In this age of electronic devices and media outlets, endless numbers of things are vying for our attention. In fact, there is so much information coming in at such a high rate that our minds are truly overrun by stimuli.
Our nervous system is consistently gathering information, but our brain has limits on the amount of information it can focus on and process at any given time. And we can become so consistently distracted that we end up spending time and energy on things that do not matter. If we can direct our attention to what is most important and let go of distractions, we can more successfully and efficiently achieve our goals, feel how we want to feel, and create the life we want to live.
From the borage of non-stop messaging our minds have to wade through, we can get tricked into believing that our attention should be on things outside ourselves. We may use our energy paying attention to what other people are doing, how they are living their lives, what others are achieving, what and whom others think we should be, and so on. This practice of constantly looking outside of ourselves feeds the cultural norm of comparison and judgment, frequently leaving us feeling bad about ourselves.
We can get so distracted by things outside of us that we aren’t even noticing our own thoughts. Our thoughts create our reality, influence how we feel, and direct how we show up in our lives. And we create thoughts about what we are paying attention to.
Mindfully choosing the information that we focus on can have an impact on our quality of life. If we can mind our own mind, we can begin to recognize that we are not our thoughts or our emotions, and as the watcher of our mind, we can direct our thoughts to create the results that we desire.
When we first begin to recognize the thoughts we automatically engage in, we may find more negative thoughts than we would like. These are sometimes referred to as ANTs or Automatic Negative Thoughts. The best thing to do when we identify one of these thoughts is to watch for it and to simply identify or label the thought when it pops up. If we can call these thoughts out, they will no longer be the stealthy programming happening without our noticing. This practice of thought awareness pulls us out of auto-pilot and allows us to make changes.
Next, we want to stop ourselves from reflexively trying to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. If we have been in the habit of believing negative thoughts, it is more helpful to first shift toward a neutral thought. For example, if we are starting to recognize an automatic thought like “I am so stupid”, it would be too far of a leap for the mind to switch to instantly believing something like “I am brilliant”, so perhaps we begin with a thought like “I am learning”. With consistent awareness and redirection to a neutral thought, the negative thoughts will begin to fall away and we will experience a shift in how we feel and how we show up in our lives as the result of our thinking. It takes practice, but it is well worth it.
Finally, we also want to notice and shift our posture along with our thoughts. Our posture not only reflects our internal environment, it can also influence it. When we come into a posture of confidence, alignment, and openness, our mind releases neurotransmitters to support that posture, and we can not only shift our mood but create muscle memory to support the thoughts we are practicing.
For more information like this, please join the YogaFit Positive Psychology training. In that training, we are practicing awareness, creating new neural pathways, and learning easy-to-use skills to shift the habits in our minds.