No thought that occurs to us is unwanted except for the thought that they are 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 categorised 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. We wouldn’t like to entertain automatic thoughts if we 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 the track...? Not Really.
Let’s understand their purpose in our life & see how we may use them to lead an intentional life.
Your Desired Self: The Best version of You; Say, Self 7.3D :)
This is the self that you want to create for yourself considering your body, mind, emotions & interactions. A version of you, which encompasses everything that you desire for yourself.
For instance, 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, designed by best of the architects; it need not remain so desirable in the market while facing rigorous competition & public scrutiny. It undergoes continuous improvement 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.
We keep working on ourselves to create the best possible version of self. There are many aspects about us, which we wish to change so that we become self version so and so, which is almost invincible like superman.
Most important question in front of one, is to find out how exactly his desired self looks like, thinks like & feels like. One's intentional/rational thought process strives continuously to dissect the desired self & understand it’s specifications..!
Your Experienced Self: The Present Version of you; say, Self version 3.7E
Experienced self is our current experiencing of body, mind, emotions & interactions. Every 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.
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 in us or even 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 gauged 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 perceive himself & the world through his own standards. Automatic thoughts are the voice within him, which convey him of his own perception of himself which is shaped through his past experiences & societal perception of him. These thoughts are telling one, what he/she thinks of him/her. One interprets the experienced self through thoughts & the emotions that accompany thoughts.
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 the 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.
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 them with utmost respect & appreciation as those are his leads for a better prospectus, as manufacturer.
Here are the guidelines to use the automatic thoughts in line with their original purpose & make them work for you rather than getting affected.
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. 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 anxiety, other-blame/criticism or fear, self-appreciation or expectation, other-appreciation or expectation and neutral thoughts/reproduction of experiences. Do note them down in a journal. Start noticing the sort of emotions which accompany each category of thoughts & specify it along with thoughts. Once you go little further with this step, you would start getting clarity about everything your automatic thoughts were trying to convey.
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 analysing the thoughts belonging to the category along with supportive experiences. Do not be one sided in your thinking & analysis. Also, 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 some sort of emotion with the experience in question. Continue with this step for a month & observe if the messengers are being addressed 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 perception. 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 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”.
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 & advanced to the next level. Let’s make an honest effort to comprehend our experienced self & reach out for the desired self
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