“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m going to fail.”
“He doesn’t really like me.”
“Something’s wrong with me.”
Have you ever been haunted by thoughts like that? Perhaps you don’t even recognize how often you have those thoughts because they are a permanent transcript in your brain. For the last two decades, the emerging science of neuroplasticity has evolved and revealed the amazing capacity of the brain to continually change throughout life and heal in ways we never imagined. But with many things in life, just because we are aware of its potential to change, doesn’t mean we apply it or are even aware of how to begin.
Being a physician, it reminds me of weight loss, especially with a new year and the many resolutions that involve losing weight. Most of my patients know what to eat. We know what foods are healthier and the science behind it, but often the most difficult step is where to begin to change. So I initially suggest a food diary for their current eating habits. I want to know what they are currently eating and what trends in their eating they notice. Most are surprised at the calories they are consuming and the types of food they are eating that increases their chance of gaining weight until they write it down. When I realized that I could change my thoughts and the quality of my life through neuroplasticity, the first thing I did was begin to become aware of how I talked to myself by taking a thought inventory.
In the book, You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life, Drs. Jeffrey Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding emphasize why learning to focus your attention on your thoughts is an important step. The critical first step to focus attention because you cannot change what you are not aware of. They say that within each one of us is the Wise Advocate that allows us to make evaluations of the deceptive messages our brain sends us. We use mindful awareness to observe the messages coming from the brain.
Just like changing your diet, you must first be aware of what you are currently doing to improve it. What are your eating habits? What are the triggers that cause you to overeat? Do you eat well in the company of healthy eaters? The same applies to change the thought patterns that do not serve you.
So, try this: take inventory of your thoughts for a week. Keep a record of your thoughts, the time of day, surroundings, any physical/emotional effects like anxiety, sadness or anger. The purpose of the inventory is to observe yourself, but not to judge yourself. Just list them like you list calories, carbs, fat and protein in a food diary.
Here are some things to consider when reviewing your thoughts in your journal:
Do you have habitual thoughts?
What are your thoughts upon rising and going to sleep (when the subconscious is closest to your conscious)? These messages may reveal messages from your intuitive self.
What are they during the day? Do they vary?
Do you see patterns? Your weight? Weaknesses? A past trauma? How do you see yourself as a parent or spouse?
Perhaps they vary depending on your environment and who surrounds you at that moment? A toxic relationship? Parent trigger certain thoughts?
Do you spend a significant time trying to convince yourself that you should be in a relationship? What do you repeatedly tell yourself?
Are there any physical/emotional effects like anxiety, sadness or anger that accompany your thoughts?
Do you notice negative thoughts about others? The way you think about others may lead to significant self-awareness.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung
“Anything that you resent and strongly react to in another is also in you.” – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening
The next step is to be accountable to yourself. The greatest predictor of a successful diet is accountability and this applies to any desire to improve yourself. Find someone you know you can trust to share your list. Recently, as I write more, I have sat down with several close friends and shared how negatively I used to view myself. They are always quite surprised by how much I was hiding. In retrospect, I wish I would have shared my thoughts at the time and now when I have deceptive brain messages that arise in my mind, I don’t hesitate to share them with close, trusted friends.
In Dr. Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are she states that you eliminate the shame of your thoughts when you share your story. But the tricky part is that you cannot share with just anyone. Tell someone you know will support you and will not cause you to feel worse. Share with a safe friend who embraces you for your strengths and your struggles and will reassure you that you are not bad for having the thoughts you do. When you share your story, others realize they are not the only ones struggling. As we know, we all have our struggles.
After these two steps, with your new awareness, you now have the power to live the fulfilled life you deserve.
So, what is your mind telling you?
“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Claire Denise Johnson is a wife, mother, doctor, and writer of the upcoming book Daisy Among Roses. She has led an active, adventurous life, but wandered around the country to realize that everything she ever needed was right at home. Daisy Among Roses
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