Filter your thoughts If something appears to be stressful, teach yourself to respond (hitting the ‘pause-button’), rather than react. You can do so by determining whether what is happening: – Affects all areas of your life (pervasive) vs. being localized; – Is personal vs. external to you; – Is permanent vs. temporary. You will find that most of the time, what is happening is localized (e.g. impacts a discrete area of your life); is external (e.g. in your environment) and temporary. Putting what you are experiencing through these three ‘filters’, thus changing how you perceive a stressful event (or your thoughts about it), makes all the difference. Understanding this can bring quite considerable relief and will result in you responding from a place of coherence, calmness and collectedness, rather than emotionally. Consult your ‘wise advocate’ The neuropsychiatrist, and author of “You are Not your brain”, Jeffery Schwartz (MD) suggests that you can deal with deceptive brain messages/cognitive distortions, and thereby ‘re-wire your brain’ to take on new roles and functions (so-called ‘neuroplasticity’), by constructively focusing your attention with your mind. This is a form of applied mindfulness. This necessitates introspection, i.e. to become aware of, and focus your attention on your thoughts, sensations, urges and responses, as they happen. The idea is not to block them or stop them from coming or to judge them, but to direct them. Keep in mind, the more you engage in unhealthy behaviour, the stronger the brain circuits that drive this behaviour, become. It is simply a matter of: attention goes where energy flows (and vice versa).
Step 1: Re-lable, which means to put a label on your experience (mental; emotional; behavioural), and specifically deceptive brain messages that take you away from your long-term goals or pursuit of your values. So, if you experience yourself feeling worried/anxious, say, “I am worried or (anxious) right now”. So, you remind yourself of what you are experiencing right now, including potentially habitual responses like checking social media over and over or comfort eating; Step 2: Re-frame: This means to change your perception of the importance of the deceptive brain messages. Say why these thoughts, urges and impulses bother you, i.e. that they are ‘false brain messages. An example would be all or nothing / black and white thinking, e.g. catching yourself thinking or saying, “This is great or this is terrible”. Remind yourself that most of the time you want to be thinking somewhere in the grey zone. This will stop you from throwing the baby out with the bath water. Step 3: Re-focus: So, after you get your mental field clear, using re-labeling and re-framing, focus your attention in the direction of where you want to go. Direct your attention toward a mental process or (preferably) an activity that is productive and wholesome and aligned with your top values – even while the false and deceptive urges, impulses, thoughts and sensations are still happening. This could be something constructive, which will help you to not react in a knee-jerk fashion. It is through the focusing of attention toward something constructive, and away from your error messages/cognitive distortions, that your brain gets rewired. This changes your thoughts, too. Step 4: Re-value: As you use the above three steps, the 4th step tends to kick in almost automatically. This means you are developing an adaptive value system of re-labeling; re-framing; and re-focusing, without having to break it down into steps. You start to recognize the thoughts, urges, and impulses for what they are, i.e. simply sensations that are the result of untrue deceptive brain messages that pull you away from your values and goals, i.e. your authentic self. When done consistently over time, this gets you into a pattern whereby you ‘wire’ your wise advocate into your brain’s habit centre. The wise advocate knows what you are thinking and why; can see the deceptive brain messages for what they area; where they come from and what you feel, as well as how destructive your habitual responses have been for you. S/he can see the bigger picture, including your strengths and resolve and encourages you to pursue your true self and the values that comprise it. Re-valuing then reflects the fact that your valuations are more constructive. The wise advocate now effortlessly becomes part of the choices that you make.