Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Retraining
3 steps to retrain your mind for more constructive thoughts
Posted May 2, 2021 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
- The mind is biased toward negative thoughts, but it is possible to reframe thoughts in a more positive, yet still truthful way.
- The first step toward changing thoughts is noticing how often you construct negative scenarios in your head.
- Rewrite the scenarios to conform to the outcomes you want.
- Retraining your mind takes lots of practice—at first—and then gets easier.
In my last post, I discussed how our minds are prone to negativity and that a cycle of negativity can affect our children. In today's post, we will outline the three steps to retrain your mind for more constructive thoughts.
1. Notice your thoughts.
Stop. Take a breath. Notice all that chatter in your mind. Notice how often your interpretation of events is automatically negative:
- "If only I were more organized, things like this wouldn't happen!"
- "I just know she's going to give me a hard time about this."
- "I really blew it this time!"
You can see that many of your thoughts are just fear talking—negative conclusions based on interpretations of the world that don't serve you. And yet as they occur to us, we believe them without question.
As you go through your day, practice noticing your thoughts and their effect on you. How does what you think change your mood and your actions?
You might be dismayed at how quickly your mind gets into a rut of worry or resentment. Don't fret. Becoming aware of negative thoughts is the first step toward changing them. Once we notice, we stop automatically believing and acting on our thoughts. We have a choice.
2. Reframe negative thoughts.
As you notice each negative thought, hit your pause button. Transform that negative thought. Yes, even if it's "true." There is ALWAYS another, more empowering way to see the situation that is at least as true.
- "It's not an emergency. No high school kid is in diapers."
- "She's showing me that she doesn't yet have the skills to manage her own homework. I can help her begin developing those skills so she can be successful. Losing my temper at her doesn't help."
- "Nobody bats 1,000. Even though I yell sometimes, my child is still getting better parenting than I did. I am going to use this as motivation to take a Vow of Yellibacy!"
- "No, my child will not grow up to be a criminal; he’s acting like a kid because he IS a kid."
You always have a choice. Will you feel worse, or will you feel better? Choose a thought that makes you feel better.
Notice that as you reach for a more positive thought, your perspective shifts. Your mood lifts a bit. You feel more trust in the universe, in yourself, in your child. From this new perspective, positive thoughts—and actions—are more accessible. As you keep choosing them, you build momentum in a positive upward spiral.
3. Repeat many times daily.
The mind tends toward negativity, but it's also plastic, changing in response to repeated experience. So practice this all day long. When you wake up in the morning, notice your thoughts. If there's a thought that's making you tense, reframe it. If your child balks when you're trying to get him out the door, stop and notice your own thoughts. Choose a reframe that sees your child more positively (maybe he needs a hug right now?). As you go through your day, notice and choose thoughts that make you feel a little bit better.
When you find yourself manufacturing negative scenarios, reprogram your unconscious mind by suggesting a happier ending: “ Wouldn’t it be nice if this evening everything went smoothly at bedtime? Wouldn’t it be nice if tonight I stayed calm and cheerful and knew just what to do? ” Imagine what you want to have happen. You’ll be surprised at how happy your unconscious mind is to oblige.
Retraining your mind takes effort, but as you keep practicing, it gets easier. You can't jump from overwhelmed to joyful with one reframe. But you can shift from overwhelmed to a bit more trust and hopefulness. From that new perspective, you'll find yourself taking actions that have a more positive effect on challenging situations, and you'll find that you're thinking more positive thoughts.
Your child will still act like a child, but you'll start making things better instead of worse, more often. Before you know it, your mind will be a much happier place to hang out.