Changing the way you think

Kanisa George  -
Kanisa George -


The new year brings with it a magical, almost unrealistic air. It's as if the ills of the days gone by have all but disappeared, and we are left with a blank canvas to paint a new reality. As a new day dawns, we all must grapple with the many changes ahead and find new and inventive ways to address them. Whether it be a change in perspectives, mindset or vehicles, whatever we do now impacts the life we'll live tomorrow.

With that in mind, many of us cannot reach our full potential because we're bombarded by self-doubt, negative thinking and the good ole imposter syndrome. These mammoth-sized monsters live in our subconscious being, and without realising, we allow them to dominate our thoughts which then become actions and eventually our way of life.

Tantamount to habits, these negative thoughts, just like excessive drinking or gambling, get in the way of reaching our full potential and damages the view we hold of ourselves and our place in the world.

Several studies show that one negative thought constantly fed over time can permanently influence how we see ourselves. In fact, most women would admit that they experience self-destructive thoughts stemming from negative emotions and more expansive societal views nurtured over time. Instead of using our shortcomings as building blocks, we use them as weapons against ourselves and undermine ideas of self-actualisation.

According to psychologist Carl Rogers, self-actualisation is the continuous lifelong process whereby an individual's self-concept is maintained and enhanced via reflection and the reinterpretation of various experiences. These experiences enable the individual to recover, change and develop. For a person to achieve self-actualisation, they must be in a state of consensus with themselves, which occurs when a person's "ideal self" agrees with their self-image.

To reach your full potential, having a clear picture of the negative habits that feed into your self-esteem, thoughts and self-awareness is crucial. By learning what these habits are, you'll be one step closer to breaking them and living a life fuelled by purpose and positive thinking.

Research suggests that about 95 per cent of our thinking is habitual, and up to 80 per cent of that thinking is negative. And while a life filled with rainbows and lollipops is often touted as the ideal way to live, having a negative thought process is the brain's way of keeping us safe.

Negative thinking grants us the ability to see the potential dark side of people, ideas, places, and things, which provides us with tools to respond to them in a realistic and self-protective manner. Negative thoughts are the brain's way of storing information in the event of danger to protect us in the future. This is also true of thoughts about ourselves. For example, if you believe that you're not 'good enough, your brain will look for evidence that you aren't, so you don't risk your emotional or physical safety.

One psychologist suggests that the key to changing negative self-thought is understanding how you think, then use strategies to change these thoughts or make them less effective.

Psychologist and clinical professor Rachel Goldman explains that although we all have unhelpful thoughts from time to time, it's essential to know what to do when they appear, so we don't let them change the course of our day, and ultimately our lives.

Goldman recommends practising mindfulness, a form of meditation that involves detaching yourself from your thoughts and emotions and viewing them as an outside observer. Mindfulness exercises allow you to gain control of your emotional reactions to situations by enabling the thinking part of your brain to take over.

Observe your thoughts and ask yourself if it is helpful? What purpose is this thought serving? And how does it make you feel? Once you observe your thoughts, you can then identify and label cognitive distortion and negativity. But first, you must understand the negative thinking patterns that we're all prone to. By stopping patterns like jumping to conclusions and over generalising situations, we'll be better equipped to put them where they belong and see them for what they truly are.

After observing the thought, you can then classify it as unhelpful and remind yourself that it's not reality.

What should you do after the thought has been categorised? Work on replacing it. This process is known as cognitive restructuring, and it involves examining the evidence that either supports or contradicts the thought and then exploring alternatives that are more helpful and realistic.

Try focusing on the positive to help combat negative thought patterns by asking yourself, is there any good to come out of your current situation? But be careful, there must be a balance, and you must avoid replacing negative thoughts with overly positive ones. If the replacement thoughts are not realistic, they won't be helpful.

Putting your negative thoughts on paper or creating a mind map helps create a process you could work through and adequately analyse. Breaking the negative thought process is hard, especially for those who have made this a way of life. But admitting their existence and the hold they have over your life puts you in a much better position to watch them fly into the ether. It's a new year, with new opportunities to get things right. Let’s work on the way we think.


"Changing the way you think"

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