What is a thought?
Our mind is the most brilliant computer. As you go about your daily routine there is a programme constantly running in the background. Even while you are asleep your brain is busy and creating thoughts.
Our brain takes in and uses information and comes out with results. You are constantly taking in and assessing information, making assumptions and reaching conclusions. Thoughts can be constant - and can take over - until we learn control and direction.
Why do we need thoughts?
Thoughts are useful for current assessment, problem solving and for planning of the future. Through thoughts we create choices and make things clearer. From our thoughts come emotions. Thoughts can be empowering and create good feelings.
Where do thoughts take us?
Often the aim of our thoughts is to lead us from A to B. Start with a thought - process it and explore it - and reach a conclusion. Alternatively we can be just using thoughts to explore a topic with no conclusion needed but to help us gain more understanding, for example debating. Most thoughts are a precursor to feelings and behaviour. Some people get stuck with thoughts running round and round and because of this don’t reach a conclusion or decision. Sometimes, therefore, thoughts don’t take us anywhere - often labelled procrastination. So in this latter case we can often reach a point of frustration as our thoughts have run away on us.
What do we want from our thoughts?
What is the aim of our thoughts? In a perfect world our thoughts would not be logically thought through and we'd be able to reach conclusions that help us to move forward in life. Ideally our thoughts would be clarified and unbiased in order to best impact our decision making, however they are not.
Are our thoughts reliable? Are our thoughts reliable, are they biased, or do they sometimes lead us astray? We don’t all have the same thoughts, which goes to show that they are based on many aspects. Our thoughts, no matter how hard we try, are impacted by a variety of personal and situational factors. From our past experience, and the way we look at the world, we create our own versions of thoughts. We have, throughout our life, compiled a list of 'shoulds' and limiting beliefs. When we look at our view of the world it is warped because our thoughts are refracted - like light through a prism - and then they, along with our opinions and decisions are based on what comes out the other side. However, we always have the option to change these. Below we look at some strategies as to how we can check our thoughts and change them if required.
How can we control our thoughts and use them to our advantage?
First we need to create awareness: be aware of your thoughts, then assess if they are empowering you. After this assessment we can consciously make a decision of which thoughts to focus on and how we want to direct them. If you are having trouble with your thoughts you have the option to take some time out - eg meditation and mindfulness to distract ourselves.
How do we respond to our thoughts? As mentioned earlier, our thoughts create feelings. Therefore, our behaviour is the ultimate response to our thoughts. If we can change our thoughts, then our feelings and behaviours will change.
3 strategies for better, more uplifting, thoughts
1. Priming - This is a method to purposely create a bias. Many people practice gratitude, or do what is known as affirmations. The point behind this is to prepare your brain for positive biases. Imagine, once again, your brain as a computer. You type something into a search engine and the results page will show you more content of the same concept, focusing on the key words you have entered. This is how it works with our thoughts. Put positive thoughts into your mind and your subconscious will produce similar content by looking for confirmation of those thoughts already inside your mind.
2. External References - Your initial thoughts and responses are only one option. The aim is to get other possibilities. You can do this from external references. For example, speak to other people and get others' points of view. If you speak to family and friends it is often you will find they agree and/or will support your thoughts. Therefore it is best to look and speak to people who are not so likely to agree with you. You can also research online. Once you have all the options you can it is time to reassess your original thoughts in light of this further information you have discovered.
3. Reframing - Once you have more information you are then in a position to ask yourself how you can look at the situation differently, how might it seem to someone else. When looking at something from a different point of view it gives it a different meaning. This changes our thoughts and therefore our feelings and behaviours.
Our thoughts help us to learn, grow and understand, but it often goes wrong (biases and incorrect assumptions). If we can control our thoughts then we can use them to our advantage - through assessment, planning, reaction and behaviour. Once you have created awareness you can work out if your thoughts are working to your advantage. It may be that they are in some areas, but not others. In the areas where they aren't working to your advantage, use the three strategies; prime, external reference, and frame, to make changes.