We all have thoughts; they come in all shapes and sizes. There is a claim that we process 70,000 thoughts in a day. Thoughts will lead to our behaviour and our emotions. Through my time in mental health (both studying it and also going through it myself), I have found people will underestimate the power of thoughts, and they don’t give thoughts the appreciation which they deserve. I find a majority of people sometimes are aware of all their thoughts, they may be aware of the odd one or two thoughts which they have, but not all or the effect which they are having on them in the bigger picture. Thoughts are the ingredients to our behaviour, what we think directly affects our behaviour; this too is something which is overlooked a lot of the time when people discuss thoughts.
I have been in the same position where I have overlooked the power of thoughts, and what they can actually take effect on, and how they affect me. It wasn’t until I began to do mindfulness and that I started to pay attention to all of my thoughts, the good thoughts and the bad thoughts. It was a long process firstly; to learn to recognise thoughts without interacting with them, and not taking them further. Secondly, it was another challenge to dismiss the thoughts which were beneficial to me and others which had some benefit. There were many processes which I underwent to gain control over the thoughts and to stop the thoughts controlling me. Firstly, I used the mindful suggestion to see thoughts as passing clouds in the sky, and I was lying in a meadow. The other metaphor was to see the thoughts as cars on motorway, and I was sat on the verge watching them go by. This took a while to get used to, as I was used to interacting with the thoughts and believing the thoughts. It takes perseverance to dissociate with thoughts, especially when they have been such a prominent part of your own internal thought processes.
Once I had gained control of recognising thoughts, and learning to dissociate with thoughts, I could then observe thoughts healthily. I could manipulate the thoughts which I didn’t feel were beneficial to me. There are a few ways in which this could be done, change the voice of the thoughts; one of the things I did was to give the voices a Mickey Mouse voice. Another way in which thoughts can be changed is to change the colour, make them black and white; or if it is appearing as a film, change it to still pictures. One of the last ways in which I found quite beneficial to deal with thoughts was to write them down in a journal. I found that by writing down the thoughts, I was able to see what they were and to put them into perspective. The thoughts which were not beneficial to me, I was able to see much more clearly when written down; and in some cases how stupid they were as well. A similar technique to use is to say the thoughts out loud. When hearing the thoughts out loud, it again puts them into perspective and they can be disregarded or dealt with accordingly after.
Once I had gained insight into my thoughts and my thought processes, I was quite shocked at the effect on my behaviour which something so abstract can have. I noticed that when I was feeling low in mood, to become observant of my thoughts, and I was able to challenge the thoughts or I would use one of the techniques above. By doing this I was able to think the opposite of what was putting me in a low mood, and this lifted my mood. This shows the power of thoughts, in that they can change your mood and also change your outlook on situations.
Thought training is also a major training point with athletes, they are trained to rid themselves of thoughts where they aren’t winning, or not achieving their goals. Their thought training gets them to focus on winning and achieving their goals. This provides evidence for the weight which is put upon thoughts, in that athletes, who train physically for their run, sprint, jump, etc, also dedicate time of their training sessions to the thoughts and thought processes which they go through.
I believe that thoughts are powerful, and they should be given more appreciation for the effects which they can have on our mood and behaviours. I also believe that more attention should be given to the control of thoughts especially when they are negative and causing the person distress. It is a belief of mine that a majority of mental illness has its roots in the thoughts which the person has. Giving people the tools and strategies with which to deal with unwanted thoughts, and changing the thoughts would be beneficial to all who suffer with any mental illness, chronic or short term.
Dale Burden is Psychreg’s Mental Health Correspondent. Dale holds a dual honours degree in Psychology and Neuroscience from Keele University. He later on completed two further counselling certificates. With seven years experience of working in the healthcare sector (mainly with people who display challenging behaviour, learning difficulties and dementia), Dale shares a wealth of information with his articles on mental health. Dale also uses goal-oriented techniques to help people set their own goals and achieve them.