“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” – Lao Tzu
Who else feels like their emotions sometimes seem to come out of nowhere and have a mind of their own? Even though it may seem as though we have no control over our emotions, we do! We have more control than what we sometimes like to acknowledge. It’s important and necessary to think where our emotions come from. Our thoughts—and emotions—both positive and negative, become our beliefs and feelings that affect our habits and daily life.
The Power of Words
You have probably heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words shall never hurt me.” For some, no matter how hard they try, words and thoughts can be just as powerful and harmful as physical hurt. More often than not, it’s our own words and thoughts discouraging ourselves about ourselves. What we think and tell ourselves matters.
Throughout our lifetime we are conditioned, and soon our thought process becomes so automatic that we don’t even realize we’re thinking in a certain way! Our thoughts become feelings, and feelings seem to come out of nowhere, which then tends to turn into actions. Before you know it, our thoughts have become so habitual that it takes continual training to stop and recognize the negative thoughts we have, priming our feelings and emotions to take action. Whether it be us getting irrationally angry, anxious, depressed, sad—we develop habits, healthy or destructive, to cope with our emotions.
Negativity of Harmful Thoughts
Emotions such as fear, sadness, and anger are a basic part of life, and everyone will experience them at one point in life. For most individuals, it can be a struggle dealing with these emotions successfully. We usually react to these emotions in the heat of the moment instead of pausing to think on how to act. According to Mental Health America, here are a few ways people might deal with negative emotions:
- Denial: Sometimes a person might not be able to accept a certain emotion or truth, and denial is used as a defense mechanism against situations and circumstances that are painful and overwhelming.
- Withdrawal: This is a coping mechanism used when a person no longer wants to be around or participate in events and activities with others. It’s a self-protective measure for when people are experiencing emotions that might make them uncomfortable. They might be feeling shame, guilt, anger, and fear. Withdrawal can lead to extreme loneliness, depression, anxiety, and anger.
- Bullying: An unwanted, aggressive behavior, such as bullying, involves a real or alleged power imbalance. Both those who bully or are bullied could have potential lasting difficulties.
- Self-harm: If a person feels as though they have no control over their emotional pain, sometimes they will turn to self-harm. This can be in the form of causing themselves physical pain instead, self-imposed starvation, bouts of overeating and self-induced vomiting, or putting themselves in unsafe situations or demonstrate dangerous behavior.
- Substance Abuse: A person might use alcohol and/or other drugs to aid the emotions they feel. It could be to make them feel better or “numb” painful situations.
The good news is that with time and coaching, we can learn to identify and challenge our automatic negative thoughts. We can train our minds to identify our triggers, feelings, and thoughts. Although it may seem overwhelming at first, it’s very important to identify the motivation for changing one’s habits. You need to find and recognize your “Why?”
Retrain Your Brain
It may seem impossible, but when you feel yourself start to engage in negative self-talk or thinking, try to remember a few of these tools listed below to curb the negativity:
- Turn Negativity into Positivity: When negative thoughts start to pop in your brain, we might start to accept the thought process and allow it to control our mindset and mood. However, according to research by Mayo Clinic, positive thinking improves our psychological well-being and can lower levels of depress and distress.1 Ask yourself if the negative thought is really true, or is it helpful in any way? Would you say it to a friend you cared about? This can help change your focus and challenge your negative thought.
- Become a Morning Person: I know what you’re thinking, you can’t even begin to function without your cup of coffee (which should be de-caffeinated for weight loss surgery patients)! But hear me out, your thoughts begin to take form the instant you wake up, so it’s important to develop a morning routine that helps you take control of those thought patterns.
: Let some natural light in
: Drink a full glass of water
: Avoid scrolling social media
National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) says that doing a constructive morning routine can help to increase your energy, productivity, and positivity.2
- Learn What Triggers You: Certain people, places, things, and events in life can set in motion a stream of negative thoughts. This brings about the “Act, don’t react.” Take a few breaths, remember your questions to ask yourself, and steer your thoughts into a different direction. If you need to, remove yourself from the situation completely. Do what you need to do to clear your thoughts and bring yourself to feel comfortable.
- Be Mindful of Your Thoughts: To be aware of your negative thoughts is simply knowing that they do exist, and you will have them. Remember that your thoughts are just that…thoughts. Practicing mindfulness daily can help us become aware of what we are feeling and what our bodies truly need. Yes, our bodies do listen to our thoughts! It will believe anything and everything our minds tell it. Being mindful of your thoughts can help re-direct negative thoughts and thinking. Even though you won’t be able to always stop your mind from having negative thoughts, that’s okay, because thoughts are just thoughts.
: To learn more about practicing mindfulness exercises, click here.
- Ask for Help: Whether it’s a friend, family member, or a professional, do not feel ashamed by needing to ask for help. Therapy with a psychologist or counselor, or even meeting with a nutritionist or dietician can be very beneficial! There, they can provide exercises and tools to help change thinking patterns from negative to positive in a healthy way.
Changing our mindset on our bodies, weight, self-image, worth, and habits is possible! We can learn to rewire our brains to change habits, and in turn make healthier choices and think more positive thoughts. Our brains are very complex and one of the most difficult to understand. As your mindset changes, your life will, too.
Links to related articles:
Overeating Triggers and Tips
Preparing Emotionally for Bariatric Surgery
Weight Regain: Living with Fear and Dread
Changing Old Behaviors
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- Mayo Clinic Staff, “Stress Management”, Mayo Clinic, 2022, https://www.mayoclinic.org/health-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950
- Luna Greenstein, “The Power of a Morning Routine”, National Alliance on Mental Illness, 9 Aug. 2017, https://www.nami.org/blogs/nami-blog/august-2017/the-power-of-a-morning-routine