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Steps to change our thinking (DW#485)

So how do we begin to change our thinking patterns? Here are some steps:

1)   Intention.

As we know, everything begins with an intention. Making the intention sets the program into motion, so to speak.

2)   Learn about distorted thought patterns

We need to know what some common distorted thought patterns are so that we can recognize them when we engage in them

3)   Recognize distorted thinking

This is the ongoing practice part. Here’s the thing: we could get a PhD in ‘cognitive distortions’ (I am quite sure it does exist) but this will not mean that we will not engage in these unhelpful patterns. It is an ongoing practice to recognize when we are engaging in negative or distorted thinking.

4)   Replace with helpful thinking

Once we recognize the patterns, we can replace them with thoughts that will be are more positive and helpful and will uplift and encourage us rather than bring us down.

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But why are so many of our thoughts negative? (DW#484)

Hopefully you are beginning to notice that you are having thoughts that come and go, contradict each other and seem mostly negative. If you are, congratulations, you are well on your way to improved mental health and emotional intelligence.

Negative thoughts are perfectly normal and according to many psychologists, may be the default position of our mind.

This is because negative thoughts exist to keep us safe. Really.

Our ancestors survived by constantly being on the lookout for threats, fixing problems as they arose, and then learning from their mistakes. If they were optimists and stopped to admire the sunrise and smell the roses, they may not have survived to give birth to their children and we may not have been here.

They used their imagination to consider potential threats and problems, enabling them to solve the problems before they got into trouble and were attacked by predators.

So thankfully they were able to watch for and deal with trouble before it attacked them and that...

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Don’t believe everything you think (DW#483)

As we said yesterday, most of our thoughts are automatic and negative. When we are having a particular thought, it appears logical and TRUE.

If we get used to examining our thoughts however, we begin to recognize that our thoughts can be unstable and often arbitrary, shifting depending on context and contradicting our better instincts. If we are upset at someone for something, for example, we may begin to develop "tunnel vision", and our thoughts focus only on their negative aspects and ignore the positive ones.

The problem does not lie in the fact that we have thoughts, but in the fact that we sometimes begin to form our personal identities around the things we think. We begin to believe every thought that we have. If I think that someone is mean, for example, they must be mean.

One of the key aspects of self growth, of emotional intelligence and of mental health is to recognize thoughts as passing phenomena of the mind without attaching ourselves to every thought that we have and...

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Do you have ANTs in your brain? (DW#482)

Let’s review some fun facts about thoughts and the way we think.

Did you know that the average person thinks between 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day? The thoughts that pass through our brain last only split seconds and range from the mundane -- I need to do groceries, to the significant – My family really matters to me, to the self-destructive -- I'm not good enough.

And did you know that most of these thoughts are the same thoughts we think every day? Our thoughts seem to be on autopilot most of the time and appear to come from nowhere.

AND did you know that the majority of these automatic thoughts are negative. (The reason for this is rather interesting and something that we will deal with on another day)

Psychologists have coined a phrase for these thoughts: ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts.

I like to think of them as ANTs eating the positive side of my brain. A yucky but powerful image, wouldn’t you say?

How many ANTs can...

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The link between thoughts and feelings (DW#481)

Over the last little while, we have been talking about the link between emotion and motion – in other words how taking action can change your feelings. 

This week, let’s explore how we can sometimes get to the very source of negative emotions to prevent them rather than changing them once they appear.

Before I explain this further, let’s do a quick exercise. 

Imagine that your family is rushing to get out of the house in the morning and you are trying to do several things at once: get ready for work, make sure the children have everything they need for the day, feed them breakfast and connect with your spouse about the evening plans. It is one of those days and everyone is running a bit late. 

Get the picture?

Now, just as everyone is about to bolt from the breakfast table and get into the car/bus/bicycle, your six-year-old spills the entire box of cereal on the floor. Oooops. Now everyone will be late for sure.

What is your reaction? 

Do you think:...

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Recap: Taking action can change your feelings (DW#480)

As a part of our series on emotional intelligence, we have been discussing how we can learn to accept feelings but that we don’t have to wait for our feelings to change before we can take action on our values.

Feelings, as we have been discovering, can often change by changing our behaviour.

Here is a recap of the actions we can take to impact our feelings:

Try power poses to increase your confidence [DW#473]

Smile to increase feelings of happiness [DW#474]
Follow what actors/lovers do on the screen to kindle feelings of love [DW#475]
Boost your own happiness by doing random acts of kindness for your spouse [DW#476]
Act in loving way to feel the feeling of love [DW#477]
Turn fear into courage by taking action in the face of fear [DW#478]
 
Prepare and practice to become confident in any area of your life [DW#479]
 
Which ones did you try? Remember our lives will be positively impacted only by acting upon what we know!

Which ones are the most challenging?

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The two secrets to confidence (DW#479)

Think of when you first started to drive, or learn a language or cook or do financial accounting . . .

Remember how nervous you were? How unprepared you felt? 

So how did you become better in these areas of your life?

You prepared yourself by learning, studying, passing a test . . .

And then you practiced.

A lot.

If you had waited till you had the confidence to do any of these things you would not have taken the car out of the garage, cooked your first meal or spoken a word of another language.

The confidence came from two things: preparing and practicing.

How about applying the same formula to areas of your life where you currently lack confidence?

You already know how, right?

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Turning fear into courage (DW#478)

Fear is one emotion ALL of us have experienced. Whether real or imagined, personal or professional, our hearts have trembled with the prospect of coming face to face with what we fear. 

What is fear, anyways? 

Here is how the dictionary describes it: 
Fear noun "an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm."

Given that all of us do and will feel fear, it may be helpful to recognize that we can still act as we must, despite the feeling of fear. Courage, as it is often said, is NOT the absence of fear but rather taking action DESPITE the fear. 

The idea of taking action is embedded in the very definition of courage:
Courage noun "the ability to do something that frightens one".

To put it very simply:

FEAR + ACTION = COURAGE

So can one turn fear into courage by reading, listening, intellectualizing or philosophizing? 

Sadly, no. 

The only way to foster courage is to practice acting despite the feeling of fear. 

And each...

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Act in loving way to feel the feeling of Love (DW#477)

In long term relationships, it is common that the feelings of love come and go. So relying on feelings of "being in love" at any given moment as a guide to the health or vitality of a relationship is problematic at best.

Even if we care deeply about our spouses, it does not mean that we will always feel positively towards them. It is quite normal to have negative feelings like irritation, anger, hurt and doubt from time to time. The problem lies not in these feelings but in the fact that we may take it to mean that we have "fallen out of love" with this person. When we start thinking like this, we stop doing loving actions and our relationship gets stuck in a downward spiral.

Because feelings change over time, going up and down from time to time, feelings by themselves are NOT a good indicator of relationship health at any given time.

What if we start thinking of the absence of loving feelings as a sign that we need to start doing more loving actions? That we need to act in a loving...

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Boost your happiness by doing random acts of kindness for your spouse (DW#476)

In long term relationships, we sometimes begin to take our spouses for granted and stop doing those little acts of kindness that we did when we first fell in love. And of course, we seldom make the connection that our relationship is not as happy as it was or could be.

Research that was done about a year ago and published in the journal Emotion, shows that doing something nice for your spouse can boost your emotional well-being —even if he or she isn’t aware of your good deed.

The researchers in the study set out to test the Dalai Lama’s theory that compassionate concern for another’s welfare enhances one’s own happiness.

 

For the study, 175 couples were asked to record the thoughtful acts, kindness and tenderness that they expressed to their spouse and also record their own daily emotional state during this period.

The researchers found that couples benefitted the most when their acts of kindness were recognized and...

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