Thoughtfulness: Change Your Thoughts; Transform Your Life
Today I am sharing the third pathway of Mental Wealth. Together with Mindset and Mindfulness, Thoughtfulness completes the Trifecta for habit change, wellbeing, and happiness.
The word “thoughtfulness” is often used in relation to our thoughts and actions toward others. In this pathway, the power of Thoughtfulness lies in the broader definition: “the state of thinking carefully.”
Our thoughts are intricately linked to our emotions, attitudes and behaviors - both spoken words and our internal, often unconscious, dialogue. This continuous cycle of thoughts and words serve to reinforce often damaging core beliefs. These limiting core beliefs have a significant impact on how you perceive and interpret yourself, your experiences, other people and the world around you.
What are limiting beliefs?
A limiting belief is something specific that you believe to be true about yourself, about others, or about the world that limits you in some way. These beliefs may hold you back from taking chances, keep you blind to opportunities in your path, prevent you from accepting gifts offered to you, or simply keep you stuck focusing on the negative aspect of your circumstances. We believe that they are Truths and they are deeply ingrained in our unconscious.
Here are some examples of Limiting Core Beliefs:
“I don’t belong”
“The world is dangerous”
“I have to be perfect”
“I’m not good enough. I am a failure”
“I am not worthy of love” “I am unloveable”
The bad news… yes, these core beliefs are deeply ingrained. The good news…we can retrain our brains and replace these damaging beliefs with positive, encouraging, and accurate belief statements. This process is straightforward and just requires some diligence.
But first, let's talk about why we tend to have so many negative thoughts in the first place.
I often hear comments in my therapy sessions that go something like this…
“Why am I like this?”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Why do I do this to myself?”
First and foremost - there is nothing wrong with you. You are a normal human that is hardwired to notice, absorb, and react to bad things more strongly and persistently than to good things. This means that we pay much more attention to experiences that involve potential threats, dangers, worries, and mistakes rather than those experiences that give us pleasure, joy, beauty, or validation.
This seems crazy, right? Why wouldn’t we want to focus on those good things that bring us positive feelings?
There are 2 explanations:
The negativity bias within our DNA
Why do we tend toward negative, fear based thoughts??? Unfortunately, humans are hardwired to look for and see danger in the world around us. A negativity bias is the tendency to “attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information” (Vaish et al., 2008, p.383)
The negativity bias evolved to help us survive. Think about our ancient ancestors from 50,000 BC - the happy-go-lucky humans who were “enjoying the moment” were the ones who were eaten by the saber-toothed tigers. The anxious humans, who scanned constantly for perils that might be lurking, were the ones who survived and passed down their brain structure from generation to generation.
This is why you could have a pretty awesome day overall - but if even one thing happens that you perceive as negative, you likely will place a much greater emphasis on that one thing, and your mood, your thoughts, and your evaluation of your day will be overshadowed by this one negative event.
Something I often talk about is that it takes 5 to 7 positive thoughts to outweigh one negative. This is the result of our negativity bias.
So that’s a little bit about how our brain is wired to focus on the negative right down to our DNA as an adaptation of self-protection.
The bad habit of negative thinking
Learning that we are hard-wired to focus on fear and danger may seem dismal. And as if that were not enough, we continue to lock in negativity through our patterns of thinking. But here is a little teaser: we can retrain our brain and create new neural pathways!
Now let's talk about our habits of thinking.
According to the research of Dr Fred Luskin of Stanford University, the human brain has 60,000 thoughts per day and 90% of these thoughts are repetitive.
Another study led by Dr Raj Raghunathan of the University of Texas revealed that 60%-75% of our thoughts are negative.
So we may have 60,000 thoughts per day and as much as ¾ of those or 45,000 thoughts are negative. And 90% of those are repeat thoughts….. That’s 40,500 possible negative thoughts that are playing like a record player in our heads each day.
Wow. Mind-blowing, right?
His research revealed that there were three main categories of mental chatter:
- Thoughts related to inferiority
- Thoughts related to love and approval
- Thoughts related to control-seeking
Do these sound familiar? Sounds like very common limiting beliefs, don’t they?
Let’s tease this out a bit. Our negative mental chatter travels along the same pathway in the brain over and over again and begins to transmit faster and faster. With enough repetition, these behaviors become automatic. Writing with a pencil, driving a car, and riding a bike are all examples of complicated behaviors that we do automatically because neural pathways have formed. Likewise, when we continually repeat our thoughts, new neural pathways are created.
This is also how our unhealthy thought patterns become habits.
And - when our thought patterns carry a particular message, such as “I am not good enough” - this particular repetition may also become a limiting core belief, lodged in our subconscious and further impacting our lives by keeping us stuck. This is how our negative thinking patterns can become both a habit AND strengthen a limiting belief.
So here’s the good news. Just because we have formed neural pathways does not mean that we are stuck with those habits forever. As we participate in new ways of thinking, perceiving and behaving, we are training our brains to create new neural pathways. The pathways get stronger with repetition until the behavior is the new normal and forms a new habit.
The field of psychology has named these negative thoughts that pop into our minds Automatic Negative Thoughts - or ANTs for short.
Typically the ANTs follow particular themes that center around faulty ways of thinking about ourselves, others or the world around us. These are called Cognitive Distortions and are also referred to as Faulty Thinking and what I call, Stinkin’ Thinkin. Some of the common ones are:
Magnification: blowing something out of proportion
Jumping to Conclusions: making assumptions before you have all the information
Polarization: Black and White thinking, All or Nothing thinking
Generalization: taking one bad incident and applying it to everything
Catastrophizing: always thinking the worst is going to happen
Shoulds: getting caught up in the guilt of what you “should” have done - one of my frequent sayings is "your should-ing all over yourself !"
Did any of these resonate with your own negative thinking tendency? If you answer “no” - you are not off the hook, unfortunately -- these are just a few of a long list of Stinkin’ Thinkin’ habits. So my guess is, there are likely some patterns of thinking that you practice on a regular basis that do not serve you and keep you from Flourishing..
We may not be able to catch the first thought or ANT, but when we strengthen our skills in the pathways of Mindset, Mindfulness, and Thoughtfulness, we CAN prevent the repetition and break the habit of negative thinking.
So lets review The 3 essentials for Habit change, emotional wellbeing, and happiness:
Our Mindset is essential because we need to BELIEVE that change is possible.
Mindfulness is essential because we need to be consciously AWARE of our emotions, thoughts, and physical reactions in the present moment in order to initiate any change.
The pathway of Thoughtfulness - the state of thinking clearly - is essential because we need to GUIDE our thoughts away from unhealthy, negative patterns and purposefully create new habits of thinking that support our highest good.
Think of yourself as having many different parts within you. Within my Flow to Flourish video, I talked about us all having our Frenemy - or Gremlin. That part of ourselves that is resistant to change, that fears the unknown, and wants to pull us back down into the Stuck Zone because it is familiar and therefore, safe. Often our Gremlin plays a part in throwing the ANTs in our midst. This is an immature, fearful part of us. It is there for a reason and deserves our compassion and understanding.
Now think of the part of you that is the Guide. The Guide is the parent figure. The wise sage who is responsible for redirecting, with compassion and non-judgement, towards a healthier path. If you are a parent, think of the Guide as being the mentor to your children. Redirection without blame, shame, or judgement, but instead with a calm, direct and consistent message.
The Guide sees the bigger picture. The Guide has an open, optimistic mindset. The Guide is mindful and fully present and engaged in the moment. The Guide is able to harness the ANTs and consciously direct their thoughts to be in line with their intentions.
So hopefully through this blog series you can now see the power within these 3 pathways of Mindset, Mindfulness and Thoughtfulness. Together, they are the trifecta for habit change, wellbeing, and happiness.
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