people wrestle with self-doubt, they generally get stuck saying contradictory things to themselves. One moment they will tell themselves, There’s nothing wrong with me – and then as circumstances swing from good to bad, they’ll say, I’m a mess. Everything is wrong with me.  Neither extreme is true, but that’s not the point. The false answer becomes a ritual, a fixed response that gets nowhere.  Other conditioned thought patterns include I keep doing this to myself, I’m stupid, I’m all alone, I never get a break, and so on.

Let Go of Self-Defeating Questions

The problem is that you’re trying to answer a question that is self-defeating to begin with. Instead, you must look at why the question arose and solve that problem – which is insecurity – by building a self that fulfills its own needs. Security comes from being centered in the self, but if you don’t build a center, you are trapped seeking fulfillment outside yourself, a recipe for feeling even more insecure. Giving away your power cannot help but lead to insecurity.

Now let’s look at the second question, “What’s going to happen?” This concerns dread about the future. It’s about lack of trust. But in life, you will never know what is going to happen. Any attempt at a response is futile, since this, too, is a self-defeating question. Instead, you need to live in the present.  Realize that the future is not only unknown, it is unknowable. Therefore, you are worrying about a phantom; fear is piling on hypothetical possibilities and worst-case scenarios. They vanish only when you place your attention on the here and now. 

Make Space for Creativity

The third question is “How will I ever get out of this?” It comes from a feeling of being trapped. To end that feeling, you must make space for creativity. It is self-defeating to block your creative juices with an obsessive repetition of doubt. Solutions don’t come from panic. They come when you reframe the situation you are trapped in. Instead of seeing it as a prison, see it as a chance to prove that you are capable of meeting reality head on. By clearing away the fear you open a channel for new solutions to appear.

“Where will the money come from?” is the last question. On the surface, it’s about finances. But beneath that, it’s about the feeling that your life can be taken away from you. You think that money protects you from total loss of control and if there isn’t enough of it, unseen forces will overwhelm you.  Rather than tackling the money issue, it’s time to create a safe place inside you.  The first step is to see that money isn’t going to make you safe (unless, of course, you lack the basic necessities of food and shelter).  A prudent amount of money is undeniably a safeguard, but a sense of lack is psychological. You will feel safe inside, not when you have enough money but when you can say “I am enough.”

In the next section we will look at specific actions you can take to expand your awareness and open to new possibilities.

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7 Steps to Ending Negative Thought Loops

7 Steps to Ending Negative Thought LoopsLet’s look at strategy for ending the negative effect of all four questions, beginning with the fact that they keep repeating themselves. Repetition is a sign that you need to change. A part of you is calling out to get your attention.

Repetitive thoughts can feel like an attack, but in reality they are like having a rock in your shoe. It’s not reasonable to ask the rock to quit hurting you or to see it as your enemy. The pain it causes is asking for a solution.  The following seven steps are the mental equivalent of taking the rock out of your shoe:

            1. Turn negativity into positive action.

            2.  Get a healthy outside perspective.

            3.  Don’t indulge the level of futility.

            4.  Expand your awareness.

            5.  Take full responsibility.

            6.  Develop a higher vision of your life.

            7.  Make full use of your successes.

These tactics all rest upon decisions from a higher perspective, which only you can make. Every time you make a decision, the cerebral cortex is strengthened. You must clear the slate of old imprints, telling your higher brain that you are walking away from the false solutions and futile tactics that have kept you stuck in your mental misery. It’s not a nagging question that is making you miserable; it’s the lack of a viable strategy.

Psychologists have asserted for decades that there is a huge difference between having a negative thought and turning it into action.  Yet this lesson never seems to sink in. People are constantly beating themselves up, falling prey to guilt and shame, because they mistake their “bad” thoughts for actions. Thoughts are just fleeting mental images. They have no consequences until to choose to make them important.

Let’s look more closely at the seven steps that will get you to the point where you can take the rock out of your shoe.

1. Turn negativity into positive action.

If it’s true that an obsessive thought is a cry for help, a signal that something is wrong, bring the help that is asked for. You wouldn’t neglect a crying child, yet we all neglect our negative thoughts, which are the mental equivalent of a crying child. Let’s say you are in a difficult situation, and you start thinking What’s wrong with me? or How will I ever get out of this?  Acknowledge that you are feeling scared, which is the actual event occurring in your mind. Don’t push the anxiety away. Take a break and walk away from the immediate stress. Sit quietly and take some deep breaths. Do your best to center yourself.

Once you feel calm enough to address the situation, make a plan. It is helpful to write it down. List the possible steps you can take that will be positive actions. The point here is to call upon the rational side of the brain rather than giving in to runaway emotion. Once you have listed the positive actions you can take, put them in order of which to do first, second, and third. Now take the first step. Turning an emotional event inside yourself into a set of rational steps is one of the best ways to rise above the level of the problem to the level of the solution.

2.  Get a healthy outside perspective.

If a negative mental habit like feeling insecure, scared, or helpless has been with you for a while, you need to check if your plan for action is workable. Seek outside validation. Go to someone you trust, preferably someone who displays the qualities you want to acquire (i.e., a good sense of self, lack of fear, self-reliance), and discuss the practical things you intend to do. We aren’t talking about the kind of adviser who says things like “Get over it,” “Everyone feels that way,” or “Poor thing.”  Such statements are cop-outs. Seek someone who genuinely empathizes and can validate and help you with your plan to change.

3. Don’t indulge the level of futility.

We’ve already discussed the propensity to keep doing what never worked in the first place. Futile tactics are insidious. They keep coming to mind over and over, despite their record of failure. The difficulty is that you have wired your brain, setting down a groove that is all too easy to fall back into. Grooves can be erased only by forming new grooves. If you find yourself falling back into self-defeating thoughts, stop and say, “That’s how I’ve been approaching the problem. It doesn’t work.” 

You will have to do this more than once, and yet each time is useful. The more you stop indulging the level of futility, the more mental energy can be devoted to new tactics. But don’t get caught in a vicious circle. We are not saying that you should fight your old mental habits. That’s recipe for more misery, as all wars are. Your aim is to notice what doesn’t work; it’s a form of mindfulness or self-awareness.

4. Expand your awareness.

Expand Your AwarenessWhen the mind is constricted, it becomes like a tight muscle – you can’t expect it to move as long as it’s cramped. The things that constrict the mind are old conditioning, outworn beliefs, ritualized thinking, habit, inertia, fear, and low expectations. These are challenges you need to confront as honestly as possible.  Having a closed mind doesn’t feel good, so wherever you detect any kind of inner discomfort, the first tactic should be to expand your awareness. Let’s say that you feel resentment toward someone else. Clearly that is a contracted mindset. If you were more open-minded, you’d start to tolerate that person, see their good side, and stop waiting for something new to blame and dislike them for.

In and of itself, open-mindedness solves all kinds of problems that are the result of narrow-mindedness.  Stop believing that being stuck, judgmental, opinionated, and self-important ever works. You must learn to know yourself better, to follow the model of tolerant people rather than prejudiced ones, to turn away from victimization, and so on. For years meditation has been recommended as the most effective way to expand awareness.  Also useful are mindfulness, self-reflection, prayer, contemplation, and counseling.

5. Take full responsibility.

Your mind encompasses the best of yourself and the worst. It holds the greatest promise and the greatest threats. There is no way around the all-embracing way that our minds create our reality. Once you face this fact, it can be overwhelming. We all secretly want to escape responsibility for creating the situation we find ourselves in. We don’t want to face painful truths.  Change feels like risk. Our minds are used to projecting blame and judgment upon others. So much promise goes unfulfilled this way. In truth, the power to create your reality, which begins by building a mature self, opens the way to life’s greatest joys.

6. Develop a higher vision of your life.

Developing a Higher VisionIt would be sheer drudgery if you took responsibility only for the bad things in your life. You are also responsible for the good things. If you have a vision for yourself, you can aim higher. The good things become more meaningful because you are heading for long-term fulfillment.  This is much better than a string of short-term pleasures, nice as they may be. People without a vision can amass a lot of small pleasures – immediate gratification is everywhere in our society. Distractions are a multi-billion dollar business. 

Look at your daily quotient of idling around the Internet, video games, channel surfing, movies, snacking, shopping, and merely hanging around. These distractions are hangovers from adolescence, when immaturity was a natural state. They drop away when life moves on and you undertake the project of building a self. The point isn’t to become self-serious and reject having fun. The point is to aim for higher satisfaction that lasts. By developing a vision of what your life is about, you are asking “Who am I?” and then turning your answer into positive actions.

7. Make full use of your successes.

We began with the universal problem of mental misery, tracing it back to the mind being an enemy instead of an ally. When you start making your mind into a friend, each step forward needs to be reinforced. That’s how the brain gets new neural pathways that last. Without reinforcement, your successes will seem to float away while your problems will seem to stick around.

In reality, there is no power that negativity has to defeat positivity. Both forces exist in everyone’s mind.  The real issue is to bring in as much light as you can. Negativity acquires its power through repetition, being unconscious, judging against yourself, and focusing on setbacks. Positivity gains its power by celebrating our successes, associating with people who are good role models, learning to be emotionally resilient,  being objective about your situation, and above all else, acquiring self-awareness.

Your Infinite Potential for Fulfillment

We realize that we’ve set out a plan for overcoming mental misery that sounds daunting if you are used to following futile tactics. These only postpone the day when you make a tremendous discovery, that you are not life’s victim or fate’s pawn. You are the creative center of your own existence. Such a realization has the power to completely reprogram your brain. The greatest power human beings have is the power to create reality. Mental misery denies you that power.

Taking positive steps to turn your brain into an ally is the escape route from suffering that everyone has been seeking for centuries. The essence of wisdom is to see that there is always a creative solution once you realize that the mind, which seems to create so much suffering, has infinite potential to create fulfillment instead.  The brain can deliver any reality that you train it to. Why not a reality filled with happiness, equanimity, and love?

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Journey into Healing
August 22-25, 2013

Signature mind-body wellness workshop

If you love yoga, meditation, and natural approaches to mind-body health, Journey into Healing is a unique and rare opportunity to learn with world-renowned leaders and pioneers in the field of integrative healing.

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