It Starts with Awareness
Excerpt from Journey Back to Me
Awareness is the first step to replace destructive thoughts with ones that pull for your happiness and success. Raise your awareness by noticing when destructive thoughts hijack your thinking. Start by journaling in the evening. List the instances you remember. Then up your game through frequent reflection throughout the day. Before long, you will catch yourself. "Oh! I am digging holes in the sand." Or, "Oh! I am riding the What-if Roller Coaster!"
At first, don't try to interrupt the behavior. Just notice the pattern in thinking and let it go. As you reflect on the day, notice how much of your day is spent time doing these things. That is usually sufficient to start unconsciously decreasing the amount of time spent on these activities.
Collect a Grievance—Instances where you secretly make a mental note of something someone did or said so that you may use it against them in the future. Collect a Grudge—Instances where you hold something someone did or said (recently or a long time ago) against them and do not forgive them.
Counting Your I’s—Instances where you interpret the actions of others to be a personal insult, intentional injury, or injustice and do not forgive them. Digging Holes in the Sand—Instances where you are doing something or catch yourself doing something in order to be rewarded emotionally in some way by another (appreciation, approval, affection, love).
Growing Fruitless Trees—Instances where your investment of time is fruitless. These are typically activities you use as an escape from tasks you do not want to do or people and circumstances you want to avoid. Areas/activities where you lack passion or you are playing it safe.
Imes and Izzes—Beliefs about yourself, others, or your environment where you have assigned a permanent state to something temporary that you think is true and may not be. I’m _________. She, He, or It is _________.
In the Punishing Room—Instances where you judge, condemn, chide, or punish yourself for something you did or said or thought (and believe you shouldn’t have) or something you did not do or say (and believe you should have).
Last Word Merry-Go-Round—Instances where you mentally rehearse a conversation with another over and over again in your head to either defend yours or someone else’s thoughts or actions or attack someone else’s thoughts or actions.
Lost in the Pit of the Past—Instances where you find yourself either overcome with regret or longing for the way things were in the past.
Making Mountains out of Molehills—Instances where the insignificant is elevated in importance or where your reaction is incongruent with the event or circumstances. Typically triggered by the need to hide something.
Mountain of Lies—A collection of unquestioned, hidden beliefs that are not true and rob you of power. This includes your shoulds/should nots, must/must nots, and the Ins and Uns (inadequate, insufficient, incapable, indentured, unattractive, unworthy, undeserving)
What-if Worry Coaster—Times where you are worried or concerned for the future, what might happen or what someone else might do, think or say.
Even after years of practice, we will still do these things. The key is to recognize the pattern as quickly as we can, interrupt them, and replace destructive thoughts with productive ones. You will be surprised. A small shift in thinking can completely alter your experience and the amount of joy in your daily experience.
A great example: There was a time when I was worried about the well-being and safety of a loved one several states away. When I last spoke to her she was dealing with the consequences of years of unhealthy and unwise choices -- consequences neither I nor others could spare her from. Then, she stopped answering her phone. No one knew of her whereabouts. I was consumed with worry. Was she hurt? Was she alive? Would she make more costly choices? Throughout the day, my concern for her was always in the background. Sleep was difficult. I was edgy. Then I found a way to interrupt the cycle.
I have several sets of wind chimes outside my house. I love to hear the beautiful sound of the wind blowing through them -- so relaxing and soothing. I used the sounds of the wind chimes as a trigger. Each time I would hear my wind chimes tinkle, I told myself it was God saying, "Stop worrying. I got this. Let it go." I would try to relax and let it go. It was a practice.
In all honesty, at first, it was a leap of faith and foreign for me to even think this. It felt odd. It sounded odd. But it also felt right.
When I found myself worrying, I repeated the same words, "Stop worrying. God's got this. Let it go." In the beginning it was nothing more than a thought. Did I believe it? Not really, not at first. Was there any measurable relief? None that I could tell.
Days turned into months and eventually the overwhelming anxiety was replaced with confidence. I came to believe that no matter what the outcome, the situation was, truly, in God's hands. My fear (which was worthless by the way) was replaced by an encouraging thought. The encouraging thought solidified over time became belief -- a new belief that served me well. Now, it doesn't matter what your belief system is, or what mine is, or whether they are the same. That's not the point. The point is there are going to be times in life when you are TERRIFIED and helpless over the circumstances. You may not be able to change the circumstances but you can change how you think about them. It's your choice. Always. You can stay terrified, or you can change your mind.
This taught me faith on many different levels -- faith in a higher power, faith in myself, and faith that anyone and everyone can transform any harmful thought into one that advances our happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment in life. You truly can replace the most overwhelming, all-consuming fear-filled thoughts with something positive -- or to start, at least lessen the fear. You can truly shift the burden away from yourself and let the fearful thoughts go. And in doing so, gain freedom and peace of mind. I stayed concerned for my friend, but I stopped letting the anxiety and feelings of helplessness ruin my day and quality of my life. You can too. In areas big and small.
And, yes, my friend is fine. She is safe and making small steps to improve her life. For her, too, it is a practice.