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Steel Your Mind: A Cognitive and Behavioral Guide to Healthier Thinking

While going through the hustle and bustle of daily routines we rarely stop and think about our thinking and about the impact that thoughts have on our feelings, emotions, and behaviors. Experts estimate that on average a person experiences roughly 2,500 to 3,300 thoughts per hour for a grand total of about 50,000 thoughts per day. That’s a whole lot of thinking and a good deal of it relates to personal worry, fear, anxiety, and dread. We fear that we are not good enough, not strong enough, that something will go wrong at some point in the future. The future brings with it a great uncertainty and this uncertainty is what fuels our worry-based thinking. As a species we cannot stand uncertainty because we strive for control. Control means everything as it brings about order and a feeling of safety. It is our basic instinct, one that is fueled by self-preservation.

The problem lies in the fact that we rarely stop, breathe, and just sift through our mental and emotional turbulence before it spirals out of control and creates a chaotic state of panic and dismay, which then influences our emotions, behaviors, and state of being. We rarely take the time to think about our thoughts and why they are the way they are. Thoughts are fast, automatic, and immediate. They provide us with an instant gratification to our most intimate existential quarries, which often fits the necessity of our daily hustle. We don’t take the time to step outside of ourselves and really investigate our thinking patterns, habits, and content, which causes us to lump all of our thinking into small mental notes that we check in with as the need arises. Thinking becomes problematic when it goes unchecked and unverified. The information we feed ourselves, whether it’s accurate of false, becomes applied to our overall self-worth, worldviews, mental representations of people, events, and interactions, and our character, which in turn causes panic, anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression.

Thoughts have a very powerful impact on how we feel and behave. Since we have so many thoughts pass our mind on the daily basis we don’t allow ourselves to recognize just how much our views of ourselves, the world, and the future is shaped by them. So now I will invite you to take a moment, breathe, and be your own scientist as we go through some cognitive and behavioral strategies to healthier thinking.

  1. Learn to recognize and identify automatic thinking. – Whenever a thought comes up that stirs the spirit take a moment and linger in that thought before acting on it. Notice how quick that particular thought came to you. Automatic thoughts are often knee-jerk thoughts that appear after an emotional trigger and are often impulsive, judgmental, and not fleshed out. Take a moment to monitor these thoughts within your daily routine before acting on them or letting them color your inner world.
  2. Become your own objective observer – Whenever a thought arises analyze that thought from every perspective. Try to be rational and objective when looking at a particular thought. Is the thought positive or negative? How does it make you feel? What would the consequences be if you were to act on that thought?
  3. Recognize all or nothing thinking. – Try not to view a particular person, event, or situation as all good or all bad. Linger on the grey areas and practice looking at the objective truths.
  4. Avoid extremes and focus on cohesive and accurate thoughts. – You can’t control everything but you can control the way you think by being aware of objective truths. Being comfortable and confident in your observations and thoughts will grant you control over uncertainty as you will know that no matter what life will throw your way you are prepared.
  5. Write down your thoughts and feelings. – Keeping an active thought journal is helpful in that it allows you to externalize your experiences and thoughts by making them physically visible and tangible.
  6. Cope with criticism. – Life isn’t all about successes and not everyone will click with who you are. What is important is to be able to learn from your mistakes and get back up no matter how hard you are hit. Criticisms and mistakes aren’t the end of the world and they do not define you. They are simply indicators of areas that growth can take place in. Criticism doesn’t mean that you are hopeless, inapt, or bad rather that you are strong and can grow to be even stronger.
  7. Practice mindfulness rather than thought suppression. – Let your thoughts flow through you without any judgment rather then stopping them. Learn to identify and be mindful of overly critical thinking. Praise yourself for small victories because often times they are smaller in your mind then in reality.

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." ~ George Eliot