STEP #1 KNOW that every time you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals. That’s how our brain works…you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals, an electrical transmissions goes across your brain and you become aware of what you’re thinking. Thoughts are real and they have a real impact on how you feel and how you behave.
STEP #2 Every time you have an angry thought, an unkind thought, a sad thought, or a cranky thought, your brain releases negative chemicals that make your body feel bad (and activate your deep limbic system). Think about the last time you were mad. How did your body feel? When most people are angry their muscles become tense, their hearts beat faster, their hands start to sweat and they may even begin to feel a little dizzy. Your body reacts to every negative thought you have.
STEP #3 Every time you have a good thought, a happy thought, a hopeful thought or a kind thought, your brain releases chemicals that make your body feel good (and cools your deep limbic system). Think about the last time you had a really happy thought. How did you feel inside your body? When most people are happy their muscles relax, their hearts beat slower, their hands become dry and they breathe slower. Your body also reacts to your good thoughts.
STEP #4 Your body reacts to every thought you have. We know this from polygraphs or lie detector tests. During a lie detector test, a person is hooked up to equipment that measures: hand temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, muscle tension and how much the hands sweat. The tester then asks questions, like “Did you do that thing?” If the person did the bad thing his body is likely to have a “stress” response and it is likely to react in the following ways: hands get colder, heart goes faster, blood pressure goes up, breathing gets faster, muscles get tight and hands sweat more. Almost immediately, his body reacts to what he thinks, whether he says anything or not. Remember, the deep limbic system is responsible for translating our emotional state into physical feelings of relaxation or tension. Now the opposite is also true. If he did not do the thing the tester asked about it is likely that his body will experience a “relaxation” response and react in the following ways: hands will become warmer, heart rate will slow, blood pressure goes down, breathing becomes slower and deeper, muscles become more relaxed and hands become drier. Again, almost immediately, your body reacts to what you think. This not only happens when you’re asked about telling the truth, your body reacts to every thought you have, whether it is about work, friends, family or anything else.
STEP #5 Thoughts are very powerful. They can make your mind and your body feel good or they can make you feel bad. Every cell in your body is affected by every thought you have. That is why when people get emotionally upset, they actually develop physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach aches. Some physicians think that people who have a lot of negative thoughts are more likely to get cancer. If you can think about good things you will feel better. Think of your body like an “ecosystem.” An ecosystem contains everything in the environment like the water, the land, the cars, the people, the animals, the vegetation, the houses, the landfills, etc. A negative thought is like pollution to your system.
STEP #6 Unless you think about your thoughts they are automatic or “they just happen.” Since they just happen, they are not necessarily correct. Your thoughts do not always tell the truth. Sometimes they even lie to you. I once treated a college student who thought he was stupid, because he didn’t do well on tests. When his IQ (intelligence level) was tested, however, we discovered that he was close to a genius! You don’t have to believe every thought that goes through your head. It’s important to think about your thoughts to see if they help you or they hurt you. Unfortunately, if you never challenge your thoughts you just “believe them” as if they were true.
STEP #7 You can train your thoughts to be positive and hopeful or you can just allow them to be negative and upset you. Once you learn about your thoughts, you can chose to think good thoughts and feel good or you can choose to think bad thoughts and feel lousy. That’s right, it’s up to you! You can learn how to change your thoughts and you can learn to change the way you feel. One way to learn how to change your thoughts is to notice them when they are negative and talk back to them. If you can correct negative thoughts, you take away their power over you. When you just think a negative thought without challenging it, your mind believes it and your body reacts to it.
STEP #8 As I mentioned above, negative thoughts are mostly automatic or they “just happen.” That is why I call these thoughts “Automatic Negative Thoughts” or ANTs. Think of these negative thoughts that invade your mind like ants that bother a couple at a picnic. One negative thought, like one ant at a picnic, is not a big problem. Two or three negative thoughts, like two or three ants at a picnic, becomes more irritating. Ten or twenty negative thoughts, like ten or twenty ants at a picnic, may cause the couple to pick up and leave the picnic. Whenever you notice these automatic negative thoughts or ANTs you need to crush them or they’ll ruin your relationships, your self-esteem and your personal power. One way to crush these ANTs is to write them down and talk back to them. For example, if you think, “My husband never listens to me,” write it down. Then write down a rational response; something like “He’s not listening to me now, maybe he’s distracted by something else. He often listens to me.” When you write down negative thoughts and talk back to them, you take away their power and help yourself feel better. Some people tell me they have trouble talking back to these negative thoughts because they feel that they are lying to themselves. Initially, they believe that the thoughts that go through their mind are the truth. Remember, thoughts sometimes lie to you. It’s important to check them out before you just believe them!
“My children never listen to me.” “Always thinking” ANTs are very common. Watch out for them.
- “Always” thinking: thinking in words like always, never, no one, every one, every time, everything.
- Focusing on the negative: only seeing the bad in a situation.
- Fortune telling: predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation.
- Mind reading: believing that you know what another person is thinking, even though they haven’t told you.
- Thinking with your feelings: believing negative feelings without ever questioning them.
- Guilt beatings: thinking in words like “should, must, ought or have to.”
- Labeling: attaching a negative label to yourself or to someone else.
- Personalization: innocuous events are taken to have personal meaning.
- Blame: blaming someone else for your own problems.