Spring is quickly approaching, and I personally love seeing all the flowers blooming during this time of year. We have likely heard the phrase “April showers bring May flowers” because April tends to be rainy, and although it makes for a gloomy month, it is necessary in order for the beauty and vitality that May brings. The beautiful foliage in Spring is a great reminder that what we water grows. When flowers don’t receive enough water, they wilt and eventually die. The same is true in our minds: the thoughts that we spend time thinking about tend to feel more serious and true. We must be careful about what thoughts we “water,” or tend to most. If those thoughts sound like “I’m a failure,” “I’m never going to be successful in my career,” “I’m not likable” or anything of that nature, you probably will be left feeling depressed, anxious, or hopeless.
One way we can shift our minds to thoughts that are more nurturing or uplifting is to use a technique called cognitive defusion. Cognitive defusion is the process of detaching ourselves from our thoughts. Think about it: the last time you were feeling down, how did you verbalize it? You likely communicated how you were feeling by saying, “I’m sad.” Notice how the wording in that sentence communicates that you ARE that emotion, the same way you’d say “I’m a woman,” “I’m an American,” or “I’m a dog lover.” We are not our emotions, and the more we fuse ourselves with a particular emotion, the longer that emotion tends to stick around and the harder it is to release it. Instead, try changing your wording to “I’m feeling sad right now” to create some distance between yourself and your thoughts. You can even connect it back to my weather analogy by imagining your mind is like the sky and thoughts or emotions are like clouds. Clouds are always coming and going, even the darkest of clouds. The less we cling to and/or forcefully push away any particular thought or feeling, the more easily it tends to pass. When you experience a negative thought or emotion, you can imagine yourself lying on the grass watching your thought cloud pass, maybe even seeing the thought written on the cloud.
Another way we can change what thoughts or emotions we are “watering” is to start shifting our focus to thoughts that uplift and motivate us. You can start by choosing a word or phrase that captures how you’d like to think or feel. For example, if you struggle with repetitive thoughts about impostor syndrome at work, you may choose the phrase “I believe in myself and my abilities.” You may not initially believe this phrase is true– in fact, you may have an aversion to this thought because you are so used to thinking the opposite. However, repetition or frequent “watering” of that thought helps it grow and eventually feel more believable.
Here’s a reflective exercise you can try:
- What are some of your most frequent thoughts? (If you are unsure, bring awareness to your mental chatter for the next 24 hours and write them down either in a notebook or in a note in your phone.)
- Next, create a chart with three columns: positive, negative, and neutral.
- Place each thought into the corresponding columns.
- For thoughts that are in the “negative” column, find a positive reframe that relates to the thought. For example, you may replace the thought “I’m unlikeable,” with “I love and accept myself just as I am.” You may wish to write these positive reframes on another sheet of paper.
- Each morning, read through the positive reframes. Give yourself a moment after reading each reframe to let it sink in. You can even meditate on the phrases by recording each positive reframe, closing your eyes, and visualizing this thought being true. For example, what would it look like if you were loving and accepting of yourself?
- Repeat, repeat, repeat!!