In my last article, I discussed how we do war in our heads. And unfortunately, when we make ‘war’ with ourselves, we get frustrated, depressed, feel guilty, and ashamed. WE can also have battles that create anxiety, fear, and frustration when the warring thoughts take on the shape of ‘shoulds’ or ‘needs to’ or ‘I can’t believe it.’ All these often create experiences that are damaging to ourselves, with the emotions that result.
When we do ‘war’ with others, we tend to get angry, and our judgments become ugly, often resulting in the less attractive aspects of humanity when this gets expressed. The ultimate expression of the mental war with others is outright violence toward others.
Either way, this war that occurs in our minds is automatic, reflexive, and conditioned. It happens without our effort and is dependent on personal history, genetics, parenting, traumatic events, friends, experiences, and so on. The list is quite extensive, but the bottom line is that our thoughts and judgments arise automatically, and we simply do not get a choice until we are aware of them.
Most of us move through life with little awareness that our thoughts are not chosen. In fact, when presented with this obvious reality, many will argue that it’s not true. Yet, these same folks are often miserable. If we had a choice, would we really choose thoughts that bring sadness, anger, or anxiety? Of course not! We would choose thoughts that align with ease, happiness, and prosperity.
But the truth is that we do not often exercise choice because thoughts arise instantly, and most of us respond reflexively. Thus, war happens without our realizing it many times, and we are caught as the victims of these automatic thoughts.
The Thought Train
Imagine this: We wake up each day, and the train begins moving thoughts and judgments across our minds. Unless we are very intentional, we do not choose what thoughts the train carries.
But further imagine that any particular train of thought that arises, if given our attention and energy, will pull behind it a similar thought train. So, if we happen upon a frustrating thought early on, and we give it lots of energy, it will pull an entire train of similar thoughts with it. Thus more frustration and upsets await.
On the other hand, if we have a deeply powerful thought of gratitude and appreciation, the thought train that follows will likely have more gratitude and joy. The stronger the emotional response to any particular thought train, the stronger the pull for similar types of thought. This is important to note, as stronger emotions change our entire psychological state and thus become a powerful attractor for similar thought trains…causing similar emotions.
Why Is This Important If We Want To End War?
There are three solutions that are built into this understanding of the automatic train of thoughts and how this creates destructive battles in our minds. I will cover one of these today and complete this discussion next week.
It is by understanding the automaticity of this process that we also get a pointer to how we must bring about change if we want better thoughts to bring us better emotional states. Of course, with those better emotional states comes the better behavior that others often appreciate! Remember: All of this is only relevant to those who want to experience a change within themselves.
The Intentional Train of Thoughts
The power of intention is consistently undervalued and underutilized. While proven to bring vast improvements in our lives over time, many will just not follow through. In my clinical experience, I find that many want something quick and easy to make life instantly better. That is a tough ask and is often why sources of immediate gratification will out, despite the detrimental long term consequences of those quick fixes.
Setting an intention is like choosing, in advance, a train of thoughts for your life. Depending upon your current state, you may have to reset that intention multiple times throughout the day in order to keep it present and not be overwhelmed by your mind’s historical habits of thought.
Thus, repeated efforts to invigorate and then re-invigorate positive intentions are often required in order to change how we experience our lives. However, the amazing impact of this process is easily felt if we can simply do this for a couple of days.
Here’s how you might start. Since we know that gratitude and appreciation open the doors to optimism and happiness, we begin with the intention to find and express, when possible, appreciation and gratitude. We set that intention before going to sleep by writing down three aspects of our lives where we are grateful. We wake up and repeat this process, again writing down the three additional parts of life for which we are grateful.
But here’s where the critical part comes in. We next set the intention to find gratitude for as many things as possible during our day. We do that by closing our eyes and imagining all that we could be grateful for, from family to friends, to jobs, to legs that work or eyes that see, to lights that turn on and cars that start…the list is quite endless. Find as many ways as possible to FEEL grateful, and imagine a smile on your face as you do so.
When I explain this to a struggling client, I sometimes hear, ‘Oh, that sounds exhausting.’
Guess what? It isn’t. It actually generates energy if you do this authentically. But change does require effort, so it’s not the time now for the whining train to show up if you want to feel better.
And remember: the goal here is to replace the war train with a more loving, peaceful, and supportive train of thoughts. This can begin today, with the intention to find gratitude everywhere you turn, and when possible, express this to others. Most will respond with a smile, and some will think you are crazy. Just move on…and keep being grateful. This intention, if practiced daily, can change the automatic train of thoughts in ways that may surprise you in a very short time. Do the daily effort, and see what happens this week!