Keep asking yourself questions to live more joyously and freely
We are what we think. How much of your thoughts are spent on productive and positive thoughts? The Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Living Program estimates that only a small portion of our thinking is in the optimal, “focused” mode where you are processing something interesting or novel, or are simply happy. In fact, the Mayo Clinic estimates about 50 to 80 percent of our thoughts are spent by our brain in the “default” mode: searching for threats and faults, a wandering mind or obsessing over undone tasks. You may also find that relationships lose appeal in this mode.
Negative self-talk falls into any number of categories, such as filtering when you magnify the downside about a situation, taking it personally when something unfortunate happens, or catastrophizing by anticipating the worst.
Does limited thinking or a negative mindset hold you back? It certainly takes you out of the moment, away from joy and deepening relationships. From thoughts that erode your confidence to “awfulizing” about your day ahead, you can break out of bad thinking by training your mind.
Ask yourself questions
Doing the inner work to uncover limited thinking takes acting like a detective on yourself. When you find yourself in the default mode of negative thinking, ask yourself about your initial feelings or reactions that triggered the thoughts.
Author and speaker Bryon Katie is a spiritual innovator. A fundamental of her teachings is to blow the self-limiting thoughts out of your mind by keep asking yourself the question of “do you know it to be true?” She says to keep probing yourself when you have a particularly stressful thought. She calls this “The Work” (The Work by Byron Katie®). First, notice what you are thinking. Write it down. Say you meet someone and are stuck in thinking “He doesn’t like me.” Let’s call this the original thought which can be personalized to “Doug doesn’t like me.”
- Is it true? First ask yourself, do you know the thought or statement in your head to be true? Your answer should be yes or no. Contemplate it.
- Can you really know that? In this case, “Can I really know that he doesn’t like me?” Maybe you realize you are assuming it to be true. Your mind wants to defend or justify what you are believing. Contemplate it further. “Take your own mind back,” Katie says.
- How do you react when you think that particular thought? Walk through that scenario and dwell in it for a bit. To someone not liking you, in general, you may feel completely rejected, sadness, disconnection. When this particular person, Doug, is in front of you, you think he doesn’t like you and you may even start to change your behavior to get him to like you, such as being overly friendly or shutting down. You may question yourself.
- Who would you be without that thought or idea? In the case of meeting Doug, you can ask “Who would I be, in that situation, without the thought that he doesn’t like me?” If you can get the disturbing thought of “he doesn’t like me” out of your mind, ask yourself “who you would be without that thought?” Maybe you will be able to look into his eyes, see his innocence or have other insights. Maybe more of yourself would come out when you can ease out of these thoughts.
Turnaround the thoughts
Katie cautions this work is best done after you have an experience such as in the case of meeting someone. She goes on to turnaround these thoughts by flipping the argument. “He doesn’t like me” becomes “I don’t like him.” Take yourself through that scenario: it puts a lot onto another without barely even meeting them. Would that make you feel resentful and separate like the thought of “He doesn’t like me” did? Then turn it on yourself. The “I don’t like him” and “He doesn’t like me” become “I don’t like me” or “I don’t like me in that moment.”
Let people be your teachers. This is a great way to turn it around and go deeper is to take the thought “He doesn’t like me” back when you meet Doug, for example. What did you want that he didn’t give you? He didn’t make me feel comfortable, or he looked away when introduced. Take that as guidance for yourself. Maybe you look away from people when you are introduced to them and so forth.
The beauty of these question-exercises is they can be applied generally to troubling thoughts or situations. Importantly these exercises can help you overcome an adverse situation and troubled mind. Your mind is then freed to create the changes you want in your life.
With these tools of asking yourself the right questions, you can repeatedly switch your brain to fire much more positive neural connections. Because every thought you have causes neurochemical changes, changing the pattern to “focused” begets more lasting thinking patterns. That’s where change can really happen.
For more on how to change your mindset see Spirit Times’ earlier blog.