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It was my 995th thought of the day, not that I was counting. One of our children was up in the middle of the night vomiting. Either my husband or I would need to say home from work. “If I’d had advanced notice, I could do it,” says my husband. I’m thinking, “vomiting never provides advanced notice.” I was the one to stay home and try not to let thoughts like “I always miss work when a kid is sick” or “he doesn’t support my career” spin out of control.
Experts say we have about 60,000 thoughts per day, give or take, and 80% of them are negative. Therefore, it wasn’t the fact that my child was sick that was causing me stress; it was the thoughts about my husband not sharing the caregiving duties running around in my head. They were draining what little mental energy I had after being up in the middle of the night. Did I have a choice in my thoughts? Could I decide to think more positive thoughts? In a word, yes.
How Do We Know We Can Decide Our Thoughts?
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained brain scientist, had a massive stroke at age 37. During her 8-year recovery as she laid new neural pathways in her brain, she realized she could choose to pick different thoughts from those she would typically have experienced pre-stroke.
For example, Dr. Taylor was often demanding and impatient with herself and others. In recovery, she understood that she could spend less time and energy criticizing “bad or wrong” decisions. Instead, she could question these thoughts of “who inside of you is doing that yelling and at whom are you yelling?” Dr. Taylor learned to choose thoughts of compassion instead of criticism. She embraced the intention of kindness because she knew it was possible that she was unaware of everything impacting another person that could provide a good explanation for specific actions.
How Do We Decide Our Thoughts?
First, we need to become an observer of our thoughts and then the feelings, actions, and consequences that result. “When you shine a light on your thoughts in your mind and step out of yourself, you can see that you are not what you do, what you think, your results, or your body,” says Brooke Castillo.
Through her own personal development and coaching clients, Castillo learned that “it’s never the circumstances causing your feelings—it’s always your thinking about the circumstances.” This led her to design a model that guides us to work with circumstances, thoughts, and feelings causing actions and results that we don’t want SO THAT we can decide to change our thoughts to yield feelings, actions, and results that we DO want.
Here’s Castillo’s model:
Note: the result will always be evidence of the original thought (aka a self-fulfilling prophecy).