You talk to yourself all day. All your waking hours, you are thinking in words and sentences. You carry on an internal conversation with yourself. You comment on events, ask yourself questions and then answer them. This is normal. We all do it, but we usually aren’t aware that we’re doing it.
Have you ever stopped to consider the impact of all this internal chatter? You might be surprised at the degree to which your thoughts influence your mood, guide your perceptions and direct your behaviors. We would all do well to pay attention to the content of our thoughts, and consider their influence on our mood and choices. Have negative thought patterns caused you to experience unnecessary pain or make unhealthy choices?
The power of our thinking is magnified by the sheer volume of thoughts that go through our minds each day. Thousands of words, hundreds of phrases, judging thoughts, assuming thoughts, emotionally charged thoughts, all passing unquestioned into our minds and hearts. Some have estimated that we think approximately 60,000 thoughts per day.
A little internal observation will reveal that we all have habitual patterns of thinking. Some of us tend to think optimistic thoughts and some pessimistic thoughts. Some people are kind to themselves in their thoughts and some are self-critical. Some people tend to be skeptical of others and some trusting in their thoughts.
Did you ever consider where your thinking patterns originated? You weren’t born pessimistic, self-critical or skeptical. Most of your thinking patterns were learned. Your prior experiences determined your beliefs about yourself, the world, and how you fit or do not fit into the world. Your beliefs then determine your thoughts.
When children experience harsh, frequent criticism or judgment, they develop beliefs that they are inadequate or defective. When they experience rejection or abandonment, they develop beliefs that they are unimportant or unlovable. Those beliefs dictate your thinking. Your thinking then affects your emotions, reactions and choices.
A child is like a sponge. If you place a sponge beside clear water, the sponge will soak it up. If you place it beside acid, it will soak that up as well. The sponge doesn’t have a choice. It will contain whatever it soaks up. Similarly, children soak up whatever they experience. They have no choice.
The good news is that, since our beliefs and thought patterns are learned, they can be unlearned or relearned. We can change and overcome self-critical, negative thought patterns with deliberate effort and persistent effort.
Pay attention to your thoughts. Notice what you are saying to yourself. Particularly notice any repeated patterns of negative thinking. Also notice how your thoughts influence your mood and your behaviors. Was a negative or irritable mood preceded by negative thinking? Was a depressed mood preceded by self-critical or pessimistic thoughts? A little self-examination will reveal a connection between your self-talk and your life experience.
There are many forms of negative thinking that can hurt us. Notice the internal conversation as you go through your day. Become aware of your thoughts, your assumptions and your attributions. Awareness is the beginning of change.
Boy thinking photo available from Shutterstock