Taking out toxic thoughts

by Rob Furlong
Last month we began a discussion on the impact our mental health has on the quality of our life and relationships.
In particular, we focused on ways that we can address the toxic thinking that plagues our thought life.
Here are some more principles I have found extremely helpful in dealing with my own toxic thinking:
When you become aware of a toxic thought, actively replace it with a positive one. Sing a song or remind yourself of an encouraging thing someone said about you.
In my case, because I come from a Christian perspective, I find it helpful to remind myself of encouraging and meaningful passages from the Bible. As a mentor of mine has often reminded me, when the negative “tape” (remember those?!) begins, eject it and replace it with a new, more positive one. “Changing the tape/CD/Podcast” should become your mantra.
I have discovered that one negative thought will inevitably lead to another and you can very quickly spiral out of control. Linked together, these thoughts become a chain of negativity that punishes not only you, but others around you.
When I find myself in this situation I consciously pull myself up with the words “I am not going down that trail.”
An example of this is when I think of someone who has wronged me or perhaps just did something they are unaware of but I was offended by it. My thinking goes like this: “I am offended by what they just said or did.
“That’s typical of (whoever) – they always do this!
“Remember the time they said/did this to you..?”
From there, I usually go into a recital of all the bad things I see in that person, leaving me with a “set” against them.
Learning to arrest your thinking before it gets out of hand will require several attempts but over time, I have discovered that by regularly practicing this it will become a habit and you can pull yourself up more quickly.
Arch Hart recommends putting the thought on trial in the courtroom of your mind and asking it some tough questions. “What evidence do you present to say this thought is true?”
“What gives you the right to say that?”
“How do you know things will not get better?” (Arch Hart, Habits of the mind.)
A recent development for me has been to simply tell the toxic thought, “You are not welcome here!”
I am a great believer in prayer, so when I experience those times when my mind is being bombarded with toxic thoughts (usually when I am tired) I talk to God about it.
I say things like, “God – this is not who I am and it is not how You see me. I cannot control these thoughts right now, so please help me. I will rest in You – You are in control. Help me to do my part – I will leave the rest to You.”
Prayer may be a foreign concept for some of you reading this but as I have said before in this column – why not try it?
My experience is that God does listen to our prayers and you have everything to gain by praying. Many doctors and health professionals acknowledge that we are spiritual beings and we need to give attention to our inner lives. I certainly want to point you in the direction of God but I will not force that. I can only speak from my own experience and I have found that prayer works!
The important thing to remember is that all of the above takes time. Developing new habits always does. But don’t forget, you have spent a lifetime developing your toxic thinking so it is to be expected that you will have to work hard to eradicate it.
Healthy thinking leads to a healthier life and healthier relationships so here’s to healthier thinking!

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