We are predictable creatures of habit, especially when it comes to our thoughts. Did you know that research has shown 95% of our thoughts are repetitive? What’s even more alarming is of those thoughts, close to 80% of them tend to be negative in nature, rooted in the survival instinct that forces us to constantly look over our shoulder and be aware of our personal safety.
Think of that voice in your head that constantly tells you “you can’t do that” or “you’re not skilled enough for that.” That little voice follows you around, criticizes you, and keeps you from reaching your true potential. “You are your own worst enemy,” is a saying that was aptly created from a vicious cycle we can’t escape.
There are other thoughts that make you do things you shouldn’t do, like over-eat, skip the gym, or waste money buying things you know you don’t need. We learned this behavior from not only from the closest influences in our life such as our families and peers but also from the media and society as a whole. It contributes to the “monkey mind,” which reacts to the drama in our lives. It’s a narrator that exists in our heads and is constantly worried about the future and what’s going to come with it.
But when we look beyond this learned behavior, we learn that thoughts are nothing more than electrical patterns, shooting across neural tracts in our brains.
Our minds have a pesky habit of focusing on our anxieties and self doubt.
Why We Repeat The Same Negative Thoughts
It requires less work for the brain to think the same thoughts over and over again than it does for the brain to inquire about new thoughts. All day long we are thinking, without consciously thinking, putting our minds into auto-pilot and latched onto these negative thoughts.
These thoughts then gain power from your body’s reaction to the thoughts. Your body responds by secreting hormones that can impact your nervous system. For example, if you think someone is threatening you or attempting to steal your job, your body will secrete cortisol to get you ready for a fight (or a flee). On the flip side, if you are feeling relaxed and proud of an accomplishment, your body will release oxytocin and serotonin as a reward system, helping you to feel even better afterward.
How to Break The Cycle of Negative Thoughts
So how does one, in practice, stop these negative thought patterns? Here are some meditation and mindfulness 101 tricks to keep you from getting caught in the hamster wheel of anxiety and self-doubt.
· Technique #1: Let Your Body Relax
When we think negative thoughts, we physically tense up, which puts us into a greater state of distress. Allow yourself some moments of respite from reality in which you sit down, breathe, and relax. If you feel tension in a particular part of your body, do your best to relax it. When you exhale, imagine you’re directing your breath into the area you feel pain, allow the power of your breath to soften the tension.
When you’re meditating, be still and mentally scan every part of your body, from your head to your feet. Feel each part and feel its connection to your center of gravity. Keeping your focus on your body can occupy your mind, and prevent it from getting swept away by a current of negative thoughts.
· Technique #2: Focus on Pleasure, Not Pain
Even if you suffer from chronic pain or headaches, etc. there is always something you can focus on that is rooted in pleasure. Think about your body and focus on what feels good today, rather than your various ailments. If you’re having trouble, try rolling your shoulders, stretching your neck, or doing some yoga. This should create feelings of softness across your body that you can focus your attention on.
· Technique #3: Gently Observe Your Negative Thoughts
When a negative thought pops into your head, don’t try to forcefully suppress it. This is like fighting a losing battle with a current, rather than trying to swim with it. Instead, observe it for what it is. Position yourself as the observer, not the thinker. Remember that your thoughts are separate from you and your Higher Self, and simply allow the thought to float away. In many cases, the act of identifying your negative thoughts will be enough to break the cycle before it starts.
· Technique #4: Breathe Deep
When we get anxious, we start to breathe shallowly, which means we are not receiving enough oxygen deep into our lungs. Pull your shoulders back, sit up straight, and focus on deep, thoughtful, and meaningful breathing. If you find your mind drifting into negative patterns, returning your attention to the breath can help you break the cycle, and train your mind to focus on things that are actually happening instead of your thoughts.
· Technique #5: Meditate At The Same Time Every Day
Meditation is a learned skill that can become engrained in your every day if you make it part of your routine. You don’t have to meditate at precisely the same time every day, but conditioning yourself to meditate in the morning or before you go to sleep can make it much easier to establish a habit. Even if it’s just for a few minutes each day, make an effort to follow these steps and really unwind your body from the anxiety. You will feel your mindset start to change as you gain confidence and learn to tune out negative thoughts.
What Happens When You Start Meditating Regularly
Every single day, your body experiences up to 70,000 various thoughts that will traverse your brain. These thoughts are positive, negative, hurtful, and caring, and none of us are immune to this kind of fluctuation.
You can detach from these monkey mind thoughts, take a step back, and reside in the present.
Meditation and mindfulness can stop harmful ways of thinking in their tracks.
Mindfulness practices, like meditation and yoga, have been used by cultures for thousands of years to provide humans with control over these involuntary thoughts. Practicing meditation provides us with the following tools:
- The ability to detach from your subconscious mind: Mindfulness teaches you about the source and presence of these thoughts, where they come from, and where they go. With this awareness, you can essentially stop their negative hold on you, and peacefully watch them float by while you focus on positive intention.
- The ability to be present: When we get lost in our heads, we either focus on negative thoughts and actions of the past or anticipated anxiety of the future. Mindfulness helps us come back to the moment we’re actually in and realize that depression and anxiety can be managed.
- The ability to find inner peace: Within all of us is a still, peaceful, and positive mindset. When you peel away the layers of angst, anger, hurt, and emotions, we all desire to be positive and peaceful. In order to search for that stillness, you need meditation to find it.
Naturally, the more positive your thoughts, the more oxytocin and serotonin that will be released into your body, creating a positive feedback loop that is mentally and physically beneficial. But, it’s easier said than done; breaking this auto-pilot is going to require dedication, determination, and awareness. Where can you obtain this kind of perspective?
How to Start Meditating
Meditation and mindfulness are all that you need if you want to turn over a new leaf and start living a more positive lifestyle. Anyone can do it anytime, anywhere. You just have to make the decision to get started!
There are countless forms of meditation that range from breath control exercises and muscle relaxation to internal reflection and observation. The exact form of meditation that works best for you will depend on your own mind, but guided meditations are always a great jumping-off point for those looking to dip their toes. To help you get started, here’s a guided meditation from our free introductory course, Awakening Your Intuition. If you enjoy it, you can enroll in the full course for free on Teachable!
Do you feel as though you have certain negative thought patterns? What techniques do you use to recognize them and stop the cycle?
Share your approach in the comments below!