Thoughts can be the source of our greatest accomplishment, but they can also be the cause of our greatest suffering. The stress we feel and the anguish we experience are most often related to our thoughts about a given situation. Each one of us lives with a narrator inside our minds adding commentary to everything we do or experience. We seek to make meaning of life, and this storyteller inside us looks to assist us in this regard. What a beautiful day it is. What an interesting article I am reading. My dog is so funny when she does that. If only those were the typical thoughts, we all had. Among the approximately sixty thousand thoughts each of us has on average each day, most are negative. They comment on things like what annoys us, how we wish things were different, or why does this always happen to me?
Complaining is a significant portion of what our inner narrator integrates into our story. Whether the inner critic tells us how bad we are or the inner judge telling us how bad others are, the various parts of the inner system contribute negatively to our story about the world we experience. Often these go unchecked or are tolerated without understanding the effect that they have on our mental wellbeing. We then go on to blame the external world for how we are feeling. We make other people and situations responsible for how we feel. However, if we can distract ourselves from our thoughts and then feel better, what is causing our negative feelings? Is it the external situation that our thoughts are focussed on or the thoughts themselves?
Your thoughts strongly influence how you see the world. They can also cause you not to see or to overlook opportunities or positive outcomes. It is our way of perceiving the world that dramatically influences the quality of our experience. Even in difficult situations, our level of stress or even suffering can be significantly reduced by the way we process these events. Our thoughts are powerful in influencing the quality of our experience. Sometimes when I find myself suffering emotionally as a result of my thoughts, I try to remind myself of Viktor Frankl’s book: Mans Search for Meaning. If a person can find beauty, hope and meaning while experiencing unimaginable suffering in a concentration camp, then I can surely find these things in my experience.
There are a few tools that can help in good stewardship of your thoughts. As always, I recommend daily meditation, which is a practice that has changed my life. Daily journaling is also a great tool to reflect on and recognise the quality of your thinking. If you find yourself constantly complaining, whether in your external conversations or simply in your thoughts, know that this is a habit. The way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. I have also used mantras or affirmations to redirect the course of my thinking, but this is something I have already written about in the past. Limiting your exposure to people and media that fuel negative thinking is very impactful in altering negative thinking habits. Sending time with chronic complainers or taking in the news daily or even hourly will give you a negative outlook on the world.
Perhaps the best starting point is to recognise how your thoughts are affecting your experience. The next thing to recognise is that, although you cannot stop your thoughts from coming, you can control what you focus on. Once this becomes clear, you can use the tools I mentioned to gain a new perspective on life. When you learn to control the direction of your thoughts, you gain control of the quality of your experience. Your thoughts have an immeasurable effect on your success and happiness, and this is the greatest power that your thoughts have.