‘You are what you think you are’ is popular in the Buddhist teachings, showing just how powerful thoughts can actually be. If you are thinking happy things, you will in turn be happy and the same is true for sadness.
I am reading a book which tried to explain the mind-body connection, that there is cause and effect with both. If you are thinking happy thoughts in your mind, this is shown on the body with an upright posture, smile on your face, and general all-round happy demeanour. This system also works in the other direction, if you are slouching and frowning and overall showing a low mood and poor posture, this encourages sad and often depressing thoughts.
This ‘theory’ of the mind and body being connected is still not completely accepted by all, and some don’t believe in the principle altogether. In my times of feeling low and down in mood, this was something which I turned to, and I gave it a go. I was feeling low and slightly depressed one day, and the self-help book I was reading at the time suggested looking up for 10 seconds. This process of looking up is meant to symbolise there are no limits – the sky is the limit. Rather than looking down at the ground where you can’t see anything apart from the pavement. The process of looking up then triggers your mind to think upwards, and to think of the possibilities. When I did this the first time, I thought nothing of it, however, I kept doing it and I now find myself walking around with my head held up and feeling more positive about myself.
The other way in which I tried to improve my mood was through making myself look good to also feel good. What I mean by this is I would make sure I was cleanly shaven, my hair was styled, and that I dressed smartly. Seeing myself look good then gave me the confidence to think positive, and this was also reinforced by comments from friends and family and others that I met, saying how well and how good I looked.
Before finding these techniques to change how I thought, I would always be thinking myself useless and inadequate. No matter what I did or said reinforced these beliefs, and those comments which I received from others, I would make them fit into my way of thinking about myself. I was thinking I was utterly useless and, in the process of this thinking, I had made myself useless. This was because I wasn’t being helpful to anyone, including myself, to change my mood and thoughts.
One of the first things which I read, which started making me think to change my thought patterns was: ‘You can think you’re a porcupine all day, but you will never become a porcupine.’ The idea behind this sentence was that you can think all things, but that doesn’t mean they are true. As the sentence says, just because you think you’re a porcupine doesn’t mean you are one. Thinking I was useless didn’t necessarily mean I was useless, it was just what I was thinking at the time. Another technique that I found useful was to give the thoughts a silly voice, to emphasise the point it is a thought and it can be controlled by me, and not me by it – the voice which I ended up using was that of Mickey Mouse. By doing this, it made the thoughts funny as well as making me realise that they were just thoughts.
Thoughts are what you make them, but thoughts can also make you. It is important to have great control over your thoughts as they affect a lot of ourselves and, until I went through the self-help, I didn’t realise the grand effect thoughts can have on the ‘bigger picture.’
Dale Burden studied psychology and neuroscience. Having suffered from depression and anxiety, Dale wanted to better understand mental health. He is on Twitter.