Anyone else ever find themselves constantly battling a barrage of reoccurring toxic thoughts? If you are anything like me, it sometimes feels like you are losing that battle. What’s worse? Our thought patterns (i.e. our habit of thinking in a particular way, using particular assumptions) drive our actions. So we find ourselves in what appears to be an infinite toxic loop: our toxic thoughts create toxic assumptions which inform toxic actions. It’s time to break out of that loop with these three steps:
Step 1: Create New Habits.
As in any other part of our lives, habits are formed by repetition. For example, this morning, my wife asked me, “why are you going to the gym so early if you are not required to go to work until a little later?” To which the only logical explanation I had was, “it’s a habit.” It is so much of a habit that I wake up at the same time (or earlier) even without an alarm, and if I try to lie there in the mornings, my mind will start racing and my body will start aching. So I just get up. The same is true when bedtime comes; I can easily fall asleep mid-sentence/mid-thought! (Ask my frat brothers who would have me out all night partying during college 😅.) Take a second to think about a habit like this you’ve formed over the years. When did you start? Can you even remember? My mom tells me that I’ve been waking up and falling asleep early since I was a young child. As it was when I was a child, that sleep pattern or sleep habit is fueled by an anticipation of what tomorrow holds.
This same logic applies to our thought patterns or mental habits. Whether we remember when the habits started or not, there is one thing that fuels these habits: our assumptions. In a previous post, I discussed my admiration for how our powerful brain gives us the ability to control our emotional responses. More specifically, I highlighted the cerebral cortex which, according to https://www.simplypsychology.org, the cerebral cortex “is the outer surface of the brain, [and it] is associated with higher level processes such as consciousness, thought, emotion, reasoning, language, and memory.” Many neuroscientists believe that our cerebral cortex “saves energy” by operating off of assumptions, and these assumptions are developed by our past experiences.
Author’s note: Most people stop here because they conclude since they cannot change the past and the past develops assumptions and assumptions fuel mental habits, then their mental habits cannot be changed. That is a very logical conclusion… Buuuuuut keep reading.
We can create new experiences! Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Become studious and an avid reader (audiobooks count!). Diversify your studies and reading beyond your craft. For example, my reading list spans from “The Kill Chain” by Christian Brose to “The Brain’s Way of Healing” by Norman Doidge, M.D. to “It’s Better Being a Bunny” by Marilyn Sadler. Broaden your horizons.
- Watch different movies and documentaries. I am personally a huge fan of action & adventure and comedies; however, National Geographic and The History Channel are also two of my personal favorites.
- Take a vacation or travel to a place you have never been (even if it’s only a couple of towns over).
- Try new food. I love food, so any post I get to mention food is a plus for me! Again, broaden your horizons!
- Listen to a variety of music. We all have our favorite genre, but remember, we are creating new experiences. Listen to different genres and international versions of your favorite genre.
- Take an interest in writing. Write about what you see. Write about your fantasies. Create a journal to record your thoughts and emotions or a food log (my least favorite lol) to track what you eat. Write a book if you’d like (I did it and so can you)!
All of these tips will work towards creating new experiences and ultimately developing new healthy mental habits.
Step 2: Indulge in Fresh Thoughts and Ideas.
Now that we have established a way to break our old habits through new experiences, we have to start programming our mind to think differently. In my studies of the Holy Bible, I found an excellent passage that universally applies to thought: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” -Philippians 4:8 NLT.
Let’s break this down to how it applies to life.
- True: Let’s start by focusing on reality vs our perception of reality. One of the first cliches that comes to mind is, “perception is reality.” Wrong! Our perception is the lens through which we view life. (Sometimes our perception can be more like blinders than lenses). Similar to our assumptions, perceptions are based upon our experiences. Therefore, by creating new experiences, we are increasing our ability to see and understand reality through a clearer lens.
- Honorable & Right: Despite what we may see on the news, I am a firm believer that mankind is inherently honorable (ethically and morally good). This thought inspires me to show goodwill and serve others, so I encourage others to think the same.
- Pure: I love how Oxford Languages defines pure: “without any extraneous and unnecessary elements.” Sometimes our minds get so bogged down with negative things we consume on a daily basis. My recommendation is to be aware of the world around you, but don’t become consumed with the negative aspects of the world around you. My challenge for you is for every negative you read or witness, consume and meditate on at least two inspiring or positive things for balance.
- Lovely & Admirable: Have you ever just stopped to take in the beauty of nature? I am a guy who loves warm weather; in fact, I have been frostbitten before, so cold weather and I are not best friends. Even so, I absolutely love a sunny day after fresh snowfall. Although the temperature may not be as warm as I’d prefer, I cannot help but walk outside, take in deep breaths of the cold, crisp, and seemingly filtered air, and smile as I see the sun glisten off of the sparkling snow. This is just one example of the peaceful places I have learned to admire and enjoy. What lovely things can you think of? Where do you go to find peace?
- Excellent & Worthy of Praise: Think about the things you are grateful for. Even our worst situation is better than someone else’s best. If nothing else, you are alive and able to read this post. No matter how seemingly small or insignificant, celebrate every single win. You deserve to celebrate yourself, your accomplishments, and your life. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Step 3: Command your thoughts!
If you have ever seen the movie “Cast Away,” you may remember the main character, Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks), floating on a makeshift vessel. This vessel had no steering wheel, sail, or any way to control or steer. Chuck was at the mercy of the sea–carrying him whichever direction it pleased. Is anybody willing to admit our thoughts are just like this? 🙋🏾♂️ Mine are! Sometimes my thoughts take me to a place of bliss, enjoyment, and peace; but more often than I’d like to admit, my thoughts take me back to the infinite loop I mentioned before if I let them. Sometimes following these negative thoughts seems adventurous and addictive, but I assure you they lead to a never ending cycle of toxic actions and behaviors. Therein lies my final piece of advice:
Command your thoughts!
- Identify and write down your reoccurring negative thoughts. This is pretty simple: we cannot and will not get rid of what we cannot identify.
- Identify your triggers. What is causing your negative thoughts? Is it TV? Is it the people around you? Is it social media? Take some time away (at least 30 days) from your triggers to see if that helps you improve.
- Replace your thoughts with the thoughts we mentioned in Step 2: Fresh thoughts and ideas.
If you are anything like me, you read blogs like this with skepticism. Well allow me to encourage you; I use these steps in my daily affairs, and I have seen a huge change in my mental health and overall enjoyment of life! Start applying these steps to command your thoughts today!
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this post, check out others just like it on my blog! https://parent-child-connect.com/blog