Once somebody gets proficient at catching and putting the brakes on the old, automatic thoughts that elicit those familiar feelings of stress, worry, depression, anger, or self-doubt (The Old Stinkin’ Thinkin’) they can begin to steer their thoughts in a different direction that produces more overall peace and happiness. Remember that the old thoughts don’t control you and that in the same manner that you unintentionally rehearsed them and made them automatic, you can rehearse a new set of thoughts that will become more automatic over time and that will allow you to talk yourself through any life situation and to feel the way you desire. Conceptually, this is a simple process, but in practice, it is very difficult because the old thoughts are so ingrained that they seem to be true. It takes significant initial energy and effort to begin changing the self-talk in ways that will work much better for you.
The question to ask yourself as you try to change the characteristic thoughts that you typically attach to situations, is, “How can I talk myself through this in a more encouraging, calming, realistic way?” There is always more encouraging versus discouraging, calming versus alarming, and realistic versus over exaggerated self-talk that can be attached to a situation that has hit and initially created some negative emotion. I’ll go through several examples of what this process might look like.
Let’s say that a person who often feels stressed and worried looks at their schedule of all the things they have to do that day or week and first attaches the old, automatic thoughts to this, such as, “I’m never going to be able to get all this done; I’m so overwhelmed; Why is my life always so stressful; What if I can’t get the house cleaned before people come over and see it; What if I don’t get that work project done today and my boss gets upset; What if….(these “what ifs” can go on indefinitely and generate more and more stress and worry!).
But……since this person is working on catching their thoughts, they quickly think, “Ah, there go my old stressful thoughts kicking into gear, okay, how am I going to change them in a more encouraging, calming, realistic manner before they get rolling?” And they tell themselves, “There is a lot to do, but I’ll just take it one thing at a time and do the best I can; I can manage all of this….I do it all the time; None of this stuff is life or death and I’m not going to make myself all stressed out if I don’t get something done; I’m not going to what if the future by predicting alarming things….I’ll get most of this to turn out just fine.”
Or another person who often views things as annoying and irritating gets poor customer service help from a seemingly unfriendly and impolite worker. Their automatic, anger inducing thoughts start rolling and they think, “Why can’t anybody be polite anymore in our society; What happened to good customer service; That person is such a jerk; I hate having to deal with people!”
But……again this person catches those old thoughts, observes them neutrally for a second, and reminds themselves to try to look at this in a more encouraging, calming, realistic manner. “This person wasn’t the friendliest, but there are lots of polite people I deal with; Actually, I often do get good customer service or at least somebody that is doing their best to try to help me; This person might just be having a bad day or maybe something happened that has them in a bad mood…..who knows, maybe if my life were exactly like theirs I might have a hard time not acting like them.”
Another example could be of a person who’s typical self-talk leaves them feeling discouraged, self-doubting, and unconfident. “Why can’t I do anything right; I hate how I look; I’m never going to accomplish the things I want; Why can’t I be pretty like my coworker; I’ll never be happy.”
But they catch these thoughts and change them as described before….. “This didn't turn out quite like I hoped but I try hard and I do lots of things well; I may not be as happy as I’d like to be right now, but I’ll keep working at it and I’ll achieve the happiness I desire in time; I can become confident, strong, and I can believe in myself!”
The first time or 50 times that the people in these examples change their thoughts as described might result in them feeling only marginally better, only a little more encouraged, hopeful, calm, and happy. But then picture them sticking with this process through hundreds of life situations over weeks and months, and you can see how it is possible, with enough rehearsal, to permanently change those old thoughts and feelings and to experience the happiness, hopefulness, and calm that you may desire. Give it a try and stick with it!