I Can’t Control My Thoughts!

Some people suffer from what Psychiatrist Marsha Linehan called “Overwhelming Emotions” (Linehan, 1993). It seems that some of us process negative experiences in life differently than do others. Specifically, whereas a “normal” person might react to an unkind word or look with mild hurt, the person who struggles with “Overwhelming Emotions” might become suicidal over it. True story.
Why is this?

Linehan believes that some are just born that way. The experience of Alcoholics Anonymous seems to corroborate that belief: many members of AA report being extra sensitive to criticism and hardships in life, and they tend to overreact to them. It’s one of the reasons why they drink uncontrollably: to numb the pain that others simply don’t experience.

Linehan also believes that trauma from a person’s past can cause and/or exacerbate the problem. And trauma is a funny thing: what might have been traumatic to one person (with overwhelming emotions) might not have been traumatic to another (without overwhelming emotions).

Trauma in childhood greatly influences how we grow and develop later in life, especially emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

I’m a strength and nutrition coach in Mississauga, Ontario. I do personal training, strength coaching and write fitness and nutrition programs from my basement gym here – out of my home – in Mississauga. I believe that most of the battle to lose weight can be won with emotional control. Many who struggle with weight loss are emotional eaters or food addicts, and emotional control is essential in dealing with both conditions.

You Can Control Your Thoughts

Buddhism has known for millennia now that attachment is the source of suffering. Specifically, when I become attached to certain beliefs, ideas or outcomes, if things don’t go my way, I suffer either by becoming sad, angry, anxious, depressed, etc.
What if we could detach, and leave our attachments behind? If I could do that successfully with everything, then I could be perfectly happy.

Well, we might not be able to do this perfectly, or even well. But if we start practicing this way of life, we’ll find that things will slowly start to get a little easier. What if, for example, we could detach from our negative thinking? Negative thoughts come in, but we don’t “latch on” to them. We don’t entertain them, we let them slide on out as quickly as they just oozed in.

Can we actually do this?

Live the “Dialectic”

Marsha Linehan developed a therapeutic paradigm known as “Dialectical Behaviour Therapy” (DBT). DBT tends to be a helpful addition to CBT. CBT is rational, and seeks to help us to analyze our negative thinking, then replace the negative thoughts with positive ones so we can feel better. Sometimes, however, if we struggle with overwhelming emotions, our emotions destroy our intellect, and we just can’t “think” our way to happiness. If you feel that you need to talk to a therapist and think that DBT could be the best route to go down, you can find a DBT skilled therapist in Austin Texas all the way to San Francisco, make sure you research and look for the best one for you.

Enter DBT. DBT stresses the need to accept ourselves – including our thoughts and actions – without judement (i.e. with detachment), while simultaneously working to improve our situation. One tenet of DBT is what’s known as “Thought Distraction.” If cognitive therapies don’t seem to be helping to eradicate my negative thinking, then I need to distract myself from the thoughts. How do I do this?

Mindfulness is the answer. Mindfulness is a practice where we literally focus on becoming mindful of what’s happening here and now, in order to stop focusing on our regrets of the past, or our worries for the future. How do we do it?

An Exercise in Mindfulness

Let’s say you’re struggling with negative feelings and self-talk, and no matter what you do, it’s getting worse. You’re feeling lousier and lousier, and you’re getting scared that you might do something rash or something that you might regret.

First off, let me say that if you’re seriously entertaining the idea of harming yourself, tell someone, and go the nearest Emergency room. You need an immediate intervention. But if not, then I want you to try an exercise that will take just 5 minutes. Here it is:

1. Sit down in a comfortable position, whatever that means for you. Eyes closed or open, it doesn’t matter, but whichever you choose, make sure it will allow you to concentrate.

2. Start taking deep breaths right down in to your belly. Not your chest! Your belly. Use your diaphragm to breath. Imagine pulling the air in by using your stomach as a pump: let your stomach distend out as far as it can while the air enters your lungs. Your stomach should bulge out, and your chest shouldn’t rise.

3. Inhale and exhale slowly and steadily through your nose only. Now start to focus on your breathing: ask yourself where you feel the air hitting your nostrils. Front? Back? Middle? More in one than the other? Maybe not in the nostrils at all, maybe more in the sinuses? Focus on that for a minute.

4. If any of the negative thoughts you were struggling with try to come in, just observe them, but don’t “think” them. Make a mental note to yourself: “Oh look…there’s a thought.” Don’t name the thought. Don’t even call it “my” thought. Just observe it. Then choose one of the following images that works best for you:
a. You write the thought in the sand on a beach, and a wave comes up and washes it away
b. You’re stopped at a railway crossing with a freight train full of empty boxcars going by. You toss the thought in to one of the passing boxcars and let the train carry it away.
c. You’re at Niagara Falls and you’re watching the water roar over the edge. You toss the thought in the water and let the power of the Falls carry it down to the basin below.
d. You’re driving on a highway and a pickup truck with an empty bed passes you. As it passes you toss the thought in to the bed, and let the truck carry it away.
e. Choose your own image.

5. At this point you re-focus on your breathing.

6. Now start to listen to the sounds around you. What do you hear? How many different sounds? How loud is each, on a scale of 1 to 10? How far apart are the sounds? Do this for a minute or so. If a thought comes in, just observe it, and use your favourite technique from point 4 to let it go.

7. Re-focus on your breathing again.

8. If your eyes are closed, open them. Take a good look at what’s around you. What do you see? Count the number of items in front of you. Estimate how far each one is from the other. What colours are they? Are they new? Old? What are they used for? Do this for a minute or so. Watch for intruding thoughts, and return to point 4 if necessary.

9. Re-focus on your breathing again.

10. What do you smell? Anything? Describe each smell with a colour, if you can. Is the smell pleasant? Unpleasant? Are there multiple smells? Do this for a minute. Watch for thoughts, and be ready to return to point 4.

11. Re-focus on your breathing again.

12. Touch what’s around you. Note the texture and shape. What are the shapes? Is each item rough or smooth? Are they cold or hot? Do this for a minute, and watch for thoughts, returning to point 4 if necessary.

13. Re-focus on your breathing again.

14. Focus on the taste in your mouth. Is there a taste? Is it good? Neutral? Unpleasant? Do this for a minute, and return to point 4 if thoughts begin to intrude.

Make sure that you continue to breathe in to your belly slowly and steadily through the entire process. By the time you’re done, I’m willing to be you’re no longer focused on what was distressing you.

Be Mindful and Be Happy

Practice Mindfulness deliberately if you can, ideally in the morning and at night. There’s a great app you can download called “Headspace” that can help you get started.

Thought distraction through Mindfulness is a powerful tool in eliminating negative thoughts from the mind. It takes a bit of work, and some getting used to, but it does work. I’ve had great reports from my clients who use it. I’ve had great success in using it myself.

If you’d like to learn more about Mindfulness, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at 647-677-6025 by text or phone. Alternately you can e-mail me at fitin20@yahoo.com. I’d love to show you more about this – and other – awesome tools to help you move towards a happier, healthier and thinner you!