I worked with an adolescent girl a few years ago. We were working with cognitive behavioral therapy (an approach that examines thoughts and supports changing them). I asked if she trusted a certain thought she had. She replied, “No, my thoughts lie to me all the time.”
A more profound statement has rarely been made! All of us develop thoughts and beliefs early in life, before we have the cognitive ability to discern the truth of them. Those thoughts and beliefs become fixed. I compare them to a railroad track. As long as the track exists, the mind runs right along on that track. With effort, you can move the track. Little by little, you can challenge the belief, like putting drops of water on the track, eventually it will wash out. Or sometimes, our beliefs get completely derailed by a dramatic insight. You have influence over your thoughts and can make advantageous changes.
Why should you look at your thoughts? Well, thoughts can be real, but not true. We have a laundry list of beliefs about ourselves influencing our feelings and behaviors all the time. Ever felt that you looked nice and put together? Did that influence how you acted? Of course it did. When your thoughts and feelings are aligned, your behavior can’t help but follow.
On the flip side, ever gone to the grocery store in sweat pants and no makeup? I know that influences me! I leave my sunglasses on and hope I don’t see anyone I know! I feel frumpy and I think I shouldn’t be in public like that!
Since our thoughts impact our feelings and behaviors, it serves us to make them the most positive influence we can.
Sometimes thoughts can be tricky to identify and to change. Remember they work in concert with feelings and behaviors. If you behave shyly for example, visualize behaving in a non-shy way. What thoughts stop you? This gives you some insight into what thoughts are keeping you sitting quietly in the corner.
You can also imagine yourself as a non-shy person. How does that version of you feel? Let’s say one way a non-shy person might feel is self-confident. Can you think of a time you had a feeling like that? Experience that feeling in your memory and keep yourself in that state. Imagine you, feeling self-confident, and approaching a normally shyness inducing situation. What thoughts are coming up for you? Again, this gives you some information for self-exploration.
Are those thoughts true? I know they are real, but are they true? I believe I shouldn’t go to the grocery store in sweatpants, but is that true? Can I relax my belief just a bit?
Changing thoughts can impact us in many positive ways. That’s the best argument for examining the thoughts that automatically run through your head. Beliefs such as I’m too old, weak, dumb, shy, etc. hold us back every day. If you can choose to believe a slightly more rewarding thought than the one you have, and you do that over and over again, won’t you be pushing yourself to be a better version of yourself? The best version of you is all you can ask of yourself.
Want to change your experience? Challenge some of your thoughts. Change them into slightly better ones. Just like water drops on a railroad track, eventually you will displace the track you don’t want. Name a thought that you can challenge today. How would things change for you if you shifted it a little? Tell me in the comments below.