“Conscious thoughts, repeated often enough, become unconscious thinking.”
We’ve all been there before. Moments when we get caught up in troubling thoughts and/or emotions connected with a past experience that didn’t go well for us. Perhaps it was a colleague, family member, or friend who may have annoyed, frustrated, or angered us. Or it might have been something that happened in a meeting or a confrontation we might have had with someone close to us. Whatever the negative event or interaction was that we had experienced, it can be quite easy, as humans, to re-live these moments in our mind which can cause us to re-experience the same negative emotions connected to that particular event or interaction.
“If only I would’ve given them a piece of my mind and told them what I really thought.”
“I should’ve stood up for myself and reminded them that they’re the ones that keep screwing up not me.”
“If only I wouldn’t have been so nervous when speaking in front of the group, I would’ve been able to communicate my message so much more confidently.”
“The next time he/she says that to me again, I’m going let them have it straight back.”
“Why does that person always think that I’m incapable of doing things for myself”
Re-living the past can be commonplace for many people as they can be quite harsh on themselves and find themselves re-experiencing negative emotions and feelings with regularity.
Dr. Joe Dispenza, a neuroscientist and best-selling author, states in his book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself that there is such a strong connection between our bodies and our brains and that the mere thought of negative events or experiences from the past can trigger neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in our brains to send messages to our bodies. This immediately causes specific hormones to be released that spark the negative emotions we find ourselves consumed by or even trapped by. These negative emotions can range from very mild to quite harsh and even damaging if repeated on a consistent basis in our lives.
Of course, it is human nature to experience negative emotions. However, through greater self-awareness, we can become more cognizant of habitual thinking and feeling loops in our lives that do not serve us well and hold us back from being a better version of ourselves.
The thinking and feeling loop is very real and presents itself to us multiple times a day. Below the surface, there are some very strong and intense chemical reactions taking place that are directly responsible for producing the thoughts and feelings that we experience on a daily basis. When these thinking and feeling loops are rooted in positive emotions, we can experience intense feelings or joy and contentment. However, when we continually allow ourselves to re-live negative moments from the past, it can cause a downward spiraling of emotions and feelings that push us into a very negative state of being.
Mindfulness is a great way to be present and to draw attention to the habitual thought patterns that we find ourselves potentially repeating with regularity in our lives. In an effort to better understand these repetitive thinking and feeling loops, we can put ourselves in a much better position to deal with negative emotions and feelings in more proactive ways by putting mindfulness into action.
A strategy that Andy Puddicome, the co-founder of the mindfulness app called Headspace, promotes through some of the meditations he teaches is a labelling strategy. This strategy is aimed at drawing awareness to the negative thinking and feeling loops that we experience that may be troubling to us.
The purpose of the labelling strategy is to disrupt this type of thinking by ensuring that we do not let these thoughts and feelings determine our identity and become who we are.
Puddicome asks his listeners, as they sit in a meditative state, to allow thoughts and feelings to come and go. Many people, as they meditate, try to cut off these feelings and work endlessly to ignore them or push them away. It can be a constant battle in our minds as we try to deflect or cut off these negative emotions and feelings.
Instead, we are meant to just sit with them and notice them, but rather than saying, “I’m angry” or “I’m frustrated” or “I’m worthless”, we simply flip these statement to being a label.
We can do so by saying things such as, “Oh, that’s anger” or “That’s frustration” or “That’s doubt”. In creating these labels, it depersonalizes these negative emotions and feelings. We notice these emotions and feelings, we label them, and let them pass. These thoughts and feelings do not define us or our identity.
Rather than cutting off these negative thinking and feeling loops, we can raise are own levels of self-awareness in order to disrupt them. When we do this over time, we can lessen the neurological impact that they have on us thus decreasing the intensity of these emotions.
Once we practice raising our levels of self-awareness through the labelling strategy described above, we put ourselves in a position to be immediately catch ourselves when we are re-creating or re-living negative thoughts and emotions that we have experienced in the past. We begin to understand that we do not want these past emotions dictating our future. We place little value on these emotions and develop the ability to reframe and restructure how we want to feel, think, and act in order to experience more fulfillment and joy in our lives.
As you reflect on your past week, what negative thinking and feeling loops might you be experiencing? What kinds of feelings and emotions are being generated as a result of these negative loops? How are these negative loops impacting your state of being or mood?
I encourage you to sit in total silence for 10 minutes and put on a timer.
As you sit in silence, notice and observe any negative thoughts or feelings.
Let these thoughts and feelings simply float around within your mental space without judgement.
Do not try to fight them off, cut them off, or deflect them.
Simply attach a label to them and what they represent instead of diving into the reasons for these thoughts and feelings. (Ahh, that’s anger or that’s frustration)
Breath and repeat as many times as needed in that ten minutes.
If you get distracted return to the breath and let your thoughts come and go.
It takes a lot of practice, but you can get better and better at it. Once you are done the ten minutes, if you want to take it to the next level, journal about the experience. It always helps to put it down on paper.
Hope you try this out. Thanks for reading.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily