If you have found yourself more prone to negative thoughts over the past wee while – and really, who could blame you – it can sometimes feel like it’s hard to get out of those spirals. Guest writer Bree Nicholls, the founder of The Being Way, gives two different tools that can help you break free and change those thought patterns for good.
Something which has been plaguing me lately is the guilt, shame and fear actors who have been playing out varying scenarios in my head. My mind is their stage, and they like to act out every possible outcome – yet for some reason, they don’t seem to enjoy practising scenes with a happy ending.
An oft-repeated statistic from the National Science Foundation in the US alleges that of the 12,000-50,000 thoughts that we have a day, a staggering 80% of them are said to be negative.
The fascinating part here is that negative thoughts seem to hog the spotlight, even though if we look around the room at the time, the parts which are being played in our head are not actually happening to us at that given moment. And if the dreaded moment does ever arrive, it will be only a smidgeon of the thousands of times we have thought about it.
Still, the loop goes on and on until, building into a crescendo which can feel like panic or anxiety – or eventuates as being rendered into doing nothing; a state of paralysis, if you will.
Tool #1: 7 Questions To Ask Yourself When You’re In A Spiral
The first exercise is a tool from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), called the seven-part thought record. The point of this exercise is to challenge people’s harmful thoughts and provide a structure so that people can see things from a different, more balanced perspective.
You can use this tool if you have social anxiety, fears, phobias, or are experiencing shame, guilt or self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours. Basically, have this handy formula ready to go any time that you feel triggered!
To begin, draw out seven columns on a piece of paper.
- SITUATION – What happened? Where? Who with? How?
- EMOTIONS – List all the emotions you feel, and rate them out of 100%
- THOUGHTS – What were the thoughts going through your mind right before you started to feel these emotions? Circle the thought which has the strongest emotion attached to it.
- EVIDENCE FOR – What concrete evidence do you have that supports this thought? Note the evidence needs to be factual. I.e., if your thought is that you are a bad person, the evidence would need to be someone explicitly expressing that you are a bad person.
- EVIDENCE AGAINST – what facts do you have that provide evidence against the unhelpful thought?
- NEW BALANCED PERSPECTIVE – Based on the evidence you have provided, what is a new, more balanced thought? What is the bigger picture here?
- OUTCOME – re-rate your original emotions out of 100 again and add in any new emotions you feel when you think the new more balanced thought.
Tool #2: Looking After Your Inner Child
In adult life, it’s easy to forget that we were once a child, and that deep down we still are that child, just older and more experienced. Inner child work takes us back to the child within, who still needs love, reassurance, and validation. As an adult, these needs are often sought outside of ourselves, from external relationships and people. The problem with this is that receiving these base needs becomes dependent on external factors – and people – who are not always available, willing, or able to be mind readers. This is the reason why this practice is so empowering – because you only need yourself, and you are available to yourself 24/7. And it doesn’t cost you a cent!
To begin, find a quiet, safe space where you feel comfortable. Once you are settled, think back to a time in your childhood (0-12) when you felt the same harmful feelings or thoughts you are experiencing now.
What age springs to your mind? What is happening in the world of this little you? Imagine bringing this child into the room you are in now so that they are with you in the present moment.
Whereabouts in the room are they? Start to tune into their feelings and what they are going through at this moment in their life. What is it that this child is really needing? Once you hear their need, respond to it as you would if you were a nurturing parent. The child might need to understand that they are good enough. As a nurturing adult, you could respond by telling them that they are worthy. Notice what happens to the child as you respond to their needs.
Go through the same process again, but this time tuning in to what the child is wanting deep down. Once the child is settled the process is over. Place your hand on your heart and notice how you are feeling.
Know that you have the power and ability to play interference with your thoughts, and decide what you are going to let in, and what you are going to let out. By using these tried and tested methods, your mind can become a more pleasant, carefree, and happier place which goes on to affect and influence all other areas of your life.