Monday, January 14, 2013

What to do with Your Thoughts

{Photo published on web here}
I have a hand written note on my bathroom mirror that says, “Thoughts do NOT dictate actions”.  The reminder has helped me through many difficult times.  Thoughts come and go in and out of my head.  Often times, I am confused about what to do with them.

I went through a period of time when I was severely concerned about the thoughts in my head.  My thoughts were so contradictory to what I knew to be true.  My thoughts were all over the place and lacked continuity with reality.  The experience left me crippled.  I felt like I could no longer trust my judgment.  If I couldn’t trust my own thoughts, how was I supposed to live?
Some of these thoughts were: you are not good enough, you don't deserve anything good, you can't do anything right, and you are worthless.

It was a true “Eureka” moment when it finally sunk in that my thoughts were not an intrinsic part of me.  Thoughts are something that “happens” to me.  I cannot control what happens to me.  I cannot control those passive thoughts that come in and out of my brain.  What I can control is how I react to them.  I have to discern and separate the useful and important thoughts from the negative and damaging thoughts.

Now how can you tell the difference?

Well, when I find one of my thoughts conflicting with what I know to be true, I analyze (first) where it came from and (second) what it is prompting me to do.

If it came from a place of self hate then I know to throw out the thought and not act on it.  If it came from a place of empathy, then I can evaluate what it is calling me to do.
If the thought is prompting me to be productive, respectful, and thus, in line with what I believe and profess in the Catholic faith, then the thought is good and maybe inspired by the Holy Spirit.  If reacting to the thought causes self loathing, inactivity, feelings of being overwhelmed or discouraged, then the thought is negative and may have come from a bad habit or the enemy himself.

Another way to look at it is "realistic vs. inner critic".  Ask yourself if you are being true to reality or if it is just your inner criticism beating you down.
First, pay attention to the tone of the thought and how it is talking to you.  Is it anxious, nervous, rambling, and offers no solutions?  Or is it productive, optimistic, unbiased, and cheering you on?  The first kind of thought is from your inner critic.  The second kind is more realistic. 

An example is when I am getting ready for an event like a wedding.  In my mind, I know that looks are not important and I am loved no matter how I look.  But, having a history of extreme self criticism, I often fall to pieces when I am finding a dress to put and when I am doing my hair.  My thoughts tell me I am fat and ugly.  If I listened to my thoughts, I would never go anywhere ever.  But, I can discern that these self degrading thoughts come from a place of hatred and not love.  The thoughts do not inspire me to do anything good and actually don’t inspire me to do anything at all.  I know that I have to ignore those negative thoughts the best that I can and keep going with what I know to be true.

I repeat positive encouraging messages to myself over and over and over until I am no longer thinking about the negative thoughts.  Sometimes, it is so hard to do this on my own.  And that is why I have little notes around the house to help me when I am in need.

Other notes that I have visibly posted around the house are:
Feelings are not facts
You do NOT have to earn the right to eat
Be kind to yourself
I am body, mind, and soul

If you need extra reminders throughout the day to encourage your thoughts to be positive and realistic, I highly recommend making yourself little notes and posting them where you will see them often.  Sometimes, I don’t even realize that I am having an unrealistic thought until I see one of my reminders.

I will leave you with a favorite prayer of mine.

“O Lord, help me to realize that nothing will happen to me today that You and I cannot work out together. Amen”

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