Feel Better with Mind Control
and Positive Thinking
“Breathe,” the scuba instructor reminded me. “And relax – there are no sharks anywhere near this part of the island.”
Some people, like my shark-loving husband, might have been disappointed to hear this. For someone who’s been terrified of sharks since I read Jaws as a teenager, it was welcome news.
Heartened, I flipped into the water with ease and enthusiasm I was definitely lacking before. All because I’d tapped into the power of positive thinking. My focus had shifted from the negative possibility lurking below to the positive probability of what I’d encounter.
My husband and scuba instructor would not need to pry my hands off the boat’s ladder after all.
The technique at work – Mind Control – is one of the most effective ways to conquer anxiety and fear. Essentially, you’re getting at the root or origin of the problem. You’re examining what you’re telling yourself that’s causing your feelings. Making sure it holds water. And changing your thoughts if it doesn’t.
(To learn about Mindfulness Meditation, your first technique to let go of anxiety and fear, and to listen to the 25 minute guided meditation that walks you through all five techniques, please check out the Resources for Success at the end of this post).
Let’s explore the second technique now…
Technique #2 – Mind Control
Your thoughts and perceptions create your feelings. Change your perceptions, and you’ll change how you feel. And, in turn, act. It’s that simple.
Applied… If I focus on the potential presence of man-eating sharks, I will feel anxious. This feeling will in turn determine whether I go in the water. If I reassure myself there are no sharks and focus instead on the beauty I’m about to encounter, I might feel excited, even anticipatory. Off the boat I hop, camera in hand.
The only caveat? My thoughts needs to be accurate and helpful. It’s no better for me to jump blindly into shark-infested waters than to imagine they’re everywhere when they’re not (or to think they’re all out to get me, as my husband likes to point out).
Enter thought checking and, if necessary, correcting. This is a proven, effective technique from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Here’s how you do it:
1) After mindfully identifying what you’re feeling (see Mindfulness Meditation for mindfulness techniques), focus on the thought(s) creating the feeling. What are you telling yourself? Identify the thought that’s causing you to feel afraid. Is it a perceived physical threat? Or is it more psychosocial – for example, a sense of uncertainty, being out of control, not having enough resources, a potential failure.
2) Now ask yourself, “If this were true, what would bother me the most about it?” Do you depend on being in control to feel safe? Or on the approval or admiration of others to feel good about yourself? Is there a terrible outcome you imagine, one that you think you couldn’t handle Whatever the thing is that bothers you most about the thought, note it. Write it down. This information will help you pinpoint your underlying beliefs and concerns.
3) Whichever thought or belief you uncover, check it. Make sure it’s healthy and based on accurate, helpful thinking. Correct it if it’s not. This step helps you determine whether the thought and the accompanying feeling are warranted. If it is, determine what you need to do and go do it. If it’s not – say it’s based on distorted thinking, for instance – then change the thought.
4) Reassure yourself with accurate, helpful thoughts. Try to think positive and even happy thoughts. Look for evidence that supports or contradicts your beliefs. Practice thinking in shades of grey, not black and white. Depersonalize, rather than making things about you.
Give yourself and others permission to be human, not perfect. Learn to laugh at yourself and life. And stay in the present. Anxiety is usually focused on the future, on what hasn’t come to pass yet. Anchor yourself in today. Eat nutritiously, get enough sleep, exercise – do things you have control over that help you feel good today.
Practice reassuring yourself when you’re scared. One way to do this is to speak to the child within you as you would to a real child you loved and cared about. Be honest and encouraging. If you can’t think of what to say, try simply telling yourself “You’re safe. It’ll be alright, you’re just scared. You can relax. This will pass.” Remind yourself of what you’ve been through that has tested, grown and strengthened you.
Then check out Technique 3 , in which we’ll take a look at Practicing Gratitude. Thanks for joining me!
Resources for Success
Technique 1 is Mindfulness Meditation. The Mindfulness technique is foundational for the ones that follow. It’s also useful for all sorts of emotional experiencing. The post on Technique 1 includes a 10 minute guided mindfulness meditation called Feel Better Through Mindfulness, created to help you apply the skills.
The 10 minute guided meditation that accompanies this post is called Think Better and Feel Better. It is the second in the 3-part Let Go of Anxiety and Fear meditation series. In it, you’ll learn to feel better by thinking accurate, helpful thoughts that support and reassure you.
To listen, click play below:
The remaining three techniques – Practicing Gratitude, Trusting, and Opportunity Seeking – are covered in the next three installments of this series. Used together, the five techniques are a powerful way to deal with feeling anxious, scared or out of control.
Agree? Disagree? Please let me know by commenting below . I value your feedback!