A famous Disney character once sang: “Let it go, let it go…” and I often find myself channelling Elsa when burdened by inner turmoil or feeling under pressure from external irritations.
Experts estimate that an average person has about 50,000 thoughts per day. According to some research, as many as 95% of these are exactly the same repetitive, habitual thoughts as the day before and, significantly, 80% are negative and serve no useful, constructive purpose!
We might be anxious about our financial security; we might be worried about being undermined by someone at work; our relationship might give us cause for concern if there is an imbalance or a lack of trust; or we might be consumed with guilt or regret regarding a past situation where we feel responsible for a wrongdoing.
Negative thoughts can be exacerbated by our reactions to external stimuli and stress triggers such as experiencing road rage on our daily commute, encountering a rude person in the street or on social media, or having an upsetting dialogue with our spouse, parent or child.
Sometimes our negative mental chatter becomes so overwhelming that it is in danger of swamping our hearts and minds during every waking moment, spoiling a perfectly good day and regularly disturbing our sleep. As creatures of habit, we tend to cling on to ‘familiar’ negative thoughts in fear of change and the unknown and falsely think that holding on makes us strong and better able to deal with the future and heal the pain of our past.
At other times, we fantasise that if only everything we experienced or encountered was like a ‘Goldilocks situation’, in which something is ‘just’ right (there’s the fairy tale reference again!), then our lives would be perfect and without worry, upset, sadness, frustration or irritation. Yet, it isn’t realistic or practical for us to expect that we will never be free from the challenges and pressures of life in the 21st century unless, of course, we lived as a hermit in an isolated Tibetan cave – and even that would throw up its own unique set of challenges!
So what steps can we take to let go of negative thoughts, false beliefs, unrealistic expectations, past regrets and future worries and become more resilient to negative chatter?
First of all, simply focusing on the breath, and the resultant physical activity of the body, draws our attention to the present moment and alerts us to the way things are in the here and now so that we begin to recognise passing thoughts for what they are: temporary flickers and agitations of the mind. Moreover, by accepting that we do not have to identify with them, we acknowledge that we are not our thoughts and we are not defined by them.
In addition, by becoming engrossed in a physical or practical task and engaging all of our senses we are more able to distract the mind which helps develop detachment from negative thoughts; create a sense of inner peace, stillness and tranquillity; and open ourselves up to a life of happiness, freedom and possibility.
So next time you feel yourself being consumed by a negative thought try simply to concentrate on your breath, or do something physical or practical to engage your body, to distract your mind, and to detach from the chatter. We’re all unique and what might work well for one person might not be as effective for someone else so try to find your own ‘go to’ techniques to use when negative mind chatter escalates.
Here are our top ten practical suggestions to help let go and detach from negative mind chatter:
1. Mindfully breathe
2. Walk in nature
3. Do some yoga
5. Create a journal
6. Use adult colouring books
7. Dance or sing to a favourite song
8. Watch something funny that makes you really laugh
9. Bake or cook something delicious to enjoy with loved ones
10. Engage all of your senses to observe your surroundings: notice colours, smells, sights, sounds, textures and taste
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