Listen to your thoughts

Jacquelyn FergusonReminders to help live life more easily

When racing through life, mostly doing the same things day after day, it’s easy to lose track of what you’d be wise to change. Here are some reminders of necessary, ongoing tune-ups:

1. Listen to your thoughts: Wherever your thoughts are going, that’s where you are going. And thoughts determine emotions. But often you’re unaware of these thoughts because they’re unconscious. Suffice it to say, if you’re feeling depressed you’re thinking depressed thoughts.

• If depressed, ask yourself how you’d rather feel. Then think thoughts that carry you toward that feeling. Recall experiences from your past when you felt your preferred emotion and recall that memory over and over and over again to gradually re-wire your brain for greater emotional health. Be patient. When you make progress it’s easy to slip right back into feeling depressed, especially if it’s your predominate emotional state. But the more you redirect your depressed thoughts to your preferred ones, the easier it gets and the longer it lasts.

• Listen for rigid beliefs like, “I have to get it all done.” “I shouldn’t worry about me because that’s selfish.” Rigid words like should, shouldn’t, have to, must, can’t, slam the door on options. Others like everyone, no one, always and never exaggerate your reality. All hold you in rigid reactions so nothing changes. Substitute should, shouldn’t, have to and must with choose, prefer and want. Replace can’t with choose not to, always and never with specific examples of when. No one and everyone with specific names. Change your thoughts, change your life.

• Learn from the psychologist who demonstrated an important stress management point holding a half-full glass of water. Her audience expected the lesson was about the half-empty metaphor. But her point was about holding up the glass and its effect over time on the person’s arm. The longer it was held, the heavier it became. Just like with life’s stressors: the longer you hold onto them the heavier they become.

2. Listen to your emotions: Your emotions also speak to you. Observe yourself feeling what you feel when you feel it: sadness, anger, insecurity, jealousy. Sometimes all you need is more rest to feel more emotionally balanced. Sometimes you need to change a relationship with another – or with yourself. Let your feelings guide you in determining what needs attention.

3. Listen to your body: Your body speaks to you all of the time. It tells you when it’s overloaded with too much stress. The trick is to not only listen to it but to act on what it tells you.

• Too much stress over long periods of time leaves your body with too much of the stress hormones floating around inside you doing their insidious, gradual damage. Become far more consciously aware of your body’s symptoms when too stressed: an increase in muscle tension, headaches, shortness of breath, insomnia. What are your symptoms?

• If you’re aware of the causes of your stress, deal with them. If you’re not aware, at least do something nourishing for your mind, body and spirit to relieve the pressure.

4. Prioritize time investments: I train people how to treat me,” Dr. Wayne Dyer once said. If you insist on doing everything you teach those around you that you’ll do everything. When you do more than your share of work while no one else does anything, ask yourself, “Why should they?” Tell them you’re going to do only your work and not theirs and see what happens. Most will pick up more of what they should have been doing all along proving by changing your behavior you get a different outcome.

• At work and at home decide your top priorities. Then look at how you spend your time for a week or so. Become aware of how often you do things that aren’t close to being priorities. Let some of those things go. For example, if spending time with your kids is a top priority but you’re spending significant time cleaning the house, do fewer chores, with less perfectionism, and spend more time with your kids. Make conscious choices that support your priorities.

• Set Limits. “I can’t say no; that wouldn’t be nice.” If you think you can’t, you won’t. Ask yourself if the others’ requests help or hinder achieving your priorities. Let your answer influence your choice. Sometimes it’s fine to help if you have the time. But when you’re overloaded and continue to say “yes” you’re teaching others you’ll always help them so they’ll expect you to help the next time, too. Learn assertive skills to set appropriate limits. It’s very freeing.

5. Self-care: Make yourself and your wellbeing a priority by taking 30 to 60 minutes daily to feed your mind and body. Staying well allows you to be better for those around you.

-from Jacquelyn Ferguson’s blog, Stress for Success.

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