Have you noticed that thinking about issues that keep you stuck in a negative spiral also cause you to feel unhappy, hurt, or down longer than you would like to feel? If this is your experience, read on.
You’ll find out how your thinking affects not only your health, but also your mind – leading to a greater sense of wellbeing, or not. You will also receive tips on how to change your thinking to move forward with your life.
How Can Changing Your Thoughts Change Your life?
It sounds so simple, yet it can feel so hard to do – ‘change your thoughts’. Humans have thoughts and emotions: we analyse what happens around us, which makes it possible to plan ahead and move forward. These are things that distinguish us.
Not everything we think may be the truth, because it can be affected by what we are feeling – our emotions. We can’t really disconnect the two – emotions and thoughts go hand-in-hand in our daily lives. However, it is important to keep them in balance. Both can impact our behaviour and hence, the actions we take.
As an example, you may feel very emotional about a comment by your boss about a task assigned to you. He may have sounded irritated when he looked at it and you might take this up as a slight insult after all the extra hours you spent on the task and find yourself going over it in your mind again and again.
Social pain appears to be hardwired in the brain and differs to physical pain (Goleman, 2013). The tone of voice used also appears to have a greater effect on us than the actual statement. If your boss’s tone in the above example was quite critical, it adds to re-living the experience over again.
You may beat yourself up internally with the familiar comments on your abilities proven right again, such as “I can’t do this job, there’s something wrong with my abilities for this job, I knew I would get it wrong!”
Low self-confidence and self-esteem often go hand-in-hand. In a situation as described above, it may take a while before you can calm down your inner chatter. This can happen to any of us – and it does. Some just get over this quicker and more effectively. For others, it can even be a daily struggle.
We All Need A Pat On The Back At Times
Many of us received very little positive reinforcement during childhood – hardly ever any praise, which can affect us in adulthood. You can’t recognise your own accomplishments and often feel “I’m not good enough to receive this praise.”
You may also have feelings of inadequacy and shame undermining all you (try to) do. Or, you may have a fear of letting others down by making mistakes and find it hard to trust yourself. It’s easier to doubt yourself. However, you may have learnt to hide these fears and trust issues, but they tend to creep up on you often especially when you need to feel secure and self confident.
Lack of praise or recognition during childhood often leads to feelings of never being ‘good enough’. In addition, you may well tend to build walls around yourself to suppress your emotions. Our inner chatter, or the way we talk to ourselves, doesn’t stop and is not necessarily positive or supportive.
The Way We Think May Cause Us More Harm And Unhappiness
The impact of your thoughts on your decisions in life can be profound. Understanding how your thinking can change your view of life can be very empowering.
To understand the impact your thinking has on your mind and body, it helps to explain what happens in your body when you’re thinking:
- Your thoughts travel through your brain and fire off neurons (cells in the nervous system that transmit messages between various parts of the body). This leads to much neural activity in your brain, during which one brain region may make more connections than other areas.
- When, for instance, your brain releases serotonin you have happy thoughts and experience a feeling of wellbeing. The same will happen when you have feelings of pleasure or receiving a reward, although you are not always consciously aware of this information moving through your nervous system.
- If, for instance, you stress a lot about something or constantly experience feelings of resentment or anger, your thoughts and eventually your emotions will affect your body and mind on a cellular level. Experiencing fear, worry, or hurt over a long period will increase stress and make it harder for your cells to suddenly experience feelings of happiness.
- Simultaneously, trying to change your thinking to more positive and loving thoughts will also affect your mind and body with more feel good emotions.
And so, we can see that thoughts are not just thoughts. Every thought produces a corresponding chemical reaction in your mind and/or body. Hence, in many ways, what you think can affect how you feel.
What Does This Mean?
We can’t change the childhood and life experiences we’ve had, but we can influence our thoughts and perceptions. We can choose what we want to focus on and think. This, in turn, can directly affect the choices we make and impact on our behaviour.
What You Can Do:
Prolonged negative thinking reduces the brain’s ability to think and reason and to form memories. It drains the brain’s resources. The more stress we have, the more difficult it becomes to be creative and process new material. It feels if we can’t ‘think straight’, which in turn, affects our mood.
When we try to think more positively about a situation, our ability to focus increases, leading to a feeling of thinking ‘more clearly’. It feels easier to solve a problem.
Going back to the earlier office example (when the tone of the boss affected how you viewed the task you had worked on for so long), you can become aware of how it makes you feel.
Acknowledge that it’s not a very positive feeling right now and stop beating yourself up internally by telling yourself how rubbish you are at doing your work.
Choose deliberately to think along the lines of “I did my best, I learned new things when I worked longer on that task, which may become useful. I don’t have to pay attention to the critical tone of my boss. He may have had a bad day so far”.
And then let go.
9 Ways To Move Forward In These Instances:
- Become aware of what you are thinking and how it makes you feel. Realise that how you are thinking is creating and releasing chemical information throughout your body, which can affect you – positively or
- Become aware of your emotions. When you acknowledge any emotion of anger, fear, worry – you are naming it. Identifying how you are feeling is the starting point to get it sorted, instead of suppressing it all the time.
- Ask yourself if the feelings are necessary. It may help to ask if you need the anger, fear or unresolved issue or whether it would be better to let it go? Does it serve your emotional wellbeing and health?
- Notice what you say to yourself. Is it more negative and critical? Instead, ask yourself what you did well and what you can control? Using the above example of the boss and his tone: recognise that you cannot control him BUT you can control how you react to it.
- Become aware of your own needs. We all need a pat on the back, a bit of recognition when we’ve worked hard at something. If you were never or seldomly acknowledged in your childhood, it doesn’t mean you don’t need it now. We all do. Give yourself that deserved recognition for this task.
- Get feedback. You can also ask for feedback from your colleagues or put yourself forward for those tasks you actually enjoy doing and not only those you think you ought to do because it’s what your boss wants.
- Find a positive. Positive moments and activities in our daily lives increase more connection and are more fun.
- Resolve to think differently from now. You can’t control your past experiences that influenced your neurology up to now, but you can choose from now onwards how to think differently about an issue, what you want to focus on, and how you would like to feel instead.
- Realise the power you do have to change your mindset and the benefits it can have for your mind and even your life and general wellbeing.
Thoughts and their impact on our emotions are not abstract mind games, but have an impact on our biological and mental processes, which in turn affects our health and mental wellbeing.
By becoming aware of more negative thinking patterns and their effects, we take the first step to changing the pattern and indirectly, our future. We can’t change our childhood and earlier life experiences, but we can control our thinking once we become aware of it and experience its benefits.
If you have experienced prolonged emotions and thoughts that affect you adversely, reach out for help if you want to change this pattern and develop new ways of thinking.
What will you be doing in future?
How might you respond the next time you have a similar experience at work?
What might you say to yourself the next time you instinctively first berate yourself when you don’t succeed immediately at something you’re doing for the first time?
If changing your thoughts is something you want help with, then reach out to get started. I help my clients work through these issues to become the people they are meant to be and lead happier lives. You can find out more about how I can help you here.
If you’re just starting out on your journey, we can work on just your one goal for this year or a combination of issues you would like to solve to move forward in your life. You can also contact me directly on my email.
17 March 2022
Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: The hidden driver of excellence. New York, NY: Harper
Collins Publishers as cited in Whitaker, Lou. (2017). Available at https://meteoreducation.com/how-does-thinking-positive-thoughts-affectneuroplasticity
Hampton, Debbie. (2017, March, 24). ‘How Your Thoughts Change Your Brain, Cells
and Genes’. Huffing Post Live. Available at https://www.huffpost,com/entry/howyour-thoughts-change-your-brain-cells-and-genes
Ruff, M. (2014). ‘Where do you store your emotions?’. Candacepert.com. Available at
Whitaker, Lou. (2017). ‘How does thinking positive thoughts affect neuroplasticity’.
MeteorEducation.com Available at https://meteoreducation.com/how-doesthinking-positive-thoughts-affect-neuroplasticity