by Catherine Pratt
Whenever my dog, Barney, comes into the house after having been for a ride in the car, he runs to the pen we have set up for him by the back door. It’s not something we intentionally trained him to do. The habit came simply because my husband did it a few times when he needed him out of the way when we were bringing in a number of parcels. After doing it a few times, Barney just figures that’s what you do when you come inside after a car ride.
It’s the same with your thinking. You get into the habit of thinking a certain way and then you’ll rarely question it after that.
This is especially true when you were growing up. You developed habits that just made things easier for you. You probably didn’t even think about them. That’s just the way it was and that’s what you did. Just like Barney thinks he has to go into his pen, you do things automatically as well.
For example, when you were a kid, you may have been told not to “talk back” and to just keep quiet about things that were bothering you. These are habits that might have worked to keep you safe and out of trouble when you were young.
Now, that you're grown up, you may be finding that these previous strategies are actually causing you problems. In a relationship, not communicating isn't going to work as your partner can’t read your mind. What works when you're a child may not work when you become an adult.
When, you decide you need to change your thoughts, your brain may at first feel that it's not a safe thing to do. Lots of practice and years of experience says it’s not. Also, you don’t know to question the thought. It’s a truth for you. The trick is to look at your results and see if your thoughts are the cause.
A few tips to help you with learning to change your thoughts:
Be willing to question your thinking and ask yourself if there are thoughts that are hindering you. As you are now in a different phase of your life, different strategies may be needed.
One technique to try is whenever you feel anxious or upset when dealing with someone, ask yourself why you're feeling those emotions. Or ask yourself why you reacted a certain way.
If your answer is because you want people to like you or to approve of you, then you need to keep questioning yourself as to why you feel you need to do that.
Why do you doubt yourself?
Why do you think they won't like you if you simply be yourself?
You may discover that an event from your childhood has made you think that you need to respond to certain situations in a particular way. It may have been a good strategy when you were little but if it's not working for you now, then you need to change it.
Don’t just automatically respond the same way you always do. Pay attention to how you react and what actions you use to solve certain issues. You should be able to see how your behavior is creating the results you get.
If you don’t like the results then your thoughts might benefit from a few minor adjustments. Often just becoming aware of what you’ve been doing will change your habit.
It helps if you ask yourself every once in awhile, why are you doing the things you are?
- Is it because that’s the way you’ve always done them?
- Is it because you’re responding on automatic pilot?
- Is it to get a certain response from others?
Then ask yourself, "Is there a better way to do this?"
When learning to change your thoughts, it’s going to take time and practice. It’s not going to be something that you can change overnight. Being aware is definitely the first step and at first you might have to keep reminding yourself but after awhile, it will become your new habit and you won't have to think about it anymore.
If there are areas in your life that just aren't working whether it's with friends, work, or personal relationships, then this might be a clue that you need to change certain thought patterns.
Just telling yourself to think differently may not always work. You need to be aware of what, when, and why you usually tell yourself certain things. Once you know that, you can make the conscious effort to change it.
It can be hard to change something that’s been a part of you for a long time so be gentle on yourself. Building new habits takes time. It will also take a few times before your brain realizes, yes, it’s safe to do it this new way too. But by being aware of your thoughts, your results, and also by asking yourself "why" can lead you to changing those thoughts that no longer serve you.
This is definitely a worthwhile exercise as you'll be amazed at the difference you can make in your relationships simply by changing your thoughts.