Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Start by writing down all of the thoughts — uncensored. If you’re like me, this alone will take practice, because I would edit everything that I would write to show only the rainbows and daisies. If you find yourself resisting or editing, ask “what am I afraid I will find/write?” then write that answer.
Two reasons for writing down all the thoughts:
1) It is amazing how much your brain can calm down when you get the thoughts out of your head and on paper. (Think of each thought like a persistent toddler, who just wants to be heard. The more your ignore or try to distance yourself, the more insistent and persistent they become.)
2) When you see your thoughts on paper, you gain power over them. Because you have given yourself some literal and figurative space from them, you can now be “the watcher” of your thoughts.
At this point be careful not to judge yourself for having the thoughts. Remember: YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS. View each thought as a sentence. Then, instead of judgment, become curious. Take each sentence, one by one, and ask questions (from a place of curiousity, not judgment—this piece is critical).
Is it true?
Why am I choosing to think this thought?
Is this thought serving me? Do I want to keep this thought?
Why does it matter?
What am I making it mean?
Why is this a problem for me?
When you identify sentences/thoughts that aren’t serving you, the temptation is to simply replace the sentence with a “positive” sentence. This can sometimes work, and there’s no harm in doing it if it works. But, for those of us who have had the same (or variations of the same) sentences repeating so often in our brain that they feel like TRUTH rather than an optional thought, our brain will reject any attempt to “whitewash” the thought.
At these times, it is helpful to use bridge thoughts. To get from where we are to where we want to be, we “bridge” the distance with thoughts that move us in the desired direction. Two rules with bridge thoughts:
1) You have to be able to believe it.
2) It has to feel better than the current thought.
Sometimes, with long held negative thoughts, the first bridge thought has to be something neutral. For example, when coaching a college freshman who had the recurring thought of “I am stupid,” the thought, "I am smart and capable of learning anything" was beyond her current ability to believe. The first bridge thought that met the rules for her was “I have a functioning brain.” And just that shift-- from negative to neutral-- freed her up to perform to her amazing potential.
What are you believing that isn't serving you? What will happen for you when you break your pattern of negative self-talk?