Ever found yourself trying to no avail to stop worrying, obsessing, ruminating, feeling angry, anxious…etc? You’re going through your day, trying to be productive, but your thoughts keep returning over and over again to the circumstance that’s triggered an emotional onslaught. You are consumed! It’s as if your brain literally has a mind of its own and just keeps regurgitating the same thoughts that keep you stuck in the muck.
This just happened to me recently. Somebody that I care about did something that hurt my feelings. My thoughts were “how dare they treat me like that?” “I deserve so much better than this” “And after all that I’ve done for them”. And those thoughts just kept repeating themselves for the next several hours, fueling my anger and resentment. It didn’t feel good and stalled any progress I was making a project I was working on. Instead, I just kept ruminating. As a life coach, I teach my clients that their thoughts determine their feelings which then affect their actions. I knew that my thoughts kept perpetuating my angry, resentful feelings but I couldn’t seem to shake them. I realized I was caught in a “thought loop,” a phenomenon where our brain keeps generating the same misconstrued thoughts over and over again. When this happens we can feel powerless to stop it. My coach, Brooke Castillo, has labeled these “thought errors”. They are not only unproductive, but can be quite destructive when they prompt us to engage in irrational behavior that we later regret. For instance, you can’t stop thinking about how your kids are doing at their father’s house…are they happy, is he taking care of them properly, is he giving them the attention they need. You become more and more anxious and worried. Your whole day is overtaken with these thoughts. You may continually check your phone to see if you get texts or phone calls from your kids. You feel like you’re going to burst if you don’t know exactly what is happening so you call your ex to check up on him and before you know it, a fight ensues. Fortunately, there is a way out when we find ourselves trapped in the black hole of thought loops. The first step is simply to be aware what is happening and to name it. This simple act engages a different part of our brain that can observe the thought loop and empower us to disengage from it. This shift provides us with new mental space that may offer a new perspective, an insight into our reaction or the ability release the obsessive energy without taking action. In the aftermath, recognize that you do have power over your thoughts and behavior when you practice these steps. This how we use our minds for us instead of allowing them to work against us!