Thought chatter – those thoughts that go round and round in your head that you can’t seem to stop .
Can they help? Can they hurt?
Sometimes, they can keep you stuck where you currently are.
But what STARTS them? In order to talk about these thoughts, we have to talk about the events that caused them in the first place.
When something happens in your life, your mind comes up with a thought – or many thoughts – as a result of that situation. From that thought you get a feeling or emotion..
a buzzing in your body
That’s how a client described the precursor to their anxiety attacks. As a feeling of low-level current going through their body (and I can relate to that, having suffered through anxiety attacks myself for a few years). That feeling/emotion can cause action or inaction. Going through that sequence repeatedly causes a result. Even thinking it one time causes a result, but doing it over and over again causes an actual groove in your brain, as nueorplasticity has discovered.
Remember, your lower brain tries to make things easy for you and keep you safe. This is also called “primal brain,” or, in a more humorous twist, and my favorite term, your “monkey brain.” It also wants to be very efficient and try to save you some time and do some things automatically, thus developing that pathway. When some event happens it triggers that monkey brain, reminding you that you’ve been here/done this/felt this before, and attempts to take you down the same trail. That’s why something done many many many times may seem almost impossible not to think or do. That’s the monkey, primal brain doing that. It jumps up to give a quick solution to whatever you’re thinking…a quick action to a quick thought.
But what if these are not things you want to continue doing?
Think about eating out of emotion or binge eating. In the passion of the moment, or in the middle of the action, it feels like you have no choice. You suddenly get an idea of something you have to eat, or an amount, or an emotion you just can’t handle, so you’re going to eat instead. Ever gone through a half-gallon of ice cream before coming to your senses? Or not really remembering eating the first half? That’s your monkey brain again, trying to “help.”
Maybe this analogy will help…how many times have you driven from home to work, and suddenly realized you didn’t really remember the actual drive?
What about riding a bicycle after years (YEARS) of not riding? “It’s just like riding a bicycle – it’ll come right back to you!”
Why do you think this is?
A trigger (event) – a thought – a feeling – an action. Looping over and over again. It’s a great system when you’re trying to develop new habits, but very frustrating when you’re trying to stop old ones, trying to change anything in your life – the way you eat, what you eat, the way you manage your emotions, etc. Monkey brain produces that thought – whether positive or negative – at a faster and faster pace. It recognizes your patterns and wants to keep you from having to think about something in meticulous detail (very tiring) every time you do it – like riding a bike, driving your car, etc.
The primal brain is supposed to be acting in your best interest, but sometimes this manifests as a habit you no longer want to have happen – something you did originally that made you feel better in the moment, but over time you realize the results of that habit aren’t helping you at all, but hindering you – overeating, avoidance, snacking too much – so instead of dealing with it you resort to the habit your brain has dropped you into. But you don’t want to keep doing that habit anymore. Obviously the goal is to help you, but when long-term things aren’t in your best interest, they can hurt you. It feels like a hijacked brain, especially if you’re in the rut of having an impulse and then acting on it.
What are your thoughts and where do they lead you?
You think your thoughts and you assume that’s the truth, that it’s reality. There may be thousands of interpretations of something that happens, but when YOU think it, it feels totally real. You may not even know it until you’re in it. You may find yourself doing the habit and wondering how you got there.
S0 how do you stop the crazy train?
There are a couple of things you can do to put some barricades on the tracks for that crazy train to hit:
Are you halfway through the sleeve of Oreos when you suddenly come to your senses? One of your synapses started you on this path, but when you become aware of it, you’re completely capable of “making a U-ey” in the middle of the action and stopping it immediately. You just have to stay aware of your actions. Eventually, with enough practice, you’ll be able to recognize this trail and stop it before you get started. It just takes time – and everything is a process, right? The trick is recognizing it and not believing that you have no choice. Call them what they are – suggestions you don’t have to follow. Remember, the more you follow them, the more you empower them.
This is the thought process that says, “Oh well, I dropped my phone. I may as well go ahead and smash the screen!” It’s also the one that says, “I screwed up today so I’m not going to eat until tomorrow.” Don’t try to correct this from a direction of punishment. That will only frustrate you and the thought will win in the end! Instead, practice some compensatory behavior in a kind way.
Make a list
Another way to combat the crazy train is to recognize the thoughts when they happen. To do that, make a conscious effort to list on paper each thought as it occurs. Like the two mentioned above, listing them will help you develop strategies to combat them once they occur. So go ahead, make a Top 10 list. It’s a painful process that brings good results in the end. If you catch just one in the next few days, you’ve made great strides in starting the reverse process.
Ultimately, ask yourself the question, “Would I talk to my best friend/child/spouse the way I talk to myself?” Chances are the answer to this question is a resounding “NO!”
What have you done to recognize the crazy train, and what are you doing to derail it?