We know how important it is for recovery not to entertain automatic negative thoughts, POPs, or symptoms thought patterns (the language varies depending on the program you are doing, but they all mean the same thing). The thoughts that we dwell on impact how our brain functions. But here's the thing - there are many factors that influence our thinking, it's not just about which pathways are dominant in the brain.
According to the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, our thoughts are directly influenced by several factors. The food we eat affects how we think. Foods that are rich, or spicy, or filled with chemicals tend to influence our thought patterns in ways that are unhelpful to recovery. The company we keep is another factor. As we know from the studies in mirror neurons, if you give your full attention to someone your brain will start to fire in the same way as theirs. From a quantum physics or energetic perspective, it goes beyond that. Everything is made up of energy, including us, and we are influenced by the energy all around us, including the energy of others. Thought forms are also energy. Most of us have probably experienced how being in the presence of someone really positive and happy has an uplifting affect on us, while being in the presence of someone pessimistic has the opposite affect. Those around us impact what our brain focuses on and how we think and feel. Along those lines, what we watch on tv, read, or generally give our attention to will also influence how we think. Watching action packed movies, while entertaining, will bring more of those similar thoughts to your mind later on. What we crave and what we dislike or try to avoid are also an influence. You may also notice that your thought patterns tend to vary depending on the time of day. Certain times of the day you may find yourself more consistently having uplifting thoughts while other times of the day it is the opposite. And finally, events that affect the earth's electromagnetic field (such as solar flares) affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The institute of heart math has done a decade of research on this topic, demonstrating how these events can influence us. (For a link to their latest study on how geomagnetic fields and solar activity affect the nervous system, click here)
The point of this is not to overwhelm you with all the factors that affect your thinking, but rather to assist you in recognizing that a lot of the "negative" thoughts that you experience are influenced by outside factors. These thoughts aren't really yours. By increasing our awareness of this, we can stop identifying with them and owning them, and we can become more aware of the temporary and transient nature of thoughts. In the words of Jeffrey Schwartz, "Don't believe everything you think." If we can practice separating ourselves from our thoughts, becoming more detached from the stream of thinking that is going on, hold the thoughts that we do have a little more lightly (i.e. giving them less importance), we are in a much better position to then choose what we want to focus on and give our attention. This serves us well in changing the pathways in our brains.
Some ways to practice detaching from our thoughts include seeing them as clouds in the sky. We are the sky, our thoughts are the clouds. Clouds come and go, but the sky remains unchanged. We can observe them without agenda (neither getting attached to them nor trying to push them away). Simply noticing they are there, and then moving our attention back to our breath or onto other things. Some people prefer the ocean/lake analogy. The thoughts are the ripples on the surface but we are stillness found at much deeper levels in the water. The ripples or waves come and go over the surface without affecting that deeper stillness.
Another way to start separating yourself from your thoughts is to label them as they come up (e.g. "that is a worry thought, there is overanalyzing, wanting to control is show up, etc.) By labeling the thought, we see it as separate from us, and it is from this separation that we have the space to decide what we want to entertain or dwell on, and where we want our attention to go. The thoughts are no longer dictating our experience. When thoughts become less important and we have more space within us to make active choices.
Part of this process is also learning to let go of trying to control your thoughts. According to research conducted at Stanford, we have about 60,000 thoughts per day and about 90% of those thoughts are repetitive. There is literally no possible way to control every thought that goes through our mind. So rather than trying to control what we think, we notice which thoughts we are choosing to dwell on, and decide whether these are worthy of our entertainment or not. Through the processes of detaching from the thoughts listed above, we create more space and ability to let go of the ones that are not serving us, and to actively direct our brains towards more health affirming thoughts and ultimately towards a better future. For the thought patterns that are really persistent, use the rounds of practice repetitively to help you detach from them and refocus your attention and energy elsewhere. Best wishes and may we all experience less attachment to our thoughts!
Until next time!
If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She has a background in nervous system regulation, trauma, grief & loss, mindfulness, somatic therapy, & positive psychology. She taught the DNRS in-person program for 5 years, has over a decade of experience coaching brain re-trainers & provides mentorship to other coaches. Candy works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com