As I shared in my previous posts, future tripping and past tripping easily send thoughts and emotions spiraling downhill, but thankfully there are simple tools that can be used to leverage your thoughts out of the rut and get you back into today.
- De-escalate. If emotions are escalated, start with engaging in a grounding or mindfulness exercise, such as bringing your attention to what your five senses are experiencing at the moment or turning on a song you like and listen intently to a particular instrument or harmony.
- Pursue self-awareness. Oftentimes, we get so sucked into our internal worlds that we don’t even realize that we are reliving something in the past or trying to predict our future. It is important to be aware of the situations in your life that trigger you and pull you out of the present. Ask yourself, “When did my thoughts start to detour from the present?”
- Examine your thoughts. When you feel yourself beginning to experience an intense emotion, pause in that moment to put a microscope to your thoughts. If you’re not at a point in your day when you can take a time-out, acknowledge to yourself that you are emotionally activated and make a mental note to circle back later in the day to inspect your thoughts. Look for thought distortions that may be skewing your perspective, such as black-and-white thinking, overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, or “should”ing. Some thoughts have a more powerful influence over your emotions and mood; make sure to give those thoughts due attention. Writing in a journal can be particularly helpful when dissecting thoughts.
- Rethink. Once you are able to identify your thought distortions, the thoughts must be realigned with reality and truth. Look at the facts of your situation and prepare a few objectives, true, and rational counter thoughts to combat each distorted thought. For instance, if someone doesn’t respond to a text within a few hours you may think, “That is so rude. I cannot believe they are giving me the cold shoulder and ignoring me.” or “Oh no, they must be mad at me because I couldn’t help out with…” Notice that conclusions are being jumped to and replace it with something like, “People get busy. They may have read my texts and forgot to respond. I’ll follow up with them in a couple of days.” Write down your new thoughts and keep them readily available so that, when those pesky distortions start replaying, you can redirect them more quickly and effectively.
- Be persistent. Automatic, negative thoughts and thought distortions are deeply ingrained patterns of thinking that develop over years, even decades, so be patient with yourself and persistent in your practice. Change takes time and consistency. In the beginning, you will find that your mind quickly returns to the default pathways, like water following a well-worn passage. But over time, intentionally revising thoughts will forge alternate grooves through which your thoughts can flow.