The example that often comes to mind for me is the 2010 Soccer World Cup. It was an enormously exciting and uplifting event for all South Africans and, participating from afar, I found myself wondering what would have happened if my family had not relocated to Atlanta from South Africa. In fact, I found myself entangled in a whole series of “what if’s:” What if we had stayed? Would life have been easier? Would it have been better for my daughters to have grown up closer to family and lifelong friends?
I spent an enormous amount of time pondering those questions, but then I began to realize that while wondering “what if” is quite normal, spending hours dwelling on “what if” is counterproductive.
It was at this point that my internal monitoring system kicked in, and I started to practice a cognitive behavioral technique called Thought Stopping.
This relatively simple technique involves becoming very conscious of your negative thoughts; then, as you realize they are spiraling out of control, you literally tell yourself to STOP, and replace them with other thoughts or ideas.
My friend Joy describes this as putting an arrow through your thought; she always says if the thought is not “paying rent” then kick it out.
Therapist Nancy Loeb suggests you even use a physical trigger to “Thought Stop,” such as snapping a plastic band you have on your wrist, or rubbing your ring.
What thoughts are hanging you up? It could be anything from dwelling on a past relationship that you know you should let go of, to negative self-talk about your physical appearance, or regret about stocks you should have bought.
What if we could replace those thoughts? Wouldn’t that be liberating? I keep trying, and although it doesn’t stop the thoughts from entering my mind, it certainly can thwart the damage they do to my mood, my day and my life.
In essence, is your thinking assisting you in being productive or are you allowing your thoughts to inadvertently sabotage you?
I truly believe there is enormous power in having the mental discipline to thought STOP and Thought REPLACE.
What techniques do you use to stop negative or unproductive thoughts from derailing you? I’d love to hear from you!