This article could easily be the most ‘practical’ and ‘how to’ I have ever done. So much so the title could be in CAPS and something like ‘How to improve your life and wellbeing with four simple tips!’
Recently, my ability to think realistically has been improving my situation. By no longer being prey to a wandering mind, suffering is limited and thinking realistic. Anxiety disorders and negative thinking are the ultimate causers of ‘secondary suffering’. Life will sometimes bestow some suffering upon us – this could be low mood, injury, Winter time, what have you. But this can be made far worse and more protracted if we are in negative patterns or anxious states. The secondary suffering is in fact often worse than the primary.
Fortunately, we can be in control of our thoughts. I cannot easily say the same for mood and depression and fundamental emotions; this is a much deeper mystery with a much more complex healing. But over your thinking, you are sovereign.
This is the first thing to understand. Lets repeat it – over thought you are sovereign, over thought you are sovereign, over thought you are sovereign. No one else can control your thinking. It is yours, the gift of your sentience.
Now let us begin to look at 4 C’s which can help diminish or destroy negative thinking patterns. When you find yourself lost in a negative thought…
I) Catch it
ii) Categorize it
iii) Challenge it
I find the first stage, catching it, to be the most important. Often our thoughts swim hither and tither, getting more and more wrapped up in their own logic. Training yourself to catch those initial forays into negative patterns is essential.
Remember, our lazy brains want routines and patterns – even bad or unuseful ones! There is a certain auto-pilot to us, and until we are sentient and sovereign over thoughts, we are at risk of being dragged along by them. You have to catch yourself out, it is the only way. Get into the practice of catching your thoughts.
Once you have caught a thought, you can categorize it. I find this very useful, because it can quickly reveal whether the thought is rational or not.
‘Oh god the man next door is shouting down the phone again, I will never get to sleep and tomorrow will be ruined and…’
This can be categorized as predicting and catastrophizing. It diminishes the power of the thought greatly to categorize it. Other categories include mind reading, generalization, emotional reasoning (because I feel this it must be true), black and white thinking, diminishing or exaggerating problems. Once you categorize, you can rest assured that you are not the only person with this kind of thinking pattern, and just how common it is in our culture. This greatly diminishes the power of a thought, and is often enough to quell it.
However if a thought gets through the categorization filter, then it can be challenged. This means weighing up the evidence for and against it. How much do you truly believe a thought to be true? Really turn it upside down and inside out. Rate it as high or as little as it deserves. Challenge it!
And then, conclude accordingly. Often my conclusion means dismissing a thought as having no significance or truth value (this is because I have a very loud negative voice in my head, it might be different for you). Compulsive and intrusive thoughts are powerful and can be more disturbing. With these, really challenge by asking ‘how is this significant?’ and seek more detailed guides on OCD and the like.
I hope this is useful. Practice, practice, practice, and seek out CBT therapist or self-help if you need extra support. Of course, being able to meditate or turn down the volume on thoughts is also very powerful, but these require a lot of time and patience. The four c’s are far quicker to get, and can tide you over until you attain enlightenment beneath that elder tree!
In summary: over thought you are sovereign. When a thought comes into your head, catch it, categorize it, challenge it and conclude accordingly. You are master over your thoughts. You have the power to diminish secondary suffering.