Be your own friend: harness the power of thoughts

Do you ever get stuck in a spiral of negative thinking?

Do fears of failing ever stop you from taking on a new challenge?

A thought is not simply the running commentary in our minds, or fleeting comments passing by. Thoughts are powerful and can influence our mood and our actions. If we think we can do something, we are more likely to give it a go, and therefore, we are more likely to succeed. If we learn how to train our minds to think as positively as possible, we might find that we begin to feel and act more positively too. With practice, we can harness the power of our thoughts to change our behaviour and how we feel.

Our thoughts

Our thoughts are complex. Most of our thoughts reflect our feelings, emotions, and physical experiences. Therefore, we cannot control the thoughts that spontaneously cross our minds day by day and how these thoughts make us feel. But we can control the way in which we respond to them.

Experiencing unhelpful thoughts is not uncommon. In fact, “negative thinking” is a positive evolutionary response. By focusing on negative emotions, such as pain, sadness, or anger we were more likely to identify danger in our environment. This explains why we often hold onto unhelpful thoughts and try to think them through. However, if we find ourselves continuously experiencing unhelpful thoughts, this can have adverse effects, as we begin to expect the worst and have a pessimistic outlook on our present and future experiences.

Unhelpful thoughts

The good news is that we can CHANGE our thoughts – we are in control of how we react, and how much we attend to our thoughts and therefore, this influences how often they come back. To do this, it’s important to recognise when we are experiencing unhelpful thoughts, so we prevent them from taking over our day. There are a few things we can look out for:

  • All or nothing thinking – This happens when we allow ourselves to only see the extremes of a situation rather than seeing a situation as complex with different causes and outcomes.
  • Jumping to conclusions – Where we make assumptions about how something will pan out or what other people are thinking without stopping to think that we cannot read minds or see into the future. This occurs when we associate our future experiences to a negative experience we had previously, believing that we will encounter the same outcome regardless of what we do differently.
  • Setting rules for ourselves – Thinking in “should” statements can prompt us to act in ways that we “should”. These can be unrealistic, difficult and may not align with our values, causing guilt and anxiety when these are not achieved.

So, how can we go about changing our thoughts? There are a few techniques that can enable you to approach your thoughts in a more helpful, and adaptive way.

Thought stopping

After attending to an unhelpful thought for some time and noticing it is starting to cause increased worry or concern, you can try to stop your thoughts in their tracks by saying “STOP” out loud or saying it to yourself in your mind. Thought stopping makes you take a pause and can help you regain focus on your day. You can do this as many times as you need in the day and it can be helpful in reducing negative emotions surrounding time spent ruminating on unhelpful thoughts.

Mindfulness

Sometimes it helps to focus on something else, something neutral and this is where mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of the present moment and viewing our thoughts as passing us by. It is different to thought stopping, as thoughts are welcomed rather than stopped and pushed out. Mindfulness allows us to become aware of our thoughts and feelings, but without judgment or forming opinions on them.

Imagine your thoughts as a train passing by the station. You don’t have to get on every train that comes past, you can simply watch them go by, and wait to get on the one that will help you get to where you need to go. Overall, mindfulness allows us to accept our thoughts as they are, and to guide our focus back to the present moment.

Some mindfulness activities include:

  • Placing your hand on your belly and taking 10 long slow breaths.
  • Focus on one thing that you can see, hear, taste, smell or feel.
  • Hold an object in your hand and think about what is looks like and feels like. Try to notice something new about it.
  • Close your eyes and think about yourself at a happy moment in your life. Try to use all your senses to get as much detail about the day as possible.

Self-compassion

Most of all it’s really important to talk to yourself in a kind and encouraging way.  Try not to be too self-critical.  Think about how you would encourage or support a good friend or family member and apply this advice and tone to yourself.  The tone and the language you use when you are thinking to yourself is incredibly important – are you gentle and realistic or are you harsh and judgmental? You have to live with your thoughts – make them helpful, not something you’re always trying to get away from!

If you struggle with your thoughts and some of these things seem to have struck a chord with you, CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) might help you. This will show you how you can do this in a way that is more personal to you.  You can refer yourself to your local NHS IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy) service by visiting this website.

Always remember, changing our thoughts can change the outcome. Let us know in the comments section below how you deal with negative thoughts. Or, can you share a way in which you use positive thinking to make the best of each day?

If you try any of the approaches suggested here, we would love for you to share your experience with us in the comments.

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    Comments
    By Sandra on 30 November 2021
    Thank you so much for this email on negative thinking. It made me realise that I talk to myself all the time very harshly and critically. Thinking of myself in a much more kindly way is helping me to think that I can succeed in improving my attitude towards food and other things. Again my thanks.
    By Renu sharma on 30 November 2021
    I want my mind calm I cannot do that all the time silly thought coming in my mind . It’s make me tired. I will try your way to say loudly Stop…
    By Rosaline Fishel on 30 November 2021
    I finished the pre diabetic course a couple of weeks ago, wondering how I would maintain the changes made now I'm not part of the programme. So I appreciate the continuing contact.
    By Christina Mensah on 30 November 2021
    Hi to everyone, before was not easy for me but now I am happy because I have reduced a lot and my medication, I hope every one is trying they're best
    By Fionnuala on 30 November 2021
    I've been low Because I got into a cycle of negative thoughts impacting my work. I have tried cbt but have not found it helpful. I'm going to try your stop method see if that helps.
    By on 30 November 2021
    It is surprising how severe the physical symptoms of stress can be. Sometimes l only recognised l was worrying about something when l started to get the physical symptoms. Racing / thumping heart, a feeling of being strangled or held upside down! I used to have a "horrid " voice in my head. It is gone now l could recognise it as the same negative voice, but only got rid of it when life improved.
    By on 30 November 2021
    Hi I would say most people have negative thoughts at some time in their life, This can lead to a lack of confidence in yourself and what you can achieve. I had very positive thoughts when I began this course, but along the way have also had negative thoughts because my progress has not come up to my expectations. One example of this is my weight loss has been minimal even though I have done longer walks on a daily basis, go to weekly dance class, done video exercise during lockdown. Most of all watched my diet and tried to stop eating sweet snacks in between meals. My weight has remained stable for a number of years which is good, I am not obese and my BMI has dropped slightly which is also good for a person of my age and height. I enjoy sewing, crafting, reading books and doing puzzles so this helps divert my brain in another direction and helps my mental and physical wellbeing. When I go out walking I dont count my steps anymore or weigh me on a daily basis, to avoid a stress should it be a disappointing result as this will give me negative thoughts.If I celebrate what I have achieved and enjoyed along my journey and look forward to carrying on what I have learnt during my Course into the future.
    By Thomas Dsouza on 30 November 2021
    It’s very very good and healthy for me the last 12 weeks and we are going good for 6 weeks it’s helpful for me thank you so much for everything I’m doing this for my life
    By Annette Jones -Kelleher on 30 November 2021
    I start my day by breathing in fresh garden air. I listen to the birds. I stroke & care for my beloved dog .Walking the dog along my local beach & focusing on the clouds & waves relieves stress. I'm greatful to still care for my mother who is 99 with whom I sing and I make photographic diaries to assist memories. I make sure to reward myself with these small happy moments to balance out sad thoughts. I put sad thoughts in a hypothetical jar. If one slips into my mind I acknowledge it and go to my happy memories jar and take one out. That always makes me smile. I try to live in each moment and find a happy memory from my jar. I am optomistic that it is possible achieve almost anything, I'm realistic in my expectations of myself. I try to learn from my mistakes.Failure is just a reason to try another aproach to a situation .
    By Irene Jackson on 30 November 2021
    My thoughts are sometimes I feel so angry with myself so, when I am feeling like this I will try and take my mind off it by doing something like cleaning or going for a walk which helps me.Or Reading a book takes your mind off all the thoughts you have in your mind. I hope this will help people, it helps me.
    By Jeremy Porter on 30 November 2021
    Very helpful, concise reminder, came at an appropriate moment and brought me back to the mindfulness tools my practitioner had taught me a couple of weeks ago.
    By Hari Sharma on 30 November 2021
    I am sure positive thinking has the power to change the possible outcome of negative situation
    By Rhonda may on 30 November 2021
    Thank you I will look through these when I feel negative.
    By Linda B on 30 November 2021
    When I wake up in the morning, I say "Thank you Universe, for making me see another day, its going to be a Fantastic day ahead"! Starting the day off with a positive thought (for me) means that the day can only get better from here on in. I practice being mindful on a regular basis, its other people who don't, and that's what can be challenging. Taking a moment to think about others feelings. Being kind costs nothing and paying a compliment can go a long way. In fact it could change a persons own thought process and boost their confidence. I reward myself with nice things if I feel as though I've had a good week (money permitting) even if its some really nice fruit, (trying to keep things healthy) or a nice top from a local high street store. Even if I have a sweet, there's no point in being hard on myself about it. Tomorrow is another day and we start again! There can sometimes be too much peer / family pressure to eat a plate full of food presented to us like a "mountain" and feeling obliged to eat most of it. Its ok to say "NO THANK YOU"! and eat until we are satisfied. I drink a lot of water during the day and on my days off, I tend to treat myself to a carb meal. From Wednesday through to Sunday, I tend to eat just salads with oily fish. I have cut out sweets, crisps and chocolate, which is a huge triumph for me because I have a very sweet tooth. I'm not afraid of starting new things in life. I guess it depends on how confident one feels in themselves. Confidence takes time to build and once you've got that, our self esteem grows too. Good luck everyone, you've Got this! :-)
    By Isatu Sesay Chartered MCIPD on 30 November 2021
    What a wonderful article to read on thoughts and mindfulness. I liked the example of the train and instead of thinking about going on all the trains that pass by, I will watch them pass by and get on board on the one that I want to take (mindfulness). Thank you so much for sending me this article.
    By Lorraine Rollett on 30 November 2021
    Very helpful
    By Phil on 30 November 2021
    Birds Help A few years ago I was suffering from severe stress and depression (caused by my work) the first bout I eventually went to see my doctor as I was concerned the chest pains I was having were heart related, he diagnosed severe stress and depression and supplied me with 'happy pills'. I worked through it, took the pills BUT I also took his advice and went to Open Minds for counselling and did a 6 session Stress Management course. that course was literally a 'life saver'. I can't recommend strong enough to get help if you need it, take that first step. I attended the sessions, came off the 'happy pills' and was fine for a couple of years but work brought it back, what I had learned at Open Minds was if they or you cant change things 'walk away ' from it, so I did and had 4 months off sick, went back to see the psychologists and employment advisor at Open Minds. When I felt ready it was arranged for me to have a phased return to work, for them to change and reduce the workload. Since I have been absolutely fine, Open Minds recommended lots of mindfulness techniques and exercise to help. I had a friend who was into bird watching and took me out a few times with him - it was his release from stress. I can recommend to anyone just to get out into a park, woodland, nature reserve anywhere and watch birds, observe, listen and try to identify them a pair of binoculars and a bird ID book (Collins Bird Guide is the best) you will get the benefit of the fresh air, exercise but you will concentrate so hard on the birds you will be away from all other thoughts and worries you may have and at one with nature.
    By on 30 November 2021
    I have learned to love myself more.

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