Repetitive Disruptive Thoughts
Certain disruptive and demotivating thoughts are philosophical in nature. You may have inherited such perspectives from one of your parents, or from a key figure in your youth. Someone, who at the very core, was defeated.
Life is hard. It has always been and always will be.
This is a classic example of a philosophical attitude that can disrupt your life. Many of us have been brought up thinking the world is a cold, cruel place, and we shouldn’t expect to be treated fairly or find happiness. We must simply survive the misery of our lives, like so many have done before us. In fact, even though we are suffering we are actually lucky, because so many people have suffered worse than us.
With this thinking, you can convince yourself that your job is simply to tolerate your daily suffering, because everyone does it, and what choice do you really have? Nothing’s going to change, why even bother trying - that will only lead to more misery. Instead, accept your lot in life and don’t complain. Because life, at its very core, is just a struggle.
However, since this is a philosophical viewpoint, something that should apply universally, you can begin to manage it by becoming aware of the thought itself. This is easier said than done, because many of us are not aware of the thoughts that go through our head each day. According to writer Ben Hardy, “In 2005, the National Science Foundation published an article showing that the average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.”
But if you realize you’re telling yourself “life is hard” to cope with difficulties, or to accept your circumstances, you can challenge this notion by realizing life is not always hard. This is a simple step towards mindfulness.
Every day you will experience moments that are beautiful, comforting, arousing, and satisfying. Noticing the simple things in life that aren’t broken helps you realize there is much more to life than suffering. Simple things like grass growing without anyone’s help, or your apartment not being broken into, or how eating a meal suppresses your hunger. Theses simple observations demonstrate that many things in your life work out just fine, helping you realize most things in life work out just fine. In fact, if they didn’t, life wouldn’t work at all. This may seem trivial to the average person, but for someone who views life as a struggle, such observations can unveil the many magical aspects of life.
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A little self awareness can help you realize that while you may be on a long, dark, lonely road, there is a sky above, sunrises and sunsets ahead, and a whole world around you. There’s so much more than just the muddy, downtrodden road.
Change is dangerous. It is full of regret and isolation.
You can convince yourself to believe there are rules in life that you must follow at all times. Without strict adherence to these rules you’re not safe. You could lose everything and everyone that is important to you. In fact, your value is built upon following these rules. Without them you are worthless.
Some of us are made to believe such doctrines to ensure we live a certain way, and carry on certain traditions or rituals without question. Because any change could diminish the value of the tradition itself. It is only meaningful if practiced in its pure form, as you were taught, and those before you were taught by those before them. Deviation is disastrous, as evidenced by notorious examples of people who tried something else and failed miserably in life.
Becoming aware of your fear of change - often experienced as anxiety - is the first step towards preparing for change. According to Judson Brewer, being mindful of our thoughts is a key element for eliminating bad behavior. Thinking about thinking helps restore our curiosity.
Brewer observed, “when we get curious, we step out of our old, fear-based, reactive habit patterns, and we step into being. We become this inner scientist where we're eagerly awaiting that next data point. Now, this might sound too simplistic to affect behavior. But in one study, we found that mindfulness training was twice as good as gold standard therapy at helping people quit smoking. So it actually works.”
Thus, for someone struggling with change, or even the thought of change, rejuvenating their curiosity is the start to opening their minds. Asking questions, exploring, and being curious is what your mind loves to do, and while it’s important for all of us to feel safe, doing so by avoiding change refrains us from new experiences that enrich our lives.
Self Awareness in Tough Situations
Some disruptive thoughts are situational in nature. They apply to things that only seem to happen in your life. These thoughts can be more dangerous because you may be ashamed to share them with others who you believe don’t have such problems.
I always have bad luck. Things never work out for me.
You may be convinced you’re just unlucky. No matter how hard you try, or how well things may be going at the moment, failure is just around the corner. You’ve likely used this train of thought to justify past failures and disappointments.
However, experts that study luck have found it is not the primary source of a person’s fortune or downfall. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Great by Choice, explains, “Our research showed that the great companies were not generally luckier than the comparisons—they did not get more good luck, less bad luck, bigger spikes of luck, or better timing of luck. Instead, they got a higher return on luck, making more of their luck than others. The critical question is not, will you get luck? but what will you do with the luck that you get?”
Thus, thoughts about your bad luck are self-fulfilling. Thinking you will fail will either guarantee you fail, by not even trying, or dramatically increase your odds of failing because you’re expecting to fail.
Instead, reframing your thoughts about your luck can help change your results. Being self aware about such thoughts can help you be more mindful of why things may be happening. When reflecting on such thoughts, remember to be objective and not judge yourself. Ask yourself, “Is there another way I can word this thought?”
For example, if you ask someone out on a date and she turns you down, you might think, “That figures, I always have bad luck in relationships.” With a little self awareness, you can reframe this thought to provide a productive outcome. “She said no to the date, and that’s fine because there is someone else out there for me. In fact, since she wasn’t feeling a connection it’s a good thing she didn’t agree to the date. Because when I do find the right person, I won’t be attached.” By reframing the outcome, you’ve found a positive way forward and avoided generalizing your disappointment.
Everyone is out to get me. They’re trying to take me down.
You may believe you’re surrounded by saboteurs. That everyone around you is the problem. There are many situations, especially at work, where you may have done nothing wrong but got hurt nonetheless. Or where you know you were tricked, deceived, or manipulated by people you trusted.
While some or all of your observations may be true, the problem with this perspective is that it’s easy to transfer the negative traits of one person to other people around you. Likewise, you can convince yourself that everything went poorly because everyone took advantage of you.
But playing the blame game simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t change your circumstances. It doesn’t offer you the chance to learn from your mistakes. It makes it easier to blame others in the future. But most importantly, you lose your autonomy if you think your circumstances are someone else’s fault.
This type of thought requires you to go beyond self awareness and mindfulness. You need to tap into your emotional intelligence. Instead of just reframing this thought, you need to be aware of it and replace it. Instead of blaming someone else (or everyone else) for what went wrong, try taking responsibility for what you were unable to do. This will, at the very minimum, give you power to change things in the future. You will be in charge of your destiny.
Mindfulness and Being the Victim
Arguably the most dangerous disruptive thoughts are personal in nature. They attack you on an individual level, singling you out from everyone else. In this type of thinking, you are the problem, and there may not be a solution - because you can’t be fixed.
There is something wrong with me. I’m broken.
Things always go wrong when I’m involved. It is always my fault. I let everyone around me down. No matter how hard I try, I will fail because I can’t succeed. Anyone depending on me will suffer because I’m broken. I can’t be there for them to do what needs to be done.
Such thoughts go beyond momentary insecurity and can lead you to a very dark place where you’re systematically breaking down your self-esteem. You can convince yourself that you are worthless simply by focusing on all your past failures, and how they may have hurt those around you.
The reality is that everyone has such feelings sometimes, but letting these thoughts linger can be damaging. There is nothing wrong with you. Every one of us is different and simply trying our best. To be imperfect is to be human. It is the source of our imagination, our creativity, and is often what people love about us the most - it is what makes us unique.
Try being a little more self aware and apply some emotional intelligence here. For example, consider how you might counsel a friend if they had such feelings. Surely, you would not convince your friend that they are worthless. You would advise them against trying to be perfect - because that’s impossible. Then why treat yourself that way? Just like we are kind to those we care about, we must be kind to ourselves.
To break out of a cycle of self-criticism, notice when you have such thoughts. What time of day is it? Where are you? Are you around certain people? What are you doing during these times? Look for patterns, this will help you recognize triggers you can manage in the future.
Our disruptive thoughts can affect us in many negative ways if we choose to believe them. If you’re having any of these thoughts, take the first small step towards balancing your perspective. Reach out to your best friend, to someone you trust, and tell them what you’re thinking. Don’t be ashamed of these thoughts, or they’ll overpower your ability to recognize and reason with them. Self awareness is the key to overcoming such toxic negativity.
Disruptive thoughts can often determine your success or failure in many aspects of life. They can harden over time into negative attitudes. Changing your thought pattern is an ongoing process that takes time and focus. Mindfulness can help throughout this journey but it doesn’t happen overnight. You should expect such thoughts to return for a few months after you’ve learned to recognize and mitigate them. Be patient and be kind to yourself.