No thought that occurs to us is unwanted except for the thought that it is unwanted...!!
Thinking is as natural to us as breathing, eating or sleeping. We end up spending a major portion of our waking life around thoughts. Thoughts,which are an integral part of our life can be categorized into 2 major sections. The ones which are intentional & the others which are automatic. Intentional thought process including creative imagination is highly desired & considered the basic unit of understanding. However, things are not so green when it comes to automatic thoughts. One wouldn’t wish to entertain automatic thoughts if he/she can help it. More so, if the thoughts happen to be negative..!
Are automatic thoughts including the rumination & brooding so negative an entity...?? What is their role in our life...?? Do they occur mostly to disturb us & take our functional life off track...? Not Really. Let’s understand their purpose in our life & see how we may use them effectively to lead an intentional life.
Your Desired Self: The Best version of You; Say, Self 7.3D :)
There is a version of you, which you want to create for yourself. This version includes all aspects of you; namely body, mind, emotions & interactions. This fascinating self which you dream to become is your desired self.
Let's take an example of a product, freshly launched in a market to explain the concept of desired self. When a company launches its flagship product to the market, it gets released in its initial form. Though it has a state of the art technology & amazing features, which are designed by best of the architects; it need not remain so appealing in the market while facing rigorous competition & public scrutiny. It undergoes continuous improvement in the warehouse followed by release of many versions, till the makers are satisfied with what they are offering & buyers are content with what they buy. Same thing happens with us, humans.
We keep working on ourselves to create the best possible version of self. There are many aspects of us, we wish to change so that we become self version so and so, which is highly acceptable & almost invincible like the superman.
Most important question in front of one, is to find how exactly his desired self looks like, thinks like, feels like & acts like. One's intentional/rational thought process strives continuously to dissect his desired self & understand it’s specifications so that he may reach there quickly..!
Your Experienced Self: The Present Version of you; say, Self version 3.7E
Experienced self is our current experiencing of body, mind, emotions & interactions. It is the way we have been looking at ourselves currently.
Each one of us is born with certain physical features, stature & temperament. From the moment, we are born, we are being shaped continuously; physically, emotionally & psychologically within the environment.
In childhood; We observe & absorb the thoughts, emotions & actions of others to shape our own. Later, we observe the reaction of the people around us to get an idea of what is worthy or unworthy in us. Appreciation from people make us judge ourselves positively & the criticism or blame from others make us carry a negative self-image. In our initial years, we mostly are imitators who are accepting or absorbing things without any intentional thinking or analysis. In this phase of life, others are the medium through which we would have judged our own self or even the world.
A person need not be an individual in real sense but the sum-total of the perceptions of everyone around him unless he builds the tendency to go deeper & analytical about each perception he carries, to validate it's current worth. Automatic thoughts are the voice within him; expressing his perceptions, which are shaped through his past experiences & collective societal perceptions. These thoughts are conveying him, what he thinks of himself & life at the moment. Hence experienced self is the combination of the real experiences packaged in possibly irrelevant or outdated perceptions.
Bridging the Gap: Your Leap from Experienced Self to Desired Self
If your automatic thoughts are the messengers from your past, emerging in the present; don’t commit the mistake of avoiding or killing a messenger. Every single thought that occurs to you is important. It’s acquainting you with yourself. It has emerged in you as an indicator of the voice in you, which needs to be understood so that you may move ahead in the process of shaping yourself.
Let's go back to the product analogy for a moment. When a product is released into the market, it’s strengths as well as short comings will be reported by public. A competent manufacturer shall consider every feedback with utmost respect & appreciation as those are his leads for a better prospectus, as a manufacturer. Similarly, the understanding of experienced self is mandatory to advance to the desired self.
Here are the guidelines to use the automatic thoughts appropriately without getting unnecessarily affected by them.
Start Noticing your automatic thoughts closely, label them as negative or positive
Though automatic thoughts are running in our head & clogging it, we mostly avoid paying attention to them because it may seem random & meaningless to do so. Let’s alter our attitude a little & start noticing them. First step in the process is to generally notice the thoughts & to label them as either positive or negative. End of the day, just gauge the proportion of the negative thought to the positive thoughts. It shall convey you, your current self-worth. If the negative thoughts overpower positive ones by a huge margin, you naturally are feeling helpless & hopeless about yourself/your life. If the positive thoughts overpower the negative ones by huge margin, your pride might be ruling your self-worth making you, overlook your faults hence blocking the progress. Pay attention to both. Continue this exercise for a week.
Assign your automatic thoughts into 5 major categories
Once you have gained some experience in paying attention to your thoughts, you are ready for the next step. Please assign each automatic thought into one of the 5 broader categories. Your thought might be self-blame/criticism or other-blame/criticism, anxiety or fear, self-appreciation or expectation, other-appreciation or expectation and neutral thinking/plane reproduction of experiences. Do note them down in a journal. Start noticing the sort of emotions which accompany each category of thoughts & specify them along with thoughts. Once you go little further with this step, you would start converting the automatic thoughts into intentional pointers to be addressed.
Meditate on different category of automatic thoughts, make them intentional
Allot at least 15 minutes in a day to think deeply about each category of thoughts. You may pick 1 category per day and invest in analyzing the thoughts belonging to the category along with the citing of supportive experiences. Do not be one sided in your thinking & analysis. Visit the opposite aspect of same thought & find out if you could gather supportive experiences. In the process, you would notice that neutral thoughts are not so neutral. They come to your mind because you associate a sort of strong emotion with the experiences in question. Continue with this step for a month & observe if the messengers are being used adequately.
Make Small goals in each category to move towards desired self
Your automatic thoughts are telling you about your current state, as perceived by you, shaped mostly from other’s perceptions. It need not be your reality. Those thoughts aren’t telling anything about what you shall be, in future. The way you shape your life ahead is absolutely in your hands.
Anything you imagine & wish for could be your reality; if you just start working on it. Think about & plan for a small step every day to move slowly & steadily towards your desired self. Remember that only thing stable about our life is its tendency to change. However, you are the agent of change & could lead it in the direction you want, with your intentions & actions.
Consult a professional, if stuck in the process.
Psychologists, Psychotherapists & Psychiatrists are trained to help you listen to your automatic thoughts & impulses in the right way to make most out of them. They are aware that no thought or emotion coming from you is trivial. They also can see the connection between multiple thoughts & emotions easily. They are in a position assist you to enhance your strengths & also to overcome every single fear/insecurity which automatic thoughts are voicing. End of the day, it helps to have another person with a professional perception in the loop. As Einstein pointed out, “we can’t solve the problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.
Journey from being Mechanical to Conscious...
Though we all are shaped by others when we are growing, we have an inherent capacity in us to shape ourselves. Only requirement to activate this capacity is the awareness of its presence. We were tender & helpless once, however we need not remain in that position. Automatic thoughts are not the hindrance or the disruption in the process but the communicators of the present state of mind so that it can be comprehended, accepted & utilized to reach the next level. Let’s make an honest effort to comprehend our experienced self & reach out for the desired self..!!
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