4 ways to make unhelpful thoughts have less impact on your life

Recent studies show that the average human mind has over 50,000 thoughts a day. How many of these thoughts are helpful and how many are unhelpful? Studies have shown that at least half of these thoughts are unhelpful and the more we push them away or block them out, the more they return with extra power and velocity.

How much impact do negative thoughts have on your life? Have they developed into stories that play through your mind, day in day out?

One of most common stories is the, ‘I’m not good enough’ story. Nearly all of us have some derivative of this story whether it’s the, ‘I’m not a good enough friend, employee, provider, lover etc. Other stories could be, ‘I’m a failure, I’m a fraud, I’m broken, I’m unlovable’ and so on and so on. Our mind is a great storyteller, it conjures up all sorts of unhelpful things that stop us from being our best possible selves, friends, lovers, employees and humans.

Are your thoughts

Here are four ways to retrain your mind in order to make unhelpful thoughts have less impact on your life. Different techniques work for different people, so give them all a try and determine which ones work best for you.

To begin, bring to mind an unhelpful and recurring thought, then try the following techniques.

1. Remind yourself that it’s only a thought

By silently saying to yourself, ‘I’m having the thought that I am a failure’ rather than, ‘I am a failure’, you are reminding yourself that it’s not a truth but a thought.’I am having the thought that I am a failure’ has much lest impact than, ‘I am a failure’. You can also try, ‘I am noticing I am having the thought that I am a failure’.

2. Sarcastically thank your mind

Once you have noticed a thought as a thought, silently and sarcastically say ‘thank you mind’. This reminds you to be compassionate with yourself whilst acknowledging it is nothing more than a thought. 

3. Name the story

Give that repetitive story about yourself a name. It could be the, ‘I’m a stupid failure story’. Make the name as ridiculous as you like. Every time you notice yourself having this thought, say silently in your head, ‘oh it’s the I’m a stupid  failure story’. You can then add on, ‘thanks mind’.

4. Silly songs 

Once you notice yourself having that unhelpful thought or story, sing it to the tune of  Happy Birthday, Mary Had a Little Lamb or anything else that you like. 

Some of these techniques may seem a little crazy, however the aim is to assist you to distance yourself from your unwanted thoughts rather than trying to push them away. For maximum affect these techniques should be practiced in conjunction with mindfulness practices such as mediation.

Why these techniques work?

Firstly, they allow you to notice when unhelpful thoughts have consumed you.

Secondly, they teach you to distance yourself from your thoughts and help you to recognise that your thoughts are not truths or demands and are not always helpful to obey.

Thirdly, by allowing thoughts to be there even though you might not like them, you learn to make room for them and give up the struggle with them. This makes them less powerful and have less impact on your life.

Lastly, they teach you a lightheartedness that allows you to show compassion towards yourself.

When trying these techniques your mind might start telling you, ‘this won’t work for me’, ‘this is stupid’ and so on and so on. Stick at it. Whilst you may not see drastic changes straight away, you will see changes.

These techniques come from the work of Dr. Russ Harris, an expert in ACT. This style of therapy incorporates the most helpful parts of a range of existing psychology theories in conjunction with eastern philosophies such as mindfulness. To read more about ACT click here.

Wellness is more than just the absence of illness.

Where are you on the Illness – Wellness Continuum?

The graphic illustration below, first proposed by John W Travis in 1972, is a great way of explaining wellness on a sliding scale and when coaching can be useful.This continuum echoes the view of the World Health Organisation and that of the coaching profession.

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When an individual is at the neutral point on the continuum, where there is no discernible illness or wellness, they are often at a point where they are aware that some changes have to be made to keep them from entering the left side or ‘the red zone’. People at this point have often been further to the left in the past and have, through a range of lifestyle changes and support from family and health professionals, been able to make some significant changes. On the other hand people at this neutral point may have been further to the right on the continuum but have slipped, due to changing life circumstances, lifestyle, behaviors or the exacerbation of underlying mental or physical health issues.

Coaching is most commonly used with people, who at a specific time, are on the right hand side of the continuum (the normal healthy range). Having support from a coach allows the coachee to move through the stages of awareness, education and growth – towards becoming their best possible self.

Coaching can also be helpful for people who are placed on the left hand side of the continuum, as a multidisciplinary approach to health care. The support of a coach in conjunction with other health professionals such as doctors, social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists, ensures the best possible chance at making sustained changes.

desert MountainAn individual who is not experiencing any signs, symptoms or disability associated with illness is not necessarily moving towards wellness. Increased awareness of your body and mind is the first step in the right direction (excuse the pun) and involves noticing bodily cues and taking mindful action. Knowing when you are truly hungry, feeling stressed or in need of rest is what self-awareness is all about. Awareness can be built by learning mindfulness skills that can allow you to be aware of what you really need, without the stories your mind might be telling you.

For example; you’re feeling tired and stressed and your mind tells you that drinking a bottle of wine will help you get a good night’s sleep. Taking mindful action involves knowing that the story your mind is telling you is just a story, and will probably not be the best course of action. Instead you choose a course of action that is more beneficial to your health and wellness.

Awareness coupled with education and continued self development leads to personal growth. Learning more about your body and mind pays dividends as you go through life for a number of reasons. Some of these include:

– Increased awareness of, and better coping strategies for stress, anxiety and unhelpful thoughts and feelings.

– Knowing when and where to get support or help when you need it.

– Consuming foods that are right for you, that will nourish rather than suck life out of you.

– Exercising frequently and looking after your body when it needs rest.

– Becoming a more present and consistent friend, lover, mother, father etc.

– Taking steps towards being your best possible self and living the life you truly want to live.

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What is life coaching anyway?

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For years, psychology has focused exclusively on what was wrong with someone and how to make them better. In the late 90s, the Positive Psychology movement was born and psychologists began researching, what is going right with someone and how can we support them to become their best possible self?

Coaching shares similarities with counselling as it is a talk therapy, however, it is more focused on what can be done in the present and the future rather than what has happened in the past. Throughout a normal course of life coaching there may be times when counselling occurs, however the focus is on finding solutions to problems, making changes and taking action.

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The Coach supports and gently challenges the coachee as they discuss questions around a determined focus point or goal. The coach helps the coachee to consider alternatives, uncover roadblocks and nut out a timeline for milestones, goals and celebrations of success.

A range of psychological techniques and questionnaires are used to discover the coachee’s unique profile of strengths, life values and personality traits, which can be used to support the coachee to undertake some valuable self-awareness. As the weeks and months pass by, the coach is there to hold the coachee accountable and support them through the ups and downs.

Goals and milestones often change as self-awareness increases and the steps towards becoming the coachee’s best possible self, begin to take shape. The coach assists the coachee to see their progress, re-define goals and ensure they are on track for success.

Track to beach

Whilst coaching is most helpful in a face to face setting, telephone and Skype coaching is also widely available. It’s important to find a coach that has a counselling or psychology qualifications and who belongs to a professional body such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF), as the industry is not tightly regulated and many people with no qualifications practice as coaches.

If you or someone you know may be interested in coaching, feel free to get in touch with Jakob from ‘The Mindful Coach’. Jakob holds a degree in coaching from the Australian College of Applied Psychology and is a member of the ICF. Jakob has had experience coaching and counselling adults and adolescents and runs workshops on goal setting and mindfulness practices.

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