This article was written by Libby McLean
Counsellor, EAP Specialist, Coach and Trainer @ Positive MIND Consulting
The way we think directly impacts how we feel and how we behave. The more negativity surrounding our thoughts the more likely we are to feel down, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or upset. Because of thinking and feeling this way, we are less likely to engage in positive activities such as exercise; we may notice a decline in our socialisation or strains in our relationships and/or reduced productivity or efficiency at work. And the cycle continues... We then start to spend even more time in this “negative space”, feeling worse and disengaging further in positive behaviors.
We can have hundreds of thoughts each day, but it doesn’t mean we need to act on each of them. What is KEY is to identify those thoughts which matter most, those which are important or hold higher priority or ones which require immediate resolution. Once we have identified these, we can start to practise ‘letting go’ of the others as they evidently either don’t matter as much or are unhelpful. This process will help to free up space in our mind in order for us to focus on more important or positive thoughts. It can also aid our productivity; as we reduce the number of interruptions created by negative or ongoing thoughts.
Here are some strategies you might like to consider when sifting through your thoughts:
1. Write it out. Use a thoughts journal or diary to record your thoughts. This can be a healing experience as you have an avenue to ‘offload’ your worries.
2. Prioritize which matter most – use a ‘traffic light system’ to help you color code these thoughts (RED – unhelpful thoughts, ORANGE – unsure thoughts, GREEN – thoughts which require action or resolution and/or positive thoughts).
3. Use scaling – to help further with prioritizing. “On a scale of 1 ---- 10, 1 being of no importance, and 10 being crucial, where does this thought sit on the scale?” This is such a great visual tool to help you to identify more productive thoughts.
4. Apply goal setting – create some actionable tasks and goals to help you work through some of the GREEN and ORANGE thoughts.
5. Practice compartmentalization. Use of visual imagery to ‘box up’ or ‘push aside’ those unhelpful RED thoughts. Using affirmations with this strategy can be helpful to provide you with the confidence to honor this step.
6. Engage in mindfulness – to help you in the journey of “letting go” of unhelpful thoughts. Ground yourself in the current moment. Immense yourself in a sensual experience. Focus on your breath. Be curious about your body. Remain open-minded and non-judgmental. Enjoy the here and now. I like using a guided meditation to help anchor me in the moment – to free up space in my mind. There are so many brilliant meditations out there, and it’s important to find one you can resonate with. I really enjoy listening to meditations from STOP BREATHE & THINK.
7. Practise self-compassion – be kind and nurturing to yourself. Become aware of your inner critic and how you speak to yourself and reflect on this. Is there an opportunity to change the way you talk to yourself? Can you be more kind? Can you practice greater compassion? Is there room for more positive self-talk?
This is a journey, and it will take time for you to find the right strategies which support you. Remain focused, compassionate, optimistic and hopeful as you sift through your thoughts.
Wishing you every bit of success towards achieving a calmer and more positive mind!