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You Can Choose Your Thoughts

As we continue our sheltering at home, many of us are alone with just our thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts can get pretty dark and discouraging. But we don’t have to follow them down a dark rabbit hole. We can choose our thoughts, according to Peter and Beth Bostwick who spoke to our GaGa Sisterhood at our first-ever Zoom meeting.

We had a record turnout of 35 grandmas and began by sharing our biggest challenges and worries during this coronavirus. The most common were not being able to connect with our family and friends, followed by living alone, not being able to touch our grandchildren, feeling judgmental about our leadership’s decisions, elderly parents in nursing homes, children who are frontline workers, staying upbeat about the future of our country, impatience, what will the future be like, travel and celebration cancellations, uncertainty, and unpredictable moods.

Peter and Beth Bostwick are business coaches who teach people how to shift their behavior and thinking to control their thoughts. They developed their concept through personal experience when their business faced bankruptcy.  Facing a lawsuit, they finally hit rock bottom and felt like victims.

Then they had an epiphany. They made a choice to let go, stop fighting what they couldn’t control and accept where they were instead of beating themselves up. When they realized they had control over their thoughts and stopped being judgmental, things began to shift for them. They sold their company and decided to share what they’d learned about self-talk as a way to change your life.

One of the tools they use to get in touch with your thoughts is to remember these 4 Cs:

  • Calm — get centered and still
  • Clarity — get clear on what you want and why
  • Competence — recognize that your life experiences have given you many skills
  • Creativity — you can only tap into creativity when you’re calm and clear

When you notice you’re starting to spiral down, catch yourself in your thinking with something as simple as calling out your name then saying, “No!” This tool can make you aware of your behavior and help you acknowledge what you DO know right now which takes you out of the fear and worry mindset. One of our members uses the phrase: “Stop, cancel, clear. Get the fear out of here.”

When change comes, we can face it in two ways: look forward and wonder what I’m moving toward or backward and fear what I’m losing or missing.

Remember thoughts are just thoughts, not reality. Just like any muscle, you have to work it to build strength — awareness is the first step to change. Put up post-it notes to remind yourself of the behavior you want to change. Be in the here and now. Don’t believe what you think.

It’s circular logic: the more we think about certain things, and in certain ways, the more our beliefs are reinforced, which causes us to continue to think the same type of thoughts. This powerful, reinforcing phenomenon is why so many people stay where they are in life and make the same mistakes.

How to manage and decrease negative thoughts

Recognize thought distortions. Our minds have clever and persistent ways of convincing us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts reinforce negative thinking. If you can recognize them, you can learn to challenge them. Here are four common thought distortions:

  • Black and white thinking. Seeing everything as one way or another, without any in-between.
  • Personalizing. Assuming you are to blame for anything that goes wrong, like thinking someone did not smile at you because you did something to upset her. (It’s more likely that person is having a hard day and her mood had nothing to do with you.)
  • Filter thinking. Choosing to see only the negative side of a situation.
  • Catastrophizing. Assuming the worst possible outcome is going to happen.

Challenge negative thoughts. Whenever you have a distorted thought, stop, and evaluate whether it is accurate. Think about how you would respond if a friend spoke about herself that way. You would probably offer a good rebuttal to his or her negative view. Apply the same logic to your own thoughts. Ask yourself if you are assuming the worst will happen or blaming yourself for something that has not gone the way you wanted. Then think about other possible outcomes or reasons that something turned out differently than you hoped.

Take a break from negative thoughts. It is possible to learn how to separate from negative thoughts. One way to do this is to allow yourself a certain amount of time (maybe five minutes) with the thought. Then take a break from focusing on it and move on with your day.

Release judgment. We all judge ourselves and others, usually unconsciously. Constantly comparing ourselves to other people or comparing our lives to some ideal breeds dissatisfaction. When you are able to let go of judgment (not easy, but possible), you will likely feel more at ease. Some ways to take a break from judgmental thoughts include recognizing your own reaction, observing it, and then letting it go. Another helpful technique is to “positive judge.” When you notice you are negatively judging a person, yourself, or a situation, look for a positive quality, too.

Practice gratitude. Research shows that feeling grateful has a big impact on your levels of positivity and happiness. Even when you are experiencing a challenging time in your life, you can usually find things (even small things) to be grateful for. Noticing the things that are going well and making you feel happy will keep you in touch with them. Keep a gratitude journal and write a few things in it every day.

Focus on your strengths. It’s human nature to dwell on the negative and overlook the positive. The more you can practice focusing on your strengths and not dwelling on mistakes you’ve made, the easier it will be to feel positive about yourself and the direction your life is taking. If you find yourself thinking harsh thoughts about your personality or actions, take a moment to stop and think about something you like about yourself.

Seek out professional support if you are unable to manage your thoughts or find they are interfering with your ability to meet your daily responsibilities or enjoy life, counseling and therapy can help you weather life changes, reduce emotional suffering, and experience self-growth.

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