How To Overcome Negative Thought Patterns With Mindfulness

April 10, 2015

STOP TRYING TO FULLY CONTROL YOUR MIND! You will lose, every time!

I assume you are familiar with the metaphor of “the elephant in the room.” It relates to the idea that there is something in the room (either a physical room or your mind), and the more you try to avoid it, the more obvious it becomes.

Imagine there actually was an elephant residing in your living room. You have no idea how it got there and you would very much like it to leave. You are afraid of its size and its power and you feel it doesn’t belong there. You can’t push it out because it’s too big. You tell it to leave but it doesn’t listen. You try shouting at it, asking politely, commanding it and nothing works.

Strangely, the more you try to make it go away, the larger and more burdensome it seems to become.

That’s because you’re putting all your attention on it. When you put more of your mental attention on something, it feels bigger; it takes up more of your mental space. The question is: Are you putting positive, neutral or negative attention on it? In this scenario, you are putting frustrated attention onto it, and so you’re frustration will only increase.

What’s the solution?negative-emotions

Stop fighting against the elephant. Accept it and let it be there. Perhaps you need to make a few adjustments and then continue to use your living room as before.

Now what happens?

Does it go away? It might! But, then again, it might not! It might get bored and leave but then come back another time. Regardless of what it does, the elephant will appear smaller now as you stop trying to force it away.

What’s its purpose?

Elephants are large, stable, protective creatures. Your elephant guards the door to your living room and hasa say in what comes in. Elephants are also known as patient and wise. Your elephant has something to teach you, it carries a message. However to receive the message you must be kind and patient towards it. You cannot force an elephant.

Once the message is received, the elephant may then go to return another time, or may stay and continue to guard your living room door. Either way, you now are at peace with your elephant. You might even be able to go for a ride on it one day.

Whatever You Push Pushes Back

Just like the elephant, you cannot push away your experience. The more you try to suppress (push down or push away) your experiences, the more attention you give them and the more they push back. Trying not to feel, think, or remember something once it has been triggered never works.

Right now, don’t think about an elephant in a room. Don’t think about its color, or shape or that it is now eating chocolate cake. Now try to not notice the sensations in your left hand, or your right foot. Now try and not notice what it smells like around you? Now try and pretend that you didn’t fail at everything I just asked you to do and notice how you fail at that too!

Dealing with Negative Thoughts: The reason why you can’t not experience something once it is presented to you is because your brain must process everything that is presented to it to see if it is dangerous. The need for protection will always override logic.

You can’t help it. In fact, there is a very strong correlation between people who try to push down or push away experiences and those who suffer depression, anxiety and other major life challenges.

That potential danger can be physical like watching out for snakes that like to bite, but it can also be psychological. A psychological threat may be a fear of failure, embarrassment, poor performance, or rejection, basically any unknown experience that is going to lead you into feeling an emotion you generally don’t like.

Your brain is always trying to protect you from feeling more pain than necessary. But, your brain isn’t always right. Have you ever had to make a speech, and your brain started coming up with all sorts of catastrophic thoughts and images?

Things like: “They will all laugh at me, I won’t know what I’m doing, I am going to get rejected and feel humiliated.” When you actually look at all the times you presented before, none of these things even came close to happening.

Unfortunately that won’t stop your brain initially from trying to protect you from a possible danger. One option is to re-frame negative thoughts (look at Optimism Wins) and to continually practice Positive Focus. However, these are not perfect systems; you will still have negative thoughts at times.

To deal with this we need to remember the very first principle: Behavior is King! A thought is just a thought until you believe it and act on it. If you accept the thought for what it is, “just a thought,” your brain has a chance to process it without you trying to get rid of it.

Because you’re allowing the thought or image or sensation to be there, your brain has a chance to process it to see if it is dangerous or not. Because it realizes it is not, the power of the thought will reduce, and the thought itself is also likely to be processed and pass more quickly.

Going back to public speaking, you now know that your brain has come up with all these catastrophic scenarios to try and protect you. Rather than trying to force them away, if you accept that it is just your brain trying to protect you and you know that they will pass in its own time, those fearful thoughts will pass much more quickly.

At the same time, you continue to implement your positive focus principles. Mindfulness as the Science and Art of Acceptance: Knowing that acceptance is the key, the question is how to make it a skill? It is easier said than done, especially when emotions are high.

The art is learning how to become a better observer of your internal world, to look at the elephant without reacting negatively to it.

Mindfulness, which is a form of meditation, can easily be described as simple and highly calming exercises of attention, awareness and focus. Mindfulness has been shown to increase energy, focus, concentration, creativity, intelligence, memory, learning ability, inner calm, happiness, self-esteem, overall health, and reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

It is the most successfully researched mental health building and mental illness reducing skill. Consistent practice changes lives, re-wires brains, and eliminates negative thought patterns. Mindfulness exercises have been shown to be an incredibly powerful way to shift down into the longer brain wave states that give you access to your intuition, numerous unconscious processes and all of the abilities mentioned above.

Meditation and hypnosis allow you to go deep into your unconscious mind and begin building new pathways in your brain which will translate to a greater ability to learn, problem solve and stay calm when facing difficult situations.

Mindfulness trains your focus and attention, and eliminates negative thought patterns.

It allows you to take a break from the “chatter” and busyness of your active mind. It is a fantastic way to find a neutral (usually slightly positive) feeling and be able to enjoy the moment you are in now and develop a greater appreciation of all that is around you.

So, how does it work? Informally, all you need to do is choose a sense and immerse yourself into it. You can pretty much do it anywhere, anytime. Due to mindfulness, I am pretty much never bored! Whenever I am stuck somewhere waiting for something, I practice different mindfulness exercises.

As I said, all you need to do is choose a sense and immerse yourself in it. Let’s begin…

We’ll begin with vision.2013-07-27_2029

Sit up nice and tall and begin to breathe more deeply if you like. Now expand your vision and notice everything that is around you. Spend some time noticing all the different colors, shapes and textures around you. Zone in on particular things and really look at them, examine them and enjoy noticing them.

Let’s move on to a different sense, hearing!

Move your attention to what you can hear. Pick one constant sound and really zone in on it. Notice its rhythm, timbre and volume. Really immerse yourself in that sound. Then choose another sound and do the same.

Let’s do one more sense for the time being, touch!

Wherever you are sitting, take the time now to zone in and really focus on where and how you are sitting.

  • Notice the sensations of your feet against the floor
  • Notice the sensations of your back and legs against the chair…
  • Notice your internal sensations now, perhaps the sensations in your hands or beating of your heart… and when you’re ready, we can move on.

Take your time and enjoy!

It’s time you learnt a more formal exercise. This one will teach you to be able to move into that positively-neutral and self-observant place. In this exercise it is recommended that you close your eyes. So, you may want to read over this bit several times before you do this.

TAKE YOUR TIME WHEN YOU DO IT. ENJOY DOING IT SLOWLY!

The first part of this exercise requires you to create a visualization. I will give you three to choose from or you can make up one of your own: a conveyor belt, steam clouds evaporating, or a river with leaves on it. In the recording, the river is used.

During this exercise, every time you have a thought about anything at all, you are going to imagine taking that thought and either placing it on a conveyor belt to watch it be taken away, put it in an evaporating cloud, or put it onto a leaf in a river and let it float away. Only choose one image.

Whenever you have a thought, any thought, you are going to allow that thought to drift away. So choose a particular image and we will begin.

Close your eyes and firstly notice your breathing… notice as you breathe in and breathe out… pay attention to the sensations you feel, the rise and fall of your chest… and, whatever thoughts you have, just let them go as you notice them.

Shift your attention to what you can hear. Like before chose one sound and just notice it for a while, then choose another, and perhaps a third.

Whatever thoughts you have, just let them go as you notice them each time they come. Shift your attention to your body. Notice several different sensations one by one, starting with external and moving into internal, and whatever thoughts you have, just let them go each and every time.

Practice make perfect, so begin implementing what you learned here today, and soon your negative thought patterns will disappear.

Do You Practice Mindfulness? Share Your Experiences In The Comment Sections Below And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To The Anxiety Guy Podcast.

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2 comments on “How To Overcome Negative Thought Patterns With Mindfulness

  1. Miranda Jar May 18, 2015

    I agree that your brain must be re-trained. I have seen other speakers talk about doing that and just like anything else that is worth it, it takes time.

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