By Ora Nadrich
Have you ever considered questioning your thoughts, or do you just accept whatever comes to your mind as normal thinking? Most of us don’t think about questioning our thoughts. But, if even half of the 70,000 or so thoughts we think each day are negative, it’s easy to see how letting those thoughts infiltrate our minds unchecked and unquestioned can make it difficult to stay positive, productive, and goal-oriented.
Just being aware that you’re having thoughts isn’t the same as knowing them — that is, their origin, whether they’re reasonable and realistic, how they affect you, or whether you have any power over them.
For example, a thought can pop up and demand your attention, especially if it’s negative. That’s usually because you have some kind of energy or an emotion around it, and it doesn’t seem to want to go away. Even if it recedes somewhere to the back of your mind, it will usually pop up again, especially in times of agitation, stress, or strife.
What is that thought trying to tell you?
The only way you can know what a thought is trying to convey is by questioning it, and that means finding out where it came from and whether it serves a purpose in your well-being.
A positive thought is useful and productive. It makes you feel good about yourself. Recurring negative thoughts do nothing but drive you to feel bad and diminished in some way. Yet many people will let those thoughts take over, whether they’re based in reality or not.
For instance, people suffering from anorexia steadfastly hold onto the thought that they’re overweight, even when the image of their skeletal frame in the mirror shows otherwise. That’s how strong and pervasive negative thoughts can take hold in our minds and convince us that they’re real.
The origin of “Says Who?”
In my practice as a life coach, I encourage clients to question and challenge their thoughts as a way to address what’s holding them back. Often, the beliefs they hold about themselves that are causing them the most grief are opinions others have voiced and that they’ve accepted as legitimate.
Clients might say something like, “I’m not successful at relationships,” or “I’m never going to realize my dreams.” The negative thoughts they hold about themselves invariably pop up whenever they feel anxious or insecure. These thoughts, left unchallenged, then become a part of their belief system.
One client who had been considering leaving her job to start her own company was held back by a certainty that she was destined to fail and end up penniless — despite all evidence to the contrary. I wasn’t going to let her accept that negative and unfounded belief. It was evident that she needed to change her thinking by challenging her looping thoughts of failure.
“Says who?” I asked her, suddenly. The question literally popped out of my mouth. Yet it was exactly the question I needed to ask.
Negative thoughts are frequently the result of something another person — a critical parent, insensitive teacher, or angry partner — said at some point in a person’s life and that they believed without questioning or challenging it.
My client looked at me curiously, like she wasn’t quite sure what I was asking her. I took it further. “Who said that you’re not going to be successful and that you’ll end up in the poorhouse? Have you heard someone say this before?”
She thought it over long and hard. “Maybe,” I suggested, “you’ve been walking around with this criticism and judgment of yourself over the years and it’s not even your own.”
I saw my suggestion percolate in her mind, and then her expression showed a gradual dawning of awareness.
“You know,” she said in a stunned voice, “my father always used to say ‘We’re going to end up in the poorhouse’ when we were kids. I never made the connection until now!”
“Can you see,” I explained, “how you took on your father’s fearful thinking and made it your own, which became a belief?”
“Yes, but I don’t want to think that way!” she declared emphatically.
“That’s good,” I told her, “because you don’t have to. Replace your father’s negative thoughts with your own positive thoughts about yourself.”
Within a fairly short time my client found the confidence to work toward her goal of launching her new business, which took off and is doing well. Even though negative and defeating thoughts still pop up for her from time to time — it’s unrealistic to think you can banish negativity forever — she now is much better equipped to identify and deal with them.
I’ve found that by encouraging my clients to ask themselves Says Who?, and to think about where they might have heard someone say this before, it helps them establish where the thoughts came from and determine whether the thought was theirs originally or just an opinion of someone else’s that they took as their own. And even if they determine that the negative thought was their own, the method of asking Says Who? is still effective at tracking the source of their negativity. By taking responsibility for it, they can overcome it.
Be in the driver’s seat of your life
Knowing that you’re in control of everything you think and can change your thinking to be exactly what you want it to be is a very empowering concept. However, changing years of thought patterns isn’t as easy as snapping your fingers. It takes a willingness to explore the truth behind our thoughts (what our thoughts really want us to know), but that’s necessary and essential for the Says Who? method to work effectively.
If you want to be in the driver’s seat of your life and manifest your own “original” reality — meaning your truth and vision of the life you want to live — you must know your thoughts, both positive and negative. In doing so, you can reshape your thinking to be in alignment with your desires. Remember, you’re the gatekeeper of your mind, and can decide what you want to let in — and what you don’t.
Ora Nadrich is a pioneering Mindfulness expert, international keynote speaker and coach, and the founder and president of the Institute for Transformational Thinking. A sought-after expert in the fields of Mindfulness, transformational thinking and self-discovery, she is the author of Says Who? How One Simple Question Can Change the Way You Think Forever, and Live True: A Mindfulness Guide to Authenticity, named “one of the 100 Best Mindfulness Books of All Time” by BookAuthority, and Mindfulness and Mysticism: Connecting Present Moment Awareness with Higher States of Consciousness. Her new book is Time to Awaken: Changing the World with Conscious Awareness. Learn more at oranadrich.com.