After giving birth to Sweet Pea I’ve traveled leaps and bounds in my personal development journey. One of the most important shifts that I’ve experienced is learning how to control my thoughts.
That might sound silly, right? They’re my thoughts, of course I can control them!
Not so fast.
Don’t think of an ELEPHANT. Don’t think of a big, happy, floppy-eared, sauntering elephant.
What did you just do?
I know you thought of an elephant, and you did so involuntarily. Did you control your thoughts there? I thought you were in charge?
Don’t worry, I thought of one too. But this isn’t what I’m talking about. This exercise might seem trivial, because there’s no negative consequence if you think of an elephant. You don’t feel better or worse because you thought of an elephant, and I won’t do anything to you if I found out your brain was running rampant with thoughts of Dumbo chucking around peanuts.
But what if your thoughts were tied to your feelings?
Thoughts can be independent, but our emotions are always, always, always tied to a thought.
Think about that for a second, because this is a game changer.
You feel the way you feel because of a thought. Therefore: Change your thought, change your feeling.
Here’s an example: Imagine you were driving to work and someone cut you off. Depending on your personality, you could react a few different ways.
You might be scared, angry, or indifferent about the situation. All of these are emotions, and are tied to a thought.
Scared: “I could have been hurt if they caused an accident.”
Angry: “They disrespected my place on the road.”
Indifferent: “They might not have realized how close they were to my car, and I’ve probably done this before to someone else.”
Whichever thought you have will dictate everything you do after that moment. If you’re scared, you might hit the brakes a bit more often on the drive. Angry, and you might scream a bit in your car and have it ruin the rest of your day. Indifferent, and you might pay closer attention to your own driving to make sure you don’t do the same thing.
See how there was only one “event,” yet three completely different outcomes depending on the thought?
Here’s another example:
4 months after giving birth, you and your family head to the beach. You had asked your husband to pack your swimsuit and he packed a bikini instead of a one-piece like you expected, because you were still feeling self conscious about your postpartum body. Several emotions and thoughts can come out of this.
Anger: “This isn’t what I asked for!”
Self-conscious: “I don’t have the body to pull off a two-piece.”
Ashamed: “People will judge me if I wear this.”
Accepting: “I guess this is what I’ll be wearing to the beach.”
If you’re angry, your reaction might be to complain your husband. If you’re self conscious, you might spend the day worrying about blocking your stomach with your arms, or making a deliberate effort to stay chest-deep in the water. If you’re ashamed, you might not go swimming at all. If you’re accepting of the fact that the bikini is your only option, you can just put it on with no reservations and enjoy the beach with your family.
Each emotion will set the stage to how the day will end up, all because of a single thought.
So how can we use this information to control our thoughts?
I’ve developed this Thought Transform Grid to help pinpoint the negative thought so that it can be reframed into something positive.
This is a simple tool that you can use which helps you to break down the thought driving your negative feelings. All you have to is plug in the appropriate answers for boxes 1-3. In box 4, you’ll be able to come up with a new thought that will override boxes 1-3 and shift your mindset into something that helps you feel better.
Let’s try this with another scenario: I just lost my job after 10 years of steady, full-time income.
Fill in the boxes with the relevant information:
- Action: I am crying, sulking, not eating, acting like a victim, shutting down.
- Emotion: feeling devastated, worthless, unmotivated, stressed, worried
- Thought: I won’t be able to pay my bills, what if I don’t find another job, why me? etc.
Notice how those thoughts are dwelling thoughts. They aren’t good for anything other than self-pity and staying stagnant in the negative emotion. The key is to turn those dwelling thoughts into actionable thoughts to propel you forward like this:
“I won’t be able to pay my bills” becomes: “My expenses add up to $X amount each month. I will do what it takes to earn that amount or greater.”
“What if I don’t find another job?” becomes: “I will find and apply to every opportunity available to secure another job.”
“Why me?” becomes: “I will become indispensable in the future.”
Once you create and replace the negative dwelling thought with a positive action thought, you are now driving yourself forward.
But what if it’s something less grievous? Try this scenario: my friend is telling me that my baby is too old to still be breastfeeding.
- Action: I am avoiding her, I’m ranting, I’m no longer making an effort to spend time with her.
- Emotion: I feel judged, disrespected, annoyed, upset.
- Thought: She thinks what I’m doing is wrong.
How can we turn that negative dwelling thought into a positive action thought? It’s crucial to remember that, barring a mental illness, your thoughts are the only thing in the world that you can 100% control under any circumstance. You can’t control the weather, you can’t control the traffic, and you can’t control anyone else – much less their own thoughts and opinions. If you try to control someone else’s thoughts – either by debating with them or trying to impress them, you can end up driving yourself mad.
Instead, focus on your own thoughts and change them to get the result you want. If you were to change your friend’s mind in your favour, what would happen? She would think that extended breastfeeding is normal, nothing to complain about, and you would feel completely secure. So #4 could be something like: “I am confident in my parenting choices and will continue to do what I think is best for my family.”
(By the way, “well, this is what works for my family” or any other variation is like the passive aggressive ninja version of f*** off. You can say it in regards to pretty much any decision you make. Give it a try!)
Choose your thoughts wisely. Because you can! When you choose your thoughts, you control your feelings that will determine how you do anything going forward. This is why affirmations work, why positive self-talk works, and why you have the power to do anything you put your mind to. When you control your thoughts, you can take any situation and see the light in it, no matter how bad it may seem.
Have you decided to choose your thoughts? Is there a thought that you can’t seem to transform into something positive and actionable? Leave a comment below!