Change that Thought!

Have you ever thought about, well…thought? Simply put, our thoughts are the precursors of our reality. So it seems a vital concern that we learn to master, or at least pay attention to, the content of our thoughts. Stop right now and focus your attention on the thoughts that are running around in your mind, even as you’re reading this article. Perhaps you’re thinking about the grocery list, how you could have done a better job on that last project, or how annoyed you are with your partner or one of the kids. Or maybe you’re dreading work tomorrow. Maybe you’re reminded of the job you really wanted, but didn’t get. As this thought is recognized, you might also notice how your body responds…you might feel as if a heavy weight has abruptly landed on your shoulders; some folks may even notice their heart beating faster, as panic sets in.

Now think again, only this time, think of something that pleases you. Recall an adventure that was distinctly delightful for you. Create a vision of something fun you’d like to do in the future. Imagine yourself lying on the beach, soaking up rays from the warm sun. Or see yourself excelling at your job, and getting praise from your boss. What are you feeling now…anticipation, elation, hope? Notice how differently your body responds. Your heart may feel light, as warm fuzzy feelings pervade your being. You may find yourself taking a deep breath, or giving a sigh of relief. With even simple thoughts, your body responds to them as realities. Hopefully, this exercise should serve as a powerful example of how our thoughts affect our experience of reality.

So what DO you think about all day? Many of us focus our thoughts on what other people might be thinking about us. Since we can never really know what other people are thinking, we can only speculate, or guess how they regard us. This is a HUGE waste of time and thought. Often we worry about what might happen today, tomorrow, next year. More wasted time. Speculation and worry are futile efforts, yet many of us are devoted to this pastime, and our lives reflect the grim payoff for focusing energy on thinking negative thoughts. We stay stuck, wondering why our lives seem unfulfilled.

Studies show that only about 11% of our brainpower is actively working at any time. If we are using our brains to repeat thoughts of doubt, fear, worry, or judgment, how can we expect to learn more about courage, joy and success? How different would your life be if you spent more of your time thinking about possibilities, challenges, hope, or visions of success and fulfillment? What if you could train yourself to chase the blues away by thinking differently? The good news: YOU CAN!

The best way we can gain control of our lives is to first gain control of our thoughts. The first step is to become aware of what you are thinking; the second step is to learn how to control what you are thinking. Every time you think a thought, a pattern of neurons is activated in your brain, creating a circuit for that thought. Every time that thought is repeated, the circuit pattern becomes reinforced, or more easily activated. So the more you think a thought, the easier it becomes to access and repeat that thought.

Perhaps as a child you heard someone say, “Your sister is the smart one.” Perhaps you understood that comment to mean that since your sister is the smart one, you can’t also be smart. You accepted this comment as true, and what started out as someone else’s thought became a strong belief for you. Suppose that belief then becomes a thought pattern, repeated in your mind literally millions of times since childhood. As a result, you’ve learned to set your standards lower than you need to, or you sabotage any opportunity to challenge that thought.

But after all, it’s only a thought, and you can change it. At any moment in time you can change the pattern by thinking a different thought: “I can be smart just like my sister;” or, “I can be even smarter than my sister.” By thinking this thought over and over again, you create a new circuit pattern, and your behavior will start to change to accommodate this new possibility. However, the pattern must be repeated, literally thousands of times, before it will take hold.

What we think about is very important. To better control our thoughts, we must become connoisseurs of thought. We can learn to feed our minds with thoughts that inspire and challenge us, while at the same time diminishing our attention to negative or fearful thoughts.

© 2002 Marybeth Bethel