Get Off That Mental Hamster Wheel!

I have a dear friend who continually beats himself up psychologically and obsesses negatively, to the point of crippling himself into inaction.  (Or  perhaps it’s the fact that he’s crippled into inaction by fear that causes him to beat himself up and obsess negatively.)

A couple of years ago,  I designed a series of challenges for him,  to help shift his thinking,  some of which I thought readers of this blog might find useful.

Here is one of them:

Next time you get stuck on your mental hamster wheel and can’t find a way off, try this. It’s a method which I have used, myself, with great success.

When you start to have negative thoughts, especially obsessive ones, STOP for a moment and say to yourself (aloud whenever possible) “I CHOOSE not to think about this” or “I CHOOSE not to think in this way.” Immediately replace those negative thoughts with something positive. Repeat as often as necessary.

It is important that you use the word CHOOSE, so you eventually understand on the deepest possible level that how you think is a CHOICE; that you DO have control over your thoughts and actions.

It’s not magic. Initially, you will quickly drift back to the negative thinking. (Hey, I never said it was going to be fast or easy!) At first, maybe you will only be able to stay away from the negative for a few seconds at a time — but if you keep repeating the mantra and replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones, slowly you will find you have more and more control over these kinds of thoughts (instead of letting your negative thoughts control you.)

There are two main kinds of negative thoughts: 1) thinking about bad things that have already happened (i.e. “regret”) or the possibility of bad things that may happen in the future (i.e. “worrying”) and 2) thinking badly of yourself and/or having limiting thoughts. (i.e. “I am worthless, incapable, hopeless, etc.”)

I find it helpful to have a happy, positive fantasy ready to think about when I start to think negative, especially in the first case. When you worry, it’s easy to create elaborate scenarios that start to feel real and/or inevitable. That’s why it is important to have something equally strong and elaborate but POSITIVE and HAPPY to replace it. The point is, you cannot replace a big worry which completely occupies your head with just a single, simple thought. You need a positive fantasy which you to imagine in a lot of detail, so you can really get involved in it and “experience” it mentally and emotionally. (Make it sexual, if you like! As long as it works!) Again, this may take time to develop. In the beginning, you may find yourself using the same fantasy again and again. This can be useful because you will have it “ready to go” whenever you need it. Sooner or later, you may develop/use different ones. Whatever works for you is fine.

In the second case, when you are having limiting thoughts (“I can’t…” “I’m hopeless…” “I’m not worthy…” etc). focus on your good qualities or things you have done that you are proud of .  Or,  simply congratulate yourself on the progress you have already made. Keep a mental list of these things, and make a point of adding to the list all the time. The goal is to have such a long, positive list that by the time you are finished reciting it in your head, the bad stuff looks miniscule in comparison.

This is a technique which takes time and constant practice to learn. Do not become discouraged if it is difficult in the beginning. Certainly, do not beat yourself up over lack of progress, and thus feel even MORE negative thoughts!!!! Just re-dedicate yourself to doing the technique. I can tell you from my own experience, that slowly but surely, you will find you have more positive thoughts than negative ones. You will begin to have confidence that you CAN control how you think. Eventually you won’t need the mantra; the process will be completely internalized.

You can do this!

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