Keep reaching for the best feeling thought.
We all have an internal voice inside our heads that rambles on every day. It is said that the average person has around 60,000 thoughts per day and 90% of those thoughts are a repeat from the previous day. Our brain is designed for survival and is constantly scanning the environment for potential threats. So what happens when we’re not being chased by tigers? As Dr. Rick Hanson says, it’s ‘paper tiger paranoia’ and we can spend our days and burn our energy trying to evaluate perceived threats. However, we can shift this habit. We can intentionally change our focus and rewire our own brains (neuroplasticity) to search for new things and better feeling thoughts.
In today’s environment of having a ‘mental health crisis’ we don’t have a lot of discussions around cognitive training. We simply say if you cannot manage your emotional health on your own, please seek professional help. Cognitive training is one of the tools you can use now to improve your emotional health. What should you focus on throughout the day? Your to-do list? Your family responsibilities? Making healthy choices? Yet, how many people spend a significant portion of their day focused on their ‘worry du jour’ or ‘today’s offense’ and regurgitate it to anyone who will listen? It’s as if people will seek out any reason to feel bad, then set the dial on repeat. In today’s world, if you’re happy or relaxed, then there must be something wrong with you. It’s time to change that narrative.
This is where cognitive training becomes very helpful. Just like you would have a personal trainer advise you on ways to improve your physical health through movement/resistance, cognitive training is improving your emotional health. You can practice cognitive training on your own or get assistance. Either way, it’s practicing how to think. Not what to think, how to think.
It’s said that some forms of depression are just really good focusing, but in the wrong direction. If you can focus your thoughts on everything wrong, negative, past hurts, etc. then you can focus your thoughts in the opposite direction. You can focus on gratitude, opportunities, and the love you have in your life. You can pivot your thoughts throughout the day; this is shifting your focus.
So how do you practice cognitive training? Easy: keep reaching for the best feeling thought. You know what feels good to you and what makes you happy and/or at ease. When a negative thought arrives in your awareness, you can either unpack it and work through it; or you can simply say ‘later gator’ and revisit it later when you are in a better place. Replace it with something that feels better. You can shift your focus at any time, all day long. You are always in control of your focus.
Pivoting is when you catch yourself feeling bad so you pivot your thoughts to something that feels better. Keep reaching for better feeling thoughts. Thoughts create feelings; Feelings create behavior; Behavior reinforces thoughts. If you want to feel different, you have to think different. When you feel different, you behave different.
The 3 C’s of Cognitive Therapy are:
Catch- Identify the thought that came before the emotion
Check- Reflect on how accurate and useful the thought is
Change- Change the thought to a more accurate or helpful one as needed
You don’t have to police your thoughts all day or avoid emotions you need to work through. Just like working out physically, make sure you’re ready to work on it emotionally if it is something painful you want to work out. If you’re not in the space to work through something, wait until you are. Maybe this issue is not something you need to work through at all. Maybe it is a perceived threat that can be resolved by not giving attention to it. Only you can determine that for yourself. Again, cognitive training isn’t about what to think, it is how to think.
Keep practicing moments of gratitude and pivoting your thoughts throughout the day and you won’t have to suffer through repeated negative thought patterns. If you have never understood that you are in control of your inner voice, now is the time to celebrate that you are always in control. You decide where your focus goes. The same focus that can make you feel bad is the same focus that can make you feel good. This is the power of intention. Be intention about your focus and kind to yourself. Focus on feeling good. Practice thoughts that feel good. Clean up any stinking-thinking and pivot throughout the day towards what makes you feel good. You got this. We’re rooting for you!
All is well and you are loved,