Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Thoughts are not facts yet our thinking shapes our reality

Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches us that our thoughts are not facts, we can question the ideas in our minds. Mindfulness teaches us to view our thoughts as waves upon a beach, constantly coming and going, sometimes soft and gentle at other times rough and violent. We are not our thoughts yet our thinking shapes how we experience our lives.

Christmas this year was easier due to the techniques and practices I have learnt but one experience left me feeling unnerved, raw and distressed. The scenario, seeing 2 seconds of a cartoon! My dad had just switched on the Disney film Up. Immediately my heart started racing and I couldn't leave the room quick enough. “This film should have a mental health warning” I muttered to my confused father: “Oh yes is it because his wife dies?” “No” I reply “Death is a natural part of life.....” I finish the end of my sentence in my head as I have already reached the kitchen “.... it's the fact that the film covers a subject which is probably as unnatural as you can get.”

I didn't even watch the scenes of the couple decorating a nursery, then crying at a doctors appointment, then undecorating the nursery. This section of the film is only a few minutes long and involves no words, yet my mind in a split-second had recalled watching the film in the past and the emotions it evoked and then projected how I would feel to watch it again and decided it was safer not to.

Nothing had changed in my personal situation for one second to the next. I was still not pregnant, still planning an IVF round for February, I went from being perfectly content and considering which Roses chocolate to have next, to tense and upset purely from imagining watching a cartoon! I repeat, I did not even watch the film, I was just recalling how I felt when I'd watched it in the past. What can we learn from this?

The only experience we can ever have is of our own thinking.1

The outside world is not creating our emotions, our thoughts about the world are. I know this, I've been practising mindfulness for well over a year and I'm training to be a cognitive hypnotherapist but still, my thoughts were powerful enough to affect me deeply. This is where acceptance comes in, a problem can arise when we do not accept that our thinking is just that, just thinking, just a story our thoughts are telling us. When we fight to change our thinking or ignore it we risk intensifying those thoughts by giving them attention. The old chestnut of positive thinking comes into play here. I'm sure we have all been told “Just stay positive and it will happen.” I am a great believer in doing everything we can to feel happier and I have read and been inspired by many “positive thinking” books and agree with many of the principles discussed, the issue surfaces when we do not accept our current situation/thoughts and instead try to force ourselves to think positively.

In my Up scenario the “positive thinking” route would be to stick a big smile on my face and watch the film, all the while chanting in my head “It's all okay I will have a baby, I will, I will, I will!” or to utilise affirmations correctly “It's all okay. I am pregnant. I am pregnant. I am pregnant!” Hmmmm that would have guaranteed that I was fighting my thoughts and feelings at that time. So many of us have set off down that route of beginning to believe that the reason we not yet pregnant is because we have not been positive enough, which is a great way to make yourself incredibly anxious and unhappy!

A fantastic question to ask yourself if feeling distressed is “What thought is creating this feeling?” and then “ Is this thought helpful?” If a thought is making you unhappy then let it go. It really is that simple. Thoughts only have any power over us if we give them power. I talk in my fertility summit interview about imagining your thoughts as snowflakes in a snow globe, to just let them float down like autumn leaves, leaving your mind clear.

Another powerful version of this is to imagine that your thoughts are colourful helium balloons. Some beautiful, bright and joyous, others black, oppressive and depressing. These thoughts can only affect you if you hang onto them or start to fight them. If you try to shove a thought down, it will have the same response as a balloon, resurfacing the second you release your attention. This is very much how I see traditional positive thinking, shoving your negative thoughts down with the use of positive statements. If however you imagine simply opening your hands and releasing the ribbons of those balloons they would float ever upwards and out of your consciousness. The same thought may pop into your mind again and again, but if each time you simply recognise that this thought is not helpful to you just release it's ribbon and let it float away.

You may find it hard to let go of some thoughts or they may feel like balloons that are tied to you. In this case imagine cutting the ribbons with a pair of golden scissors. If you are still unable to free yourself then this is where EFT (Emotional freedom technique) is perfect. We all have thoughts and beliefs that are tied to us. Any statement that begins with:

I am....................
I am not...............
I will.....................
I will never............
Life is...................
Life is not.............

Many of our statements are not facts but beliefs that affect our lives. EFT allows you undercover and release any beliefs that are not benefiting you.

For your free 5 minute guided mindfulness meditation and '10 easy ways to bring mindfulness into your day' poster sign up at the bottom of this blog. If you are interested in learning more about EFT and how:

Thoughts are not facts yet our thinking shapes our reality.
  • How trying to 'stay positive' may be the root of anxiety and even unhappiness.
  • Why we need emotions both positive and negative.
  • How to free ourselves from the negative once we understand the intention behind them and allow our natural positivity to surface.

For your free 5 minute guided mindfulness meditation and '10 easy ways to bring mindfulness into your day' poster sign up here.

1. Somebody should have told us! Simple truths were living well. Jack Pransky. 

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