Controlling unwanted thoughts is not the problem. Believing, trusting, or taking direction from them is.

How often have you heard people say, “Control your thoughts, control your life?” Or “You are what you think about.” Or, “What you think about is what you will attract.” What these statements don’t take into account is the fact that our brain generates all sorts of thoughts, many of which come without notice, and some are good and some are not very good; in fact some, are downright hurtful and self-destructive. You don’t want to have the latter, you don’t ask for them, and nor do I. But they come on unpredictably. But are they so unpredictable.

Our Automatic Brain (AB for short) has one function—to protect us from danger, threat, or vulnerability. When it detects such, it releases an electrochemical response that we know as the fight or flight response. But this reaction is not simply you getting scared. This AB reaction leads us into behaviors and emotions that sometimes show up as fear, anger, rage, or even sadness, depression and withdraw.

However, what most people don’t realize, and what set me on this quest to begin with, is that this brain also creates thoughts so that we fight and flee danger. Thoughts can be the most troubling and interfering element on any road to growth or success. And this should tell you something as it did, and still does, tell me. What it tells me is that nothing comes out of the blue—not negative behaviors/emotions or thoughts. If this premise is correct that means that negative thoughts arise from our AB trying to protect us from something. The actual thoughts, in my opinion, are less important than what is going on when the negative thoughts arise. For instance, if you get a thought while driving that you are going to lose control, suddenly, swerve and hit the concrete barrier or person on the side of the road, your AB is simply trying to shake you into focus to protect you from the “danger” of driving.  Or if you are hiking and cannot bring yourself to the edge of the overlook because of thoughts that you are going to lose control and fling yourself off, that’s your AB.

But what about the negative thoughts that pop into your head when things are going well, or you are succeeding and moving ahead. These come on because your AB detects some danger, threat, or vulnerability from your success.

These seven steps can help you gain more control.

  1. Do not believe everything you think.
  2. Understand that unwanted thoughts always arise in order to protect you.
  3. Try to identify the circumstance that caused the thought.
  4. Realize that the circumstance is unlikely dangerous at all.
  5. Don’t fight the thoughts. It is more normal to get negative thoughts than not.
  6. Recite in your mind, “There is no danger, there is not threat, I am safe,” whenever getting the thoughts.
  7. If you get a negative thought that is particularly hurtful, finish it off. For instance, if you get a thought that says, “I’m a loser.” Finish it by saying in your mind, “Yes, I am a loser. I am a loser if a play a game I know nothing about. But since my life is not a game and I play by my own rules I am a winner.”

I suggest you don’t try to control your thoughts. Follow these steps and it will help you accept them, but more importantly help you so you do not always believe, trust, or take direction from them. Doing so will elevate your health, peace of mind, and “live your everyday extraordinary”!

– Charles F. Glassman, MD

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