Our thoughts can be so dangerous – The story we tell ourselves.
The story we tell ourselves, our inner thoughts, and the role they play.
‘An average person has about 12 000 – 60 000 thoughts a day. Of these 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive.’ Jess put this post in a blog the other day and it tied in perfectly with my topic for a local speaking event on how thoughts change our brain.
As a woman, it’s natural that we tend to overthink things, but this doesn’t need to be the case, we can be in control of our thoughts, but I needed to learn this. The lesson was hard but well worth it.
I’m 39, and I have lived most of my life with a toxic mind, toxic thoughts, and toxic behaviours. Sadly, I have not always been the nicest to be around and, most importantly, I didn’t love being around me. Yip! I didn’t like myself and I didn’t talk nicely to myself. It’s actually more common than we think! A lot of people don’t like themselves and don’t talk nicely to themselves. But along with this common practice is the fact that most people actually don’t think about it: they just go wherever their mind takes them.
Our thoughts can be so dangerous. A toxic thought can seep into every area and moment of your life.
Let me tell you a snippet of my story…
The story I told myself
For me, my patterns and toxic thinking all started before I can even remember. I just remember growing up being unhappy and feeling alone. I grew up as a ‘laat lammetjie’ as they call it in South African Afrikaans: meaning my brother and sister were much older than me. It’s a miracle story really! My parents were not planning me and my mom falling pregnant was a miracle all on its own. There is a whole story here, but for another time.
Growing up was lonely: my parents worked hard; my siblings were much older than me; my parent’s friends didn’t have children my age; they were all my sibling’s ages and, where we lived, there weren’t any children either. As a result of all of this, I watched a lot of TV. Back then, parents didn’t know the effect of too much tv watching. It was a great babysitter and I loved it, but it did not love my brain back. It was toxic.
I was an unhappy, angry child. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I found school incredibly hard. I had a terrible Grade 1 teacher, who was a bully and spoke badly to me. She told me I was stupid. I was 6 and she spoke toxic words into my life. It took me a long time to break those words and, thankfully, even then, I only half believed them because during that time my parents sent me for a series of assessments which said differently. It was so counteractive though; I had a number of teachers who didn’t understand me, didn’t understand my brain, and found it easy to speak negativity over me.
It’s so dangerous and I’ve witnessed this firsthand. We need to be so careful about what we speak over our children and what we allow others to speak over them.
Fast forward… I turned out to be an angry, confused teen that eventually turned into an unhappy adult. I used substances as escape mechanisms to try to make myself feel better, but instead, it had the opposite effect. In return, I was more unhappy and more destructive, and it all started in my mind. During this time, I also turned to witchcraft and loved it. Thankfully though, there was another plan for my life at play. Snorky (my now husband, but then boyfriend) kept nudging me and telling me we needed to go to church. At this same time, my sister started to go to a church home group and so we went with her to her home bible study. This was the beginning of the rest of our lives, it was here where we gave our lives to Jesus and our lives changed.
It was amazing! My anger turned – almost overnight- from anger and hatred to love and joy. And it just so happened that in our bible study, we started a new study on the book, ‘The Battlefield of the Mind.’ By Joyce Meyers. Wow, I had never heard anything like this before and it was the start of a new beginning. Knowing that our mind is a battlefield, knowing we need to ‘take our thoughts captive’ as the bible implicitly tells us and that random thoughts just pop into our mind and we don’t need to believe them. Without knowing the massive psychology and brain techniques, I started spending time in my bible: praying, and reading God’s word and it changed my mind, without me even knowing the full power. I thought about God in the day, thought about his promises in the bible and this created a new mind in me. It was beautiful. I lived a happy, fulfilled life for many of my mid-20s to early 30s, but sadly this changed.
These 2 scriptures changed my life:
2 Corinthians 10:5 ‘ We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’
Romans 12:2 ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.’
It’s all changed – my mental health and thinking went downhill.
We moved to a small farming community, away from church and away from my beautiful Christian friends. I sadly believed a lie that someone spoke into my life. I was pregnant with my third son and a friend told me I needed to make new friends as none of the girls I was friendly with, at the time, liked me. This sent me into a spiral of toxic thought patterns and, sadly, I spun out of control. I believed this lie- that I had no friends and none of these girls liked me. I allowed my self-worth to be in the belief of what I thought others thought about me and my thoughts were, ’that nobody liked me.’ In reality, who cares what others thought (and think) about me, or you? In reality, we should care about what we think about ourselves and those who love us. Those who love us will speak the truth, in kindness and love, wanting the best for us. Those who love us protect us, and work hard a helping build us up, not tear us down.
These toxic thoughts took hold of my mind and, in effect, did damage to my brain. I had sadly stopped spending so much time reading the bible and praying. I wasn’t going to church, and I wasn’t surrounded by my friends who spoke life and blessing into my life.
- Is your toxic thinking ruining your life? Have you become bitter and angry? Is it ruining your relationships and your happiness?
How I got my life back!
It was at this stage that two wonderful things happened. 1. My husband and mom booked me into therapy and 2. I picked up a book by Dr Caroline Leaf called, ‘Switch on your Brain – The key to peak happiness, thinking and health.’ These 2 things, combined, changed my life, again. Seeing a therapist was incredible: he showed me the lies I was believing. He made me understand that I needed to start living in the reality which I choose. Coupled with this, was the book. The book taught me about my thoughts and about the damage I was doing to my brain by thinking negative thoughts and living in those thoughts.
Our mind and brain are these incredible co-existing parts. They are forever linked, and one helps the other. As we think with our mind, we change the pattern and structure of our brain. Before all of this, I couldn’t understand how my self-confidence had changed. I went from being self-confident and having great self-worth because it was wrapped in that I knew I had a Maker in God, a purpose and that I was worth the love of those in my life. But, it had all been taken from me, in my mind, and in my beliefs.
Our thoughts are real things in our brain (they occupy our mental real estate). Under a microscope, scientists can look at our thought patterns and see if they are healthy or not. Our healthy thoughts look like healthy lush trees (forests) and the unhealthy ones look like dead, dried-up trees. How incredible? In learning all of this, through multiple neuropsychologists and psychiatrists by listening to podcasts and reading books, I learnt that our brain is neuroplastic: which means it has the ability to change itself. ‘Neuroplasticity, also known as neural plasticity, or brain plasticity, is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. It is when the brain is rewired to function in some way that differs from how it previously functioned.’ – Wikipedia. Absolutely incredible. New science shows through imaging how this happens. They can see the growth of a brain vs the deterioration.
Up until the early 1990s, this was not known. Scientists and leaders in the field of neuroscience believed the brain was fixed. Therefore, if you had a Traumatic Brain Injury (e.g., a car crash or even falling down stairs), our brain was set and unable to heal itself. Well, now we know this is not true, but what do we do about it?
Our incredible brain, but are you loving it?
Our brain is incredible, but only if we look after it. If we care for it and nurture it.
Dr Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and neuro expert on brain imaging (which is called Spect Imaging scans), has a beautiful way of saying look after you brain… ‘Do what loves your brain back’. Only do what is good for you and your brain. We can look after our brain and nurture it by our lifestyle habits, or we can hurt our brain.
Through these two doctors and their teachings, plus my psychologist, my life changed for the better and changed forever. I have made the decision to never go through that again. I was only going to allow my brain, with the power of Jesus, to stay in a place of positivity. I am realistic about my situations and honest about negativity, but I’m not going to let it take over my life again.
Now, let me tell you about the different practices from both doctors.
Dr Caroline Leaf taught me to retrain my brain through her 5 powerful steps. She taught me that my toxic thoughts can be replaced by positive ones. It takes 63 intentional days, spending 7 minutes a day thinking this way. I decided to spend a bit more than 7 minutes a day. I did the process for the initial 7 minutes in the morning and then whenever I had an idle moment in the day, I would rethink it through. We can do this every day for the rest of time. Take a thought and break it over 63 days then take another one until there are no more toxic negative loops in your mind and brain. Do one thought at a time, you might have lots you can write down and then take the one that is most consistent or hurtful and start with that one.
Here is the ‘Change your Brain Strategy’:
- Acknowledge the thought (Gathering Awareness)
What is happening in your body? What are your emotions doing and then saying? Are you feeling anxious, scared, panicked? What is the thought or thoughts attached to your emotion?
- Reflect on the thought
Why? What are the whys of how this thought came to be? Where did it come from and how is it affecting you? Give yourself the understanding of how this word became a lie and destructive in your head. Did someone speak it over you? Sadly, other people’s insensitive and often untrue words affect us.
- Writing it down and speaking it aloud.
When we write and speak, it reinforces the process. Write down what your thought is and then write down how you are going to change it. What are you going to replace that thought with? You always need to replace the thought with a proactive, beneficial thought. Then speak it all out. The best is to speak to a therapist. When you see one, tell them this thought, but if you don’t have one then a close person in your life, someone who will listen and encourage you and lift you up.
Do steps 1 and 2 again. Conceptualize what the thought was and where it came from. What are you replacing it with?
- Make the change in your mind and in your life.
Start living out your new thought processes. Speak it out often in your day. When you think those old, toxic thoughts- replace it. Take the thought captive. Think about the old thought and replace it with the new one. Say no. Think about your thinking.
Over the past few years, in doing the 5 steps, I have recreated them to make them my own and make the processes easier to understand. I reworded Dr Caroline Leaf’s original 5 step process.
I have used this method for the past few years, and it has been incredible in my life. If you want to change your life and change your mind, start with this.
The next puzzle piece to be added to changing my dangerous thoughts.
As I mentioned earlier, in my research on mental health, I came across Dr Daniel Amen’s TED talk. This was and is another contributing factor to my love of brain health and wanting to implement it in my and my family’s lives. He has now done over 1 million brain scans and his podcast is laden with 1000s of testimonies of people’s lives who have been changed. He speaks about looking after and caring for your brain health as the first step in mental health. He often mentions, ‘why is it every medical specialist scans the organ they want to repair and fix but yet we don’t scan the brain.’ Psychiatrists will put you on several medications and yet they have no idea what damage that person has in their brain. He shows the effects of injuries in the brain. Often people don’t have a mental health illness, but rather their brain is damaged, from a multitude of reasons. These are just some of the reasons our brains are damaged: gut health issues, processed food, alcohol, marijuana and drug use, sports and minor head injuries during your life, toxic thinking, lack of supplements, lack of exercise, sleep issues, not enough sunshine (vitamin D) and outdoors, toxic relationships and the list goes on.
The exciting part.
As I mentioned earlier, our brains are mouldable and can be repaired. They are not fixed, but this does require work, sometimes hard work.
Listening to Dr Amen’s testimonies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esPRsT-lmw8&ab_channel=TEDxTalks) changed my life for 2 main reasons. 1. As a baby, I was dropped on my head on a concrete floor by my small cousins who took me out of my cot while I was sleeping. My mom spoke often about this. 2. My son, aged 2 and a half, fell off a 1 storey platform onto his head. He had a massive concussion with bleeding on the brain and was in Intensive Care for a few days. We were told we were very blessed; he could have died, but he was fine and off we went. We didn’t know about the possible brain issues this could have. But when I found out, I did everything I could to help repair the damage which would have been caused.
This testimony of Doc Amen is etched into my memory and one I speak about often. “A professional American Football Player, Anthony Davies, was advised by friends to see Doc Amen, but he thought he was fine, he was only in his mid-30s so to him, he had no problem. But over time he noticed his mind wasn’t as strong and as sharp, he had some issues in his life which he was struggling to emotionally control. He knew something needed to be done and therefore, booked an appointment with Doc Amen and went for a scan. His brain showed multiple issues, with damage and lack of blood flow, his brain was over the age of 80 and yet he was in his 30s. Scared and alarmed, Doc Amen assured him his brain can be fixed, through hard work. Over the course of the next year, he put into action the BRIGHT MINDS anagram (picture below). After a year of intense work, he went for a follow up scan. The results were incredible. His brain had fully repaired, so much so that it showed it was younger than he was.” This testimony has done beautiful things in my life. I know I can live to keep my brain healthy. I don’t always do it, but I try. I work very hard at giving my children this BRIGHT MINDS advantage as well. My motto is do what you can with what you have. When you have the information, you can do better.
Anthony Davies Story – https://castbox.fm/x/id65
Another code to follow
Something my therapist taught me was that assumptions are so dangerous, and they will ruin your life if you let them. All that assumptions are negative stories you have built up in your head; they are a toxic loop that tells you a lie. Don’t let your thoughts lie to you.
He told me a story of someone breaking down on the side of the road and this person walking for help. He sees a house, and starts walking in that direction, but starts telling himself the person won’t help. He built this negative assumption and picture in his head. He gets to the house, knocks on the door, and when the person answers, he says to them, ‘you won’t help anyway so what is the point’, and turns and walks away. That is so often the case, we don’t try because we have assumed it will go badly or the answer is no. We break relationships because we have assumed, which is not the truth.
What assumptions have you made in the past that have hurt you? Can you fix them? A lot of my lies and toxic thought have been because of assumptions.
Do you need to find a therapist? We would love to help: https://www.connectablelife.com
I’m so happy to say, that I am the happiest I have ever been in my mind, this is not to say, that life event don’t make me stressed or uncomfortable, but, they don’t take away my inner joy and peace. I have learnt to love me.