What's On Your Mind? The Power of Your Thoughts
Also drawn from Buddhism (excerpt below from The Religions of Man) but found in other theories such as cognitive behavioral theory is that of right mindfulness:
“All we are is the result of what we have thought.”
Or, as I like to say, “What you think, you create.”
Now, if we are shaping who we are and as a result what we experience by what we think, then we darn well better be mindful about what thoughts are taking root!
We all have patterns of thought that have been created and reinforced by experiences. The trouble is that these thoughts, while they may have been useful as a way to cope or protect us in the moment, become ill-suited for our current experience. For example, a boy who is abused may develop the belief that he is at the mercy of the demands of others. This belief is quite true in relation to the abuser. However, this false belief continues to run in the background even as an adult, and so he is often fearful of being at the mercy of others and so pushes back whenever others make requests of him. His thought – “I’m at the mercy of others” – is causing him to respond to and interact with others in very particular ways.
Once you identify these sorts of false beliefs (thoughts) that are driving your words and behaviors/experiences – how do you then challenge these false beliefs (in the cognitive behavioral world, they would be called “negative schema”)?
By practicing right mindfulness!
The tricky thing about how our brain works is that it likes how things are already wired! After enough time, certain thoughts being “lit up” in response to certain situations becomes an automatic process. So, rewiring the brain can be a difficult process when the focus is only on mindfulness. However, when we bring in the power of language and actually say out loud the new thought that we want to take root, we increase the likelihood of creating new connections and severing the old ones. Thus, by combining right speech with right mindfulness – we have a powerful combination that can give a one-two punch to the false beliefs and negative statements that are keeping us from living powerful lives.
One of my clients struggled with the reoccurring false belief that she was stupid. The slightest mistake would trigger this false belief and off she went into a whirlpool of harsh thoughts and resulting negative behaviors (e.g. depression, guilt, shutting down). Rather than focus on the behaviors, we started with her words. She began by saying every morning out loud, “I am intelligent and capable.” At first this felt awkward and silly. In fact, her mind was doing what it should do – it was fighting back against this intrusion that threatened to change the status quo wiring. Over time, she got this down into her so deeply that, when she made a mistake, she took it as an indication that she needed to learn more, ask questions, get help, etc. rather than that she as a person was fundamentally stupid. As a result, she began experiencing life, herself, and others in brand new ways!
Don’t allow false beliefs to be in charge. Use the practices of right speech and right mindfulness to challenge false beliefs and break free of old patterns of thought and behavior.
Spend some time noticing the thoughts that travel through your mind as you go about the day and jot them down. Pay particular attention in moments when you feel challenged, ignored, scared, insecure ... what is that little voice inside saying? After you’ve discovered a false belief – return to the practice of right speech to begin challenging and transforming the thought to be something that is powerful rather than destructive.
This can be tough work and hard to swallow when we begin to notice how many false beliefs are running on a loop in the background. Be encouraged, though! Knowing and acknowledging is a step in the right direction!