A penny may seem like a small price to pay to know what's on your mind. However, experts believe that each person has 50,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day. That can get quite pricey! 🙂
Our inner-voice, self-talk and mental health have received much attention these days. And rightly so. A lot of these thoughts can be negative. Also, our thoughts are not always based on reality or facts, because of many reasons including distortions, beliefs, assumptions, and biases.
In the field of neuroscience and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), the 3 elements of Thought, Emotion and Behaviour are connected and affect one another.
Similarly, in the Twelve Laws of Karma, the fourth law is the Law of Growth. This law states that "Wherever you go, there you will be." This seems obvious. However, its deeper meaning is similar to CBT - that our thought affects our emotion and behaviour, and that our inner life controls our outer world.
I'm drawing from both scientific and spiritual teachings to make the point that there are important consequences to the thoughts in our heads. I am focusing on Thought because I believe it to be the most consequential, and deserves more attention because it is not visible.
Let's use an example of how our thoughts affect us, and how unhealthy this might be for our personal and professional relationships:
I sent my colleague an email, and he has not responded to my email after 2 hours.
Unhealthy Thought: "He must be ignoring me."
Impact on Emotion: confusion, anger.
Impact on Behaviour: I stop working. I avoid him. I also ignore his emails and requests.
Let's reflect on what happened. My own expectation that emails should be responded to immediately is unrealistic. My interpretation and belief that his lack of response concludes (perhaps incorrectly) that he is ignoring me intentionally. Furthermore, my bias towards the urgency and importance of my question creates a false sense of self-importance (see my blog post on ego).
From this analysis, the flaws in my thought response are obvious. There are many other thoughts I could have had, a lot of them more positive, yielding more helpful outcomes for myself.
So, what can we do to control our thoughts, and avoid jumping into such unhealthy conclusions? There are many techniques, though I should note we can't truly control our thoughts. "Managing" is perhaps a more appropriate word, because we go through the process of increasing our awareness of unhelpful thoughts and their effect on us, and consider alternative ways to challenge our old perspectives.
Some of my recommendations include:
Journaling - Write down negative thoughts and beliefs, and replace them with positive ones. The key is keeping time frame short (today, this week) so that they can be memorable.
Identifying your inner-critic and judge - Once you can recognize that your self-talk is coming from a negative and critical place, you can start to question and challenge this voice with an opposing opinion (perhaps my colleague is busy. I will ask someone else).
Search for the light - this includes finding enlightenment from learning, surrounding ourselves with beautiful things, and engaging with optimistic people. Incorporating these aspects into our lives helps us gain empathy and appreciation.
The key is practice to form new thought patterns and habits. You don't have to do this alone either - enlist a coach to help you identify negative thoughts and reframe them into more helpful ways of thinking.
Leaving you with my favourite quote that I memorize, remind myself with and share:
"To understand your current condition, look at what you've done in the past. To know your future, look at what you're doing at this moment." - Tibetan proverb
What else can you recommend to help others manage their negative self-talk?