I keep hearing from people that they can’t help what they are thinking. That it’s not their fault they can’t be in a happy place. That they can’t just choose to be positive. But is any of that true? Can we choose our thoughts? Speaking as someone who had anxiety and overcame anxiety I feel I’m in a reasonable position to make an unbiased judgement. My initial opinion would be that no, we can’t choose our thoughts. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t choose to be positive. It doesn’t mean you can’t choose to at least try to move towards being happier. Let me explain!
Thoughts are random. They come from the depths of your subconscious mind. You don’t choose to have that scary thought about seeing your Aunt naked (don’t lie, you know you have!), or that brief flash in your head that exposed a deep-seated desire to stab your boss with the business end of a screwdriver! And you don’t choose to think that when you get on the train, everyone is going to laugh at the way you walk and be disgusted at your dress sense. However, you CAN choose your REACTION to those thoughts. And you can also prime your mind so that you don’t have as many negative thoughts and far more positive ones.
CHOOSE YOUR REACTION
The problem is that most people don’t realise that you can choose your reaction to thoughts. For those who have an anxiety disorder, it’s a lot more difficult for them to do this because for whatever reason, they have become a slave to their thoughts. But let there be no doubt; the way to overcome anxiety is to learn how to tame those thoughts. A person with anxiety (or depression) is stuck in a cycle of negative thinking that they can’t escape from. Someone without anxiety still has anxious thoughts. But their thoughts don’t dominate their life in the same way. They aren’t as intense. They don’t allow those anxious thoughts and feelings to drag them down. They don’t focus on them for so long. But they still have those anxious thoughts. Maybe not the same ones or as frequently, but they are still there. They just REACT differently to them.
If someone shouts at you for example, you have a choice in how you react. Many don’t realise this and automatically become angry, blaming the person who shouted at them for making them so.
But actually, only YOU can make yourself angry. It was your CHOICE to react that way. Another person might have laughed in response. Another might have elicited no emotion and ignored the tirade. It’s ALWAYS a choice.
The same comes when in any anxious situation. Initially, you will automatically feel anxious at say, having to get on a crowded train. But once you are able to disassociate yourself from the thought and then consciously dissect and analyse it, you would realise that there is no real reason to have that fear. You aren’t in danger. No one is thinking bad things about you. I’m not saying that’s easy but I am saying you can do it, if you really work hard to control your emotional response. Because only YOU can give any meaning to something external. Only YOU can turn it into good or bad or neutral. And only YOU can keep focused on that thought, ruminating on it over and over instead of moving on.
It won’t happen overnight. It takes time to rewire those thought patterns because they have been strengthened through years of repeated thinking. That’s how the brain works. But the more you learn to stop, disassociate, analyse and then replace the thought with a different, positive or neutral one, the more new neural pathways will form and strengthen, old ones will break and disappear and the wires will reconnect to their proper order.
For me, there is too much emphasis on the word “illness” and this makes people believe that they can never overcome it. I prefer to look at it like this. Someone with anxiety may have a disorder, triggered by a situation, person, incident or picked up over time through life experience. In essence, the mind has become tangled – thought processes are not working as they should be. The circuits in the brain need rewiring or balancing. The way to do that is to create new neural pathways in the brain. This can be done by thinking in the right manner. And yes, that means turning negative thoughts into positive ones.
You can only do that by making the CHOICE to focus on positive thoughts more than negative ones. To say this can’t be done because you are “ill” is wrong. It’s tougher because you have had this anxiety for a consistent period, but it’s not impossible.
People with anxiety don’t go through the whole day thinking anxious or negative thoughts. There will be times when you are positive. So why not choose to do more things that create that positive feeling? Instead of spending your time getting upset over the news, what’s on your Twitter or Facebook feed, why not do something which is going to prime your mind with positivity? That’s just one simple choice you can make. Learn to prime your mind with positivity by taking ACTION which will allow that.
THE SUBCONSCIOUS MIND
The problem is that our subconscious mind stores all our fears. It works on autopilot – we aren’t even aware of the fact that it’s basically controlling our life. So this is why it seems as though we have no control. But once you understand how to reprogramme your subconscious mind, so it doesn’t repeat those negative cycles of thought, that is where you will be able to prime your mind so that it is more likely to produce positive thoughts.
When you have a mental health issue, your subconscious has become overloaded with negative thought patterns – the wires have become tangled. It’s almost impossible to rewire without getting access to the subconscious.
That’s why things like hypnotherapy are so good – because they access your subconscious by bypassing your conscious mind. If you try to makes changes from a conscious position, it’s far harder. CBT aims to do this but it can take months or even years of continuous practice for that to work, because you have to ingrain new habits and thought processes at a subconscious level but you are doing it from a conscious level.
I’m not saying anyone with anxiety chooses to think such negative things. Of course they aren’t, that would be stupid! But once a person understands that the way to recovery is to learn how to observe their thoughts and then how to react to them, that then becomes their choice. You can’t choose your thoughts………but you CAN choose your reaction to them, you CAN choose how much you focus on them and you CAN choose to prime your mind so you get more of the positive and less of the negative thoughts.