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5 Time Tested Techniques to Control and Calm Your Mind


5 Time Tested Techniques to Control and Calm Your Mind
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Note: This is a guest post by Albert Foong of UrbanMonk.Net.

How many thoughts do we have a day? Some studies have placed the number at 50000, others as high as 80000.

But the most shocking thing: most of these thoughts are negative, repetitive, and serve no real purpose.

It is no secret that your thoughts influence your effectiveness and your feelings, amongst other things. In short, they affect the quality of your life. Therefore, mental skills are not merely a luxury – they’re a necessity.

I’ve researched many manuals, ranging from cognitive psychology textbooks to ancient Buddhist sutras, and here I present the best techniques.

I’ve arranged them in three basic categories.

The first deals with minor distractions. The second handles stronger and more stubborn thoughts. The last works for all types of thoughts.

The First Category: Minor Distractions

This category contains quick fixes for minor annoyances. For example, you had an argument with your spouse this morning, and your anger is distracting you from the meeting you are in. You need to concentrate now.

1. Thinking of the opposite. This is a simple one. It stands to reason that most distracting thoughts are negative, and therefore have opposites. Simply reflect on the opposite – not just thinking about it, but feeling it as well. If you are angry, think of something happy. Your favourite nephew, or a happy place. Feel it with your whole body. If you are experiencing forbidden lust, then concentrate on their bad points and ugly features. The possibilities are endless.

2. Physical movement. Research has also shown that getting physical can allow you to “get out of your head.” If possible, leave the situation you are in. Ask for a toilet break and go for a stretch, or practice deep breathing (maybe not in the restroom, perhaps a corridor would be better, heh). If it is not a pressing matter, you might take a longer break and go to the gym to get a sweat going. Another good idea would be some music.

3. Think of the misery it causes. With this technique, you go a bit deeper. Look past the thoughts, and see what they are costing you. Really reflect on it. If you are distracted at work by anger from your morning argument, then see what it is costing you. Are you affecting your co-workers? Are you performing poorly? Are you endangering your job? Once you realise this, your resolve to stop thinking those thoughts are strengthened.

4. Distancing. This technique is simply letting your thoughts slide by without attaching to them. Realise that thoughts are just that: thoughts. They don’t have any power beyond what you give them. You don’t have to believe them, or act on them. Just acknowledge them, and let them go.

A good analogy would be to think of your mind as large blank white screen. Your thoughts are ants, scurrying across the screen. Don’t judge them, analyse them, condemn them, or hate them. Just watch them run across the screen – in one end and out the other. If you prod and play with them, they will lose their way and get stuck on the screen for a longer time than necessary.

The Second Category: Stronger issues

This category takes a bit more work and is recommended for thoughts that stem from bigger issues or are harder to remove.

As we have discussed, our thoughts and feelings are inextricably linked. Often, when we are feeling emotional, our thoughts about the situation become wildly distorted – and this cycles back into our feelings, and often our behaviour.

The key to both a mature response and a happy life, then, is to catch these distortions – giving us a realistic and optimistic outlook on life.

The distortions

The three distortions are nicely summed up by Martin Seligman in his work, Learned Optimism.

1. Permanence. We think everything has a larger impact, time-wise, than it really does. We believe that a bad event will persist and continue to affect us.

A permanent thinker checks the scales after a week of failed dieting, and despairs. “I will never be able to lose weight.” A temporary thinker thinks differently. “I didn’t lose any weight this past week, but that doesn’t mean I won’t in the future.”

2. Pervasiveness. We think that the consequences of an event will spill over into the rest of our lives. It has a larger impact, space-wise, than it really does.

Bruce gets up to do a presentation at a big meeting, and he stutters in nervousness. If he was a healthy, specific thinker, he would have thought: “I got nervous once at a business meeting.” If he was a pervasive thinker, he would have interpreted it as: “I am not a good speaker, I am boring, nobody wants to socialise with me. Oh my god, is that why Elle turned down a date with me?”

3. Personalization. We take everything personally. We see insults where none were meant, or we take the blame for things that are not our fault.

For instance, Madison and Clark bump into an old friend, Peter, on the street, but Peter pretends not to see them and walks right past. Madison takes it personally; she thinks Peter doesn’t like her, or maybe she has done something to anger him. Clark thinks that Peter was probably late for an appointment and didn’t have time to chitchat.

Catching the distortions

A good method of applying this knowledge would be the three column method. You could write it down, but it is also easy enough to do mentally.

Simply get into the habit of monitoring your thoughts. Once you catch a thought, write it down in the first column. Next to it, write down the distortion(s) that you think apply. And in the third column, write down a healthy interpretation; one without any distortions.

The next time you catch yourself with a distorted thought, stop and replace it with your healthier interpretation. This is a skill that can be hard to master, but the results are worth it.

The Third Category: Using Force

The last group of techniques simply involves forcing the thoughts to stop.

The first such technique is the howitzer mantra. Prepare a mantra that works for you. The howitzer refers to the fact that it has to be forceful. Examples of these are: “Stop!” “Enough!” “No more!” “Lies!”

The moment you catch yourself with an unwanted thought, interrupt the chain of thoughts with your forceful mental exclamation.

Another version is to wear a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you catch yourself with a thought you don’t want, snap the band. It hurts a little, and you are also conditioning your system with mild punishment to realise that these thoughts hurt.

Eventually these conditioning methods will cause the thoughts to die down.

Albert Foong runs UrbanMonk.Net, a practical personal development blog that has enhanced the lives of many readers, moving them out of suffering and into a life of joy, love and success. It draws upon ancient spirituality, modern psychology, real life experiences, and everything in between.

If you like this article, please give it a thumb up in Stumbleupon. Thanks a lot! =)



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  • Chris Edgar February 12, 2008, 8:36 am

    I like these observations, and I’d add that one of my favorite and most effective ways to dissolve negative thoughts is to get in touch with my inner energy field. By this, I mean feeling my body from the inside, scanning my awareness over each part of my body and connecting with my breathing. This returns me to the present moment and takes my attention off the false futures and irrelevant past events involved in my negative thinking.

    Best, Chris

  • Lori@betweenusgirls February 12, 2008, 4:59 pm

    Albert, this is a great summary of techniques for dealing with negative thinking patterns. I’ve read a few of Martin Seligman’s books also and he has a wealth of information on defeating negativity and becoming a more optimistic (and happier) person. You also presented some quick and easy methods for dealing with minor problems. These are great ideas. I work in the mornings and find that when I get frustrated with my blog or other writing projrects, I know it’s time to drag myself away from the computer and do my exercise for the day. Physical activity really does break the hold of those negative thoughts and the negative emotions that invariably follow. Thanks for the good info. I have a post on my blog (www.betweenusgirls.info) on happiness as well if you want to check it out. Thanks!

  • Albert | UrbanMonk.Net February 12, 2008, 7:38 pm

    @ Chris: That is a fantastic technique, thanks for typing it up. Thanks for the compliments too ;)

    @ Lori: Thank you! Martin’s books are some of the best I’ve come across in cognitive psychology, together with works by Nathaniel Branden and Matthew McKay / Patrick Fanning. Have a look if you have time :D I’ll go check out your blog right now.

  • laura February 13, 2008, 3:47 am

    Positive steps to a better future,calming and controling your on mind is really a great subject to get into. Thank you so much for letting us know that a calm mind and a positive attitude is away to go.

  • subhash February 13, 2008, 9:57 am

    Thanks Albert for the wonderful article, it is indeed very useful.
    subhash

  • Henrik Edberg February 13, 2008, 6:43 pm

    Thanks for all the great comments and for that very valueable and useful post, Albert! I’d also like to add a vote to the technique Chris describes. It’s a great way to return to the present.

  • bevel February 19, 2008, 12:07 am

    Good article and from first handed experience I can say some of thos tips are “sure fire” remedies! Thanksk for the share.

  • richard mathmanson February 21, 2008, 1:46 pm

    This all sounds too new agy to me and happy happy talk and too motivational for me. I like the down and dirty tell it like it is how to manipulate your and others minds guides better. Nice effort though.

  • Anna March 9, 2008, 5:20 am

    This article was informative and helpful in ways that I have not thought of before and also reinforces some of my thoughts that are aligned with yours on destressing the mind with my learned relaxation techniques.

  • Jonathan Mead March 18, 2008, 3:11 am

    This is one of the first articles on personal development I’ve seen of this kind. Great article Albert, thumbs up. =)

  • Maria March 30, 2008, 10:54 pm

    I feel a peacefulness as I watch some relaxation videos at http://www.relaxwithnature.com
    I really wish I could be there :)

  • Tushar Mohan April 13, 2008, 3:18 pm

    Thanks a lot fot this useful article.Therefore it helped me a lot with my classmates.

  • water boy April 30, 2008, 8:19 am

    If more people read this and tried this stuff the world would be a better place.

  • Henry Johnson February 25, 2009, 11:09 am

    This a great information, constant or daily relaxation may release our bodies tension and stress. thanks for the useful post.

  • Henry Johnson February 27, 2009, 11:05 am

    A great deal of responsibility is what we need.

  • Zoltan - Self-esteem dude March 3, 2010, 4:45 am

    That’s true that whenever a negative thought appears in your mind you have to change it into a more uplifting one. Do not let it sink into your subconscious. Do something else to change the direction of your thought and you will feel more relaxed and energized.
    Build your self-esteem and confidence in order to have a strong foundation for a new “you” who can handle challenges.

  • Developing Intuition March 8, 2010, 5:18 am

    We all have some negative feelings no matter who we are, we just have to learn how to deal with it. There are certain techniques and methods to calm you down. Exercise is one of them as the article mentions it and it’s always a good habit to go outside to get some fresh air and just forget about our problems for a while.
    Developing your intuition could be another one to examine your choices, study them and their outcomes.

  • Fran June 3, 2010, 11:39 pm

    Hi. I love this post. I went ahead and linked to it in my blog today. I think this is a crucial skill for educators who wish to make it over the long-term. Thank you for posting it! We’ll find you on twitter too.

  • Massz?r July 29, 2010, 11:27 am

    It’s pretty easy to mess up your own life. A wrong move here, a misunderstanding there, and you suddenly feel like your whole world’s falling apart. However, most of the trouble seems to come from within. With tips like “Take no notice of your internal critic” and “Don’t let others use you to avoid being responsible for their own decisions”, you’ll eventually find that all-elusive inner peace.