Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Practicing Mindfulness in your daily life as often as possible can give us the power to become less reactive to thoughts and feelings. We can begin to intentionally notice what our mind is up to and begin to retrain it to operate in a more useful way. The mind is very adaptive and does what it believes we want, but in the absence of intentional training can spiral into thinking processes that hurt us in different ways.
Don't Jump to Negative Thoughts
One trap most of us fall into is overthinking about things we don’t have control over or catastrophizing. Our minds will start thinking about something coming up in our future and all the ways it is likely to go wrong. The mind believes it is being helpful, warning of potential disaster by using prior experience or something we have read or seen happen to others. This type of thinking often produces anxiety or despair and can negatively impact our ability to function.
Start a Practice of Noticing
One way to begin the process of retraining our minds is to start a practice of noticing thought processes that are not useful. Thinking that is full of self-doubt or based on “what ifs” does not serve any useful purpose and can be worked with. Obviously, we need to think about things at times such as figuring out the logistics of how we are going to accomplish something or set goals. This process is to begin paying attention to our thoughts and noticing the difference between these thinking patterns.
We start this practice of noticing thoughts as if it is a subject line of an email and we have the choice to open it or to decide based on the subject that it is not useful. If the subject of the email says something like “you are not good enough to accomplish this goal”, it is probable that it is not going to help, and you should not open it. By opening the email, I mean spiraling into thoughts about all the ways you are not good enough and letting your mind argue this unsupported claim. Instead, you can choose to notice the subject, acknowledge your mind for having it but intentionally decide to refocus your attention back to something useful.
Accept that You are Only Human and Be Mindful
Of course, being human you will still fall into the trap of spiraling thoughts at times. The negativity trap can catch up to you. When you notice this is occurring simply acknowledge that it has happened, that it is not useful, and refocus your attention. This process takes time and practice but will help your mind adapt to a more useful and focused way of thinking. It will also become more automatic as you practice and eventually become second nature, requiring less work.
Bruce A. Craig