Thinking is something we all do. Thoughts arise from electrochemical signals and reactions that occur in our brain. These signals transform into symbols, language and meaning. Many things, including our environment, the circumstances we experience, our past history, intellect and genetics influence our thoughts. Thoughts can be ideas, memories, pictures and songs. They are our opinions and beliefs about ourselves and our world. Some are pleasant, some are disturbing. Our thoughts include our subjective perspective we bring to any situation or experience. Thoughts influence our feelings and actions.
We are aware of only a small fraction of the thinking that goes on in our minds. Most of it happens subconsciously. Underlying all conscious thought is unconscious analysis and interpretation.
Our perceptions of our experiences are a result of our brain’s best guess, given the conditions it is operating within, at the time. Generally, our brains predictions are reliable. They need to be for our survival. Sometimes though, we predict or interpret things incorrectly and then our beliefs or thoughts about an event or experience are flawed. Our brain’s ability and capacity to predict correctly is influenced by many factors including intellect, core beliefs, our physiological state such as being stressed or tired, glitches to sensory signals, distractions, the brain’s tendency to take short-cuts, and its tendency to lean toward negative predictions as a strategy for survival. No matter how sure we feel about our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us, we might be wrong. These flawed beliefs are often unknowingly reinforced over time, and they can be very difficult to recognize when they comprise part or all of our day-to-day thoughts.
Our minds are very powerful. The way we think about ourselves and our experiences, becomes our reality. Thoughts directly influence how we feel and act. For example, If you think you are a failure, you will likely feel discouraged, angry, frustrated and hopeless and thus are more prone to act in a manner that supports the belief that you are a failure. When you believe you are a failure, you will look for evidence that reinforces your belief and discount anything that contradicts it. Conversely, If you think you can be successful, you are more likely to feel hopeful and motivated and thus act in a manner that will lead you to achieve your goals and aspirations. Optimistic thoughts tend lead to productive behaviour and increase the likelihood of success. Our thoughts can be helpful or harmful. Consider this, what you think about, you create more of.
Thought patterns and deeply held beliefs about ourselves and the world around us drive our experiences. Negative or maladaptive thought patterns and limiting beliefs, can lead to problematic emotional states, behaviours and serious mental health issues.
There are many forms of flawed thought patterns. These are often referred to as cognitive distortions. Some common thought traps or distortions, are black and white thinking, overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions, mind-reading, focusing on the negative, disregarding the positive, catastrophic thinking, believing something to be true because it ‘feels’ true, should statements, personalizing, blaming and labelling. Each of these are patterns of thinking are false or inaccurate and can lead to serious mental health issues.
When we become aware of negative thought patterns or limiting beliefs, we can develop skills and strategies to change them. We can learn to transform harmful, unhelpful, negative thoughts to more constructive, adaptive, positive thoughts thus creating healthier feelings and behaviours more conducive to wellbeing. Thoughts, emotions and actions go hand in hand. Reframing limiting beliefs, practising mindfulness, developing an abundance mindset, visualization, building mental resilience and gratitude are tools that we can use to strengthen our ability to guide our thoughts to work for us instead of against us.
"The only limits you have, are the limits you believe". Wayne Dyer