Negative thoughts about oneself are particularly damaging, and often lead to depression and isolation – both gateways to myriad dangerous mental health conditions. The tragic thing is, these thoughts are very often completely false.
Only through awareness and investigation can these mistruths be brought to light, changed and replaced with positive thoughts and actions. To that end, as a community health nurse, I also work with people as a health coach, dealing with an array of diverse, yet common issues.
Some of the coaching is in assisting people to overcome chronic insomnia, emotional eating, weight management and other problems that hold them back and keep them stuck in negative situations. The common denominator is that people want to change behaviours that have been with them for an extensive period of time.
They are aware these behaviours are detrimental to them, but we all know that behaviour change is much easier said than done.
The first step in the process is radical acceptance of how things are in the present moment of one’s life – without denial, excuses or blame. A humble acceptance of the struggle is necessary, and an understanding of a common humanity in these challenges can then follow it.
Secondly, we work on becoming aware of thoughts and typical thought patterns. This is done by witnessing thoughts in meditation with a non-judgmental attitude. We also do thought downloads and journaling. Through this process, clients begin to become aware that the multitude of thoughts running through their minds are also running their lives and that many of them are fundamentally untrue.
What we often discover is a thought pattern that creates anxiety, a sense of powerlessness, and a loss of motivation to change. “You can’t do this because you have failed so often,” is a common self-defeating thought.
Where do all these negative thoughts come from? How do they come into the brain? Thoughts are influenced by the environment of our upbringing, the people that surround us and the collective experience of society. When one starts to look for evidence for some of these negative thoughts, they find it does not exist and realize that thoughts are often incorrect. To believe them leads them astray, rendering them powerless to change.
People struggling with chronic insomnia often have fearful thoughts about sleep. They may believe that if they don’t get enough sleep the next day will be a disaster and they will function so poorly they may be fired from their job. These thoughts create so much tension and anxiety that it greatly decreases their ability to relax enough to fall asleep.
In weight management, most people have failed so often in their attempts to lose weight that their thought patterns result in a feeling of powerlessness to bring about change. Thoughts so overwhelmingly affect our feelings and behaviours, yet often we forget to examine their accuracy and allow them to run, on often ruin, our lives.
In health coaching we examine these fearful thoughts, refute them, and redirect them into something more balanced and realistic, thus relieving tension and instilling hope for change.
I like the way psychologist, author and meditation teacher Tara Brach warns us about our thoughts:
“Please don’t believe your thoughts –
Please pause –
And please remember love.”
I say this mantra to myself many times a day.