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Insights from the PEACE Academy. How to think better thoughts

Our minds are very powerful, fuelling our actions and emotions. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, depression, fear and other unhelpful thoughts about our self and situation. In addition we don’t always believe that we can change our thoughts into something more positive and these may start to spin out of control.

As a Psychotherapist I have encountered the powerful effects of unhelpful thoughts and emotions that are rooted in past experiences of pain. I seek to show others how to build their mind muscle and resilience (bounce back ability) to change these unhelpful thought patterns on a daily basis. Changing your thought habits is a process that can be undertaken by creating helpful habits in your thinking and taking action.

Here are a few mind muscle exercises you can try on a daily basis to build up your helpful thought habits:

  1. Train your mind to think good thoughts about yourself and affirm three positive things about yourself. They must be authentic and believable. Write down and repeat these statements at least three times a day as though you are taking medication (your emotional meds). You can do this out loud, which is more powerful, or to yourself in your mind. The best times are usually when you awake in the morning and when you go to bed at night.

  2. Choose something you enjoy doing (and can do at home) that makes you feel great. This might be reading, writing, cooking, playing a game, singing, exercise or something else. Notice how great you feel when you undertake these activities and try to do them everyday. Keep it fresh by alternating the activity you choose and rewarding yourself after you have completed tasks that are less enjoyable such as washing the dishes.

  3. We all have a mixture of positive and negative thoughts in our minds. Choose to listen to the positives. If a negative thought pops into your mind, replace it with a positive one. Decide not to believe any negative thought about yourself and it will eventually shrink into the background. Talk back to the negative thought and tell it to be quiet and listen more to the positive thoughts that may be whispering in the background. Practising this on a regular basis will improve your success, so don’t become discouraged if it does not work straight away. Habits are developed over time so keep going.

  4. Evaluate your day in a personal journal. At the end of each day take a few moments to reflect on the successes of the day. Keep a balance about what your thoughts and actions were as it is rare they were all negative. What went well? What was challenging? How might you handle it if the same situation were to show up tomorrow? Who do you trust that you might ask for help or share your thoughts with? Negative actions or emotions can be written down on a separate piece of paper and thrown away to demonstrate that you have discarded them!

  5. Live in the moment. Guilt, blame and regret belong in the past. Anxiety and worry belong in the future. Live in the moment as everything is at peace in the here and now! Taking the time to pause and be still for a moment and to notice the beautiful relationships that are in your life helps you to remain calm and your mind to have the clarity in needs for decision making.

  6. Treat the negative thought as though it’s an unwanted and unwelcome person showing up at your door. We call this externalisation. Give them a name and every time they pop up, speak to them as you have the authority to decide whether or not to let them into your mind, your home, your private and personal space. Even if they manage to slip in you can ignore them, and tell them so!

  7. Have an attitude of gratitude. Focus your mind on all the things you are grateful for in your life whether it is people, relationships, items, where you live, your ability etc. grow your list by adding new items to it daily and read it to yourself on a regular basis.

  8. Review and manage your sleep routine. Lack of sleep and disturbed sleep can have a negative effect on your thinking habits and emotional health. With a good routine in place and gaining enough undisturbed sleep will therefore make a huge difference. Try to have calming and relaxing activity before you go to sleep and do not use any stimulating mobile / electronic device an hour before you do so. Hot drinks, soothing music, having a set bedtime, reading and lavender / camomile oils are some of the most used strategies that help to promote good sleep habits. The body will start to automatically adjust to the routine and the mind will receive the relaxed state it needs to build emotional resilience for the next day.

  9. Create a space to think or meditate. This might be a favourite chair or place in the house. Having an identified place or space can signal to the mind that it is a safe and calming environment for you to have peaceful and helpful thoughts to make decisions. You can make it your own by having a favourite cushion, blanket or sign to let others know that you are in the zone! If it is a spot you might need to share with other family members try not to hog it as this can create resentment.

  10. Choose excellence over perfection. Knowing the difference between working toward excellence and not perfection can help you to be reassured that you are doing the best with the resources that are available to you, rather than ‘beating yourself up for not getting things right all the time’. Resources include your skills, information, time, ability, support and all that you already have access to. A perfectionist attitude will try to bully you into thinking you are not good enough or that there is a perfect way to do or achieve something. The truth is, there are always many ways to achieve your goals and excellence is something that comes from thoughts about doing the best given who you are. There is not another you and never will be. You are unique and the best solutions are the ones that you create for yourself.

I hope these insights help you to think better thoughts and develop helpful habits. Please share any success stories through our facebook CCG group.

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