Forget Tracking Habits, Track Your Thoughts Instead

What if every time you thought about something that wasn’t helpful or even true, you chose not to focus on it?

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Woman looking up by Tachina Lee / Unsplash
Woman looking up by Tachina Lee / Unsplash

Most of us have fitness tracker apps or devices that tell us whether we’ve been standing up enough, whether we’re getting our 250 steps per hour, or how many more glasses of water we’ve left to drink. But all our problems stem not from not knowing how many calories we’re supposed to consume or how many steps we need to walk. They stem from focusing on the wrong kind of thoughts and, as a result, feeling undesired and unhelpful emotions that lead to uncontrolled and harmful behaviors.

Most of my childhood I had one domineering thought. I was convinced that the whole world plotted against me. I constantly thought that everybody’s goal was to intentionally hurt me. It sounds ridiculous but that’s how I felt. I then matured, of course, and understood the realities of life. Outside of my family, friends, and acquaintances (and maybe a few people who follow my journalistic career), I am actually not known. So the vast majority of the Earth’s population has never heard of me, let alone thought about plotting against me. Nevertheless, that is what I thought and that is what influenced how I felt, which you can just imagine what was like.

Just how the world didn’t actually hate me and it was just the way I thought and, as a result, felt, your feelings are the result of the thoughts you focus on, too. Try a simple exercise and find a quiet place with no distractions. Close your eyes and think back to a situation when something happened that really hurt you. Remember all the details, what was said or done to you that day, who you were with, and so on. Then open your eyes. How did you feel? Now close your eyes again and think back to a situation when you achieved something great – the proudest day of your life. Imagine every single detail from that moment. Open your eyes.

After the first exercise, you probably felt sad. And after thinking back to something positive you felt good. Notice that you weren’t actually physically experiencing those situations, you merely thought about them, and yet you were able to change how you’re feeling.

What if every time you thought about something that wasn’t helpful or even true, you chose not to focus on it? Before you give credit to any thought, ask yourself: “Is this thought helpful? Do I have any reason to believe that this thought is true?” You and only you can make yourself feel a certain way. The other people or external factors can make you think things, but it is up to you what you do with those thoughts. Most of the time, we exaggerate and add our own opinions and conclusions to our perception of reality – which is not helpful if we want to be authentic and efficient.

If you’re really dependent on apps, try a mood tracking app. I had one that’s called Daylio, which can send you reminders as often as you like to log your current mood. I undertook this as an experiment and would log my mood at work, at home, in transit. I noticed how I almost always felt peaceful in the morning and “annoyed,” “stressed” or “frustrated” by the end of the day. The app allows you to add notes, such as what activities you’re engaged in at the moment of logging in. It may be difficult to do it for a long time, but try tracking thoughts this way for a couple of days and see what affects the way you feel like.

The most crucial thing we can change about our lives is to improve the way we manage our thoughts and master our emotions. All the answers are within us and when we develop self-awareness, we develop self-control. And when we have self-control, our lives can turn 180 degrees.

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