By Dawn Walton
Guest writer for Wake Up World
We are all one thought away from happiness, but most of us don’t realise it. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could realise that and act on it? It’s all about our ability to realise that a thought isn’t real. Once we realise it’s not real, we can change it.
How can you tell the difference between a thought that you should pay attention to and one that’s trying to lead you astray? They all seem the same.
The subconscious is in charge for at least 90% of the day. It’s a primitive and defensive part of the brain. I think this is why we often focus on those things that aren’t right in our life (instead of those that are). There is a quote I often see shared “Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have”.
Have you ever had one of those days where one minute everything is ticking along fine and then you get some bad news and suddenly your whole world seems to close in on you? If you think about it, in that moment, all that’s changed is something in your head. Often there is nothing you can actually do as it has merely been information, but your perception and reality has changed.
Bad things are happening all the time (so are good things) but when they enter our reality, our thoughts change. In those moments, it becomes irrelevant that you can’t actually do anything. You work through different situations in your head, trying to prepare for lots of different scenarios – I call this “situation thinking”.
Thoughts Define Our Reality
When trying to help my clients understand that thoughts define our reality, I often use the old “glass half full/half empty” example.
Imagine that I hand you a glass filled up half way with chilled water (or a beverage of your choice).
You could take the glass off me, look at it and think “That’s just typical. I only ever get half a glass of anything. I bet everyone else would get a full glass. I always get short-changed”
Or you could take the glass off me, look at it and think “Marvellous! That is just what I wanted. I really needed a drink.”
The fact remains the same; the glass is filled to the halfway mark. What that means to you is down to your thoughts and your reality.
So why can it be so challenging to let thoughts go?
One of the things that distinguish us from animals is our ability to resist our primitive and basic survival needs. We don’t have to have sex with everyone we meet. We can have food in the cupboards rather than eating everything as soon as it enters the house.
We are used to ignoring the thoughts that come from our subconscious that drive these primitive needs. Every now and then we can have less control than we’d like, but generally we make choices every minute of every day that override base needs. This lulls us into a false sense of security. Because we can leave food in the cupboards, we believe that we have far more control of that type of thought than is actually true. As a result, we have a tendency to treat the remaining thoughts, those we act on, as facts.
What we don’t realise is that some thoughts sneak out from the subconscious and disguise themselves as conscious, rational thoughts. Let’s call them Ninja Thoughts for now.
Although Ninja Thoughts occupy the same space as conscious and rational thoughts, they are sent there by the subconscious. This means they are only there to keep you safe from threat at all costs. This often leads to actions based on a miscalculated perception of what is a threat.
Your subconscious works on a rule book established during childhood. The rules it follows are written based on the caveman rules of survival; a time where if you were hurt it would be physical and probably result in death. Now, being hurt means feeling upset, and there is little chance of death from that. But your Ninja Thoughts are still mobilised to protect you from getting hurt. Because they are in disguise, it can be hard to differentiate between them and ‘normal’ rational thoughts, and so you act on them.
The work I do with clients is about stopping the subconscious mobilising the Ninja Thoughts. With fewer of these misguided thoughts to get in the way, you have the freedom to make choices based on what is right for you, rather than taking an automatic defensive response. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as saying “Ta-da! The Ninja Thoughts have gone!” because your subconscious is still in control 90% of the time and so there are still Ninja thoughts hanging around; they are just not as powerful as they used to be. This means you can now ignore them.
It is my experience that positive people aren’t people who are free from negative thoughts. They are just people who are able to identify that thoughts aren’t real, and banish the negative thoughts in favour of focussing on the remaining positive ones.
Once I have freed my clients of the behaviours that come from their subconscious, they are free to take control of their thoughts. But they’ve never been able to do that before so I give them a little coaching on how they can master the skill of banishing unwanted thoughts. This is a different form of mindfulness than the one often talked about. Many of my clients tell me they over-analyse stuff. They beat themselves up for dwelling on stuff and getting caught up in whirlpools. Once I have cleared a rule from their subconscious I need to teach them how to master those thoughts. It’s not about stopping them. It’s about transforming them!
Learn How To Banish Thoughts
This is a task I give my clients that you might find works for you too.
- Set an alarm for 60 seconds
- Focus on your breathing
- When a thought enters your head label it. Maybe you can label it as a worry, a thing to do, a thought from the past. It doesn’t matter what label you use, just stick a label on each thought.
- Once a thought has been labelled, imagine it leaving your head again. There are a number of different ways you can imagine the thoughts appearing and you’ll find a way that’s right for you. Examples might include: imagine the thoughts as branches on a tree, as each grows it turns to jelly (jello) and drops to the ground, or imagine each thought is like a post-it note that floats off a wall, or a leaf dropping off a tree and floating down the river. It doesn’t matter how you visualise it, just make sure you allow the thought into your head, visualise it, label it, and send it away.
- After you’ve labelled the thought and sent it away focus on your breathing again and when the next thought comes in, just label it and send it away again.
Do this for a week at 60 seconds. Initially you might find yourself glancing at your alarm after 5-10 seconds. Stick at it. Eventually you might find that you’re able to get through all 60 seconds repeating the visualisation.
Don’t worry if it takes you a while to get to the full 60 seconds, people spend years dedicating their lives to mastering this. Give yourself credit for any amount of time where you can achieve this, rather than beating yourself for not being able to meet a specific target.
The more you master the skill of moving thoughts in and out of your head during this set time, the more you might begin to realise that you are able to do it moment by moment as you go through your day. Pretty soon you can find that stuff doesn’t stick. We all have stuff that brings us down or makes us mad, the difference happens when you recognise that you only have to put up with those feelings for hours instead of days or weeks.
This isn’t about becoming a robot and not being affected by stuff. This is about learning that your thoughts define your reality and if you change your thoughts, you can change your reality.
Which brings me back to my main point. Positive people are not people who don’t have negative thoughts. They are people who are able to get rid of the negative thoughts and remain focussed on the positive ones.
Recommended reading by Dawn Walton:
- You Are Depressed For a Reason… But It’s Not What You Think
- You’re Not a Mind Reader – Stop Worrying What Other People Think of You
- Sleep Problems Come From the Day Not the Night
- Addiction is Not Necessarily an Addiction for Life
- Fight, Flight… or Fun? Turning Anxiety into Anticipation
- Even Positive People Have Negative Thoughts
- Understanding and Overcoming Food Addiction
About the author:
Dawn Walton is the author of The Caveman Rules of Survival, and a practicing cognitive hypnotherapist. She runs sessions in person out of offices in Dundee and Aberdeen in the UK, and internationally via Skype and Facetime; most clients only need two or three sessions to rewrite the rules in their rule book.
You can connect with Dawn via: