It is often done unconsciously and we all do it: letting our thoughts go; grinding and even worrying.
But as soon as you are aware of it, you can counteract it effectively. For emotions and thoughts that you repeatedly seek out yourself – for example, out of self-pity – “the 90-second rule” helps.
You can apply this rule as soon as you catch yourself (repeatedly) thinking up a negative experience, i.e. a negative thought.
By following these steps, you can turn that unpleasant thought into a positive one within 90 seconds.
How? First, notice very consciously that you are seeking the negative thought itself.
Also be aware that you are the witness to the accompanying feeling of that thought. The witness, so it does not define you nor does it determine you. You only observe it.
Then stop this process by saying “stop” to yourself and change your thought pattern into a positive thought out loud.
You do that by focusing on something you can be grateful for. If you do it out loud, it is even more powerfull. Just whispering “thank you” softly has a lot of power.
This can be done in a minute and a half and is a very effective method of breaking out of a repeated negative spiral. It all starts with being aware of it.
Realising that you have the thought – and that you have brought it about yourself – and then attacking that process with this effective weapon.
The moment we are grateful, there is no longer room for negative thoughts and emotions.
You may wonder how you know when your minds starts drifting off to one of these thoughts. But when you do, you will know. Your conscience tells you.
‘How?’ you may think. It is that little whispering voice inside you. Rarely the dominant tone.
No, the latter is often loud and negative. Talks you down.
But the whispering voice, gently whispering things to you in the background. It gives cautious suggestions: “Are you doing the right thing?” it whispers softly.
And you know the answer, but then you do it anyway. That was your conscience. The trick is to listen to that whispering voice, instead of letting it fade into the background.
It also means going in the opposite direction from where your autopilot would like to lead you. That requires awareness.
For example: You suddenly have a strong feeling that you are missing something, because you had chosen something else. Also known as: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
It is very possible that this comes up at the first setback after making your choice.
The thing you said ‘no’ to now keeps coming back to your mind. You are no longer happy with your choice at all; the reason why you had thanked the other.
Suddenly, you only see the disadvantages. And worse: you idealize the alternative. You are completely out of the moment. This is just in your head.
Your conceptual mind has got the better of you. And it does not compare things fairly.
For he sees the alternative only going well, for that film takes place in your head in the hypothetical world.
While the consequence of your own choice appears realistic. For it comes with problems, which are simply a part of life.
You break your head about it: “Did I make the right decision?” “Why didn’t I go for the other one? In retrospect, that would have been much better.”
And suddenly…in the distance you hear your conscience whispering:
‘What are you worrying about? Why do you do that? Why are you overthinking such a small decision? Wouldn’t it be better to just stand firmly behind your choice and let it go?’
Hey, good idea: “Stop!”.
You can then turn these thoughts around by emphasising that it is good that you have listened to your intuition and that you may choose to do so vigorously.
You can be grateful that you had the choice, but you have made the choice and now you are going to go for it 100%. The alternative no longer exists. Only in your head. Learn your lesson, and move on.
It is different if you are not the one choosing what thought comes to your mind.
But even then, there is a countermeasure.
You cannot make the emotion and thought itself disappear forever, for it is part of being human, but you can prevent the suddenly arising thought influence you and make you unhappy.
The most important thing is to realise that you are not your thoughts and your emotions. You have them. And that means that you can, and will, get rid of them.
This insight can change everything for you. It puts you back in control.
It is counterproductive to want to get rid of everything that does not make you happy.
The more you try to get rid of something, the stronger it often comes back later. Perhaps we can see that there is something behind that thought or emotion.
That it is trying to tell us something.
You will only find this out if you dare to observe the emotion or thought without judgement.
Do not put linguistic labels on it. Do not give it names, such as: ‘anger’, ‘disappointment’, etc. That makes the emotion or thought bigger than it is. You then place it unjustly at the centre.
What you give attention is what grows.
If you zoom out and become aware of your body, you will find that the emotion is just a physical feeling in your body, often in a specific place.
For example, the ‘knot in your stomach’. A strange kind of feeling that shoots through your stomach, after which you feel uncomfortable. This is the physical consequence of the reasoning reaction in your head to an event.
That is all it is.
If you can look at your own negative thoughts and negative emotions in this way, a world will open up for you. You are not a part of it, but you are observing it.
You will realise that if you can allow them to be, they will disappear just as quickly as they appeared.
Sometimes they will not disappear immediately, but what always happens is that they continuously change ‘form’.
That is what is so special about it: thoughts and emotions – like everything in life – are always in motion.
If you dare and are able to approach them with an inquiring mind – without judgement – you will detach yourself from them.
Often you will find out what is behind it.
Then you will see that the deeper reason is hidden behind a shell of the thought or emotion. In this way, you can also find out the real cause.
Because it is almost always inside of us. In how we see things and how we see the world. In what we (repeatedly) focus on. What you focus on, where the attention goes and the energy flows. It becomes a reality in our heads.
And that’s often, without realising it, a pattern. We do it to ourselves.
And even if we don’t, this method will show you what to do: take action in the physical world, outside of your perception.
You may find that you have to act. To become active. And you know what you have to do.
That too is a possibility. In either case, you solve the cause.
Facing your thoughts and emotions in this way is a learning process and the beauty of it is that you keep getting better at it.
You can see more and more that although emotions and thoughts will always appear unintentionally – they are just part of life – we do not have to be determined by them.
We make that choice ourselves.
For this we need to be aware of it, and therefore it is crucial not to live on automatic pilot. Because then the negative thoughts will always win.
Our brain will naturally always focus on that.
Why? Because we are saddled with a brain that hasn’t been able to keep up with the rapidly evolving modern world we live in today. Based on millions of years of evolution, our brain is always automatically on the lookout for danger to protect us from.
And it always will.
So, we don’t have to make any effort for that negative focus. The autopilot does it for us.
Useful for survival in dangerous situations. Not so useful for being happy in today’s safe, modern world.
The quality of our lives in the long run is determined by the quality of the emotions we repeatedly experience.
Therefore, a happier life requires a more conscious life, so that we can regain control of our thoughts and the emotions associated with them.
So don’t use that automatic pilot too often. Always keep an overview yourself. Remain in charge.
Keep the responsibility.
Meditation, taking a few conscious, deep breaths several times a day, and writing down what you are grateful for – for example, every day before going to sleep – is an ideal moment to do so.
It’s not big things that are needed for big changes, but you have to do it yourself, consciously.
Teaching yourself routines with positive consequences. Because it’s not what we do once in a while that changes our lives, but what we do structurally.
And once you are in the flow, you are not going to want it any other way. It then feels much better to be in charge of your life’s flight yourself, than to be at the mercy of the whims of the automatic pilot.
Whether we repeatedly seek our thoughts ourselves (think: “stop!”) or not, in both cases the following is true:
If you think of them as clouds appearing before the sun: they come and they go, and we certainly do not have to go along with them on autopilot.
Then we can look at them with an inner peace of mind from a distance and see them slowly passing by.
Self-aware, and at the wheel.
With the confidence that the sun will soon shine again.