“We become what we think about.” – Earl Nightingale
I’m a big believer that the way we think shapes our quality of life. If we have a positive outlook, our lives will reflect that mentality, and the same is true if our outlook is negative. It’s the cliche “rose-colored glasses.” You get to choose which lens you experience everyone and everything around you. Does yours set you up for success and expanded possibilities or does it foster stress and resentment? Even in challenging and suboptimal situations we each have the power to frame our experience in a way that we can learn, grow and evolve.
However, many of us aren’t aware of our thinking patterns. It’s as if our thoughts have become an automatic program, hardwired in our brains and guiding us through our day to day actions.
Toxic thinking can take many forms. Ask yourself: Do I blame other people for my circumstances? Do I place expectations on how other people should behave? Am I always worrying about the opinions of others? Do I feel the need to prove that I’m right? Do I often replay situations in my mind and wish that I’d acted differently?
While these are just several examples, toxic thinking acts like a poison, a poison that has a negative ripple effect on all aspects of your life. It not only impacts your performance, leadership ability and productivity at work, but also harms your personal relationships with others.
The good news is you can combat toxic thinking by following this step-by-step process.
Observe your thoughts
The first step to overcome toxic thinking is to recognize the thoughts as they occur. Sometimes the best access point into your thought patterns is recognizing how you are feeling. If you notice you are feeling annoyed, ask yourself, “What are the thoughts running through my head that are creating this feeling?”
Of course it’s natural when things are stressful or don’t go as planned to have negative thoughts. However, when you start to go down the negativity spiral, remind yourself that you have the power to control what you think. The key is acknowledging you have the right to feel this way, but also that these thoughts are not serving you and the positive life you want to create. Choose how you want to feel and what you want to experience. Be an observer and just notice your thoughts.
Remember that you are your own worst critic. Forgive yourself for your mistakes and let go of the need to be perfect. By practicing self-compassion, you will learn from your mistakes and become better equipped to handle challenges moving forward.
Self-compassion promotes a type of self-worth that isn’t grounded in external comparison and results. It comes from a place of learning, growth and shared humanity. When you extend compassion to yourself, you fertilize your potential with kindness and acceptance.
Set an intention
First off, what is an intention? An intention is a clear and positive statement on what you want to manifest in your life. Intentions provide a framework that guides your actions, thoughts and choices by helping you set priorities, use your time effectively and align yourself with the resources you need to manifest your goals.
Envision the type of person you want to become and how you want to feel. Don’t hold back – the sky’s the limit! Whether it’s your career, relationships, health, or finances, make sure you are specific with your intention. Be specific on how you want to feel – for example, do you want to feel inspired, calm, motivated and/or joyful?
Next, think about what changes you will need to implement in order for this intention to become reality. The next time you get stuck in a toxic thinking loop, ask yourself what thoughts could you replace it with that would better align to what you want to create and how you want to feel.
Incorporate mindfulness meditation into your schedule
Now that you’ve set an intention, you can strengthen it using a mindfulness meditation practice. This doesn’t have to be a long and formal process. Even 5 minutes of meditation focusing on your breath and senses will help jolt you out of a toxic thinking cycle.
Whether long or short, formal or informal – meditation enables you to become fully immersed in the present moment. Rather than trying to change your thoughts, you allow them to come and go. There’s no judgement. You simply connect to the here and now, and in doing so, you are better able to control your mental focus.
When it comes to rewiring thought patterns, journaling is one of the most powerful techniques. It will give you a fresh perspective and greater insight. You’ll be able to separate fact from fiction and see what triggers your fears and insecurities. You can even play with alternative ways of looking at a situation and see which alternatives makes you feel more empowered and aligned.
Keep in mind, no matter how far along you are on your journey, there will always be days that are harder than others. Just don’t give up – you can retrain your brain!