As I thought about the topic for the next blog, I replayed in my mind the last several coaching sessions I’ve had with clients. As I did this, I realized there is a very prevalent, reoccurring theme among almost everyone I coach or work with. Often this theme is the very reason they have come to see me in the first place. It’s the overabundance of negative thoughts that I so often hear; it seems that many people are mentally suffering in this way.
A negative mindset may not seem like something to worry about or anything serious. Afterall, we all suffer from negative thoughts from time to time; this is a natural part of life. However, I am referring to something more...
This issue is a true rumination of negativity in one’s mind. It’s not an occasional negative thought, it is a true pattern and recurrence of negative thoughts, which can eventually develop into more serious issues, such as anxiety, panic, and/or depression.
For this blog, when I say “negative thoughts” or “negative thinking/thought patterns” I am referring to thoughts that include any of the following emotions/feelings:
- Worry, fear
- Anger, bitterness
- Regret, shame, guilt
- Sadness, despair
- Envy, jealousy
What I have found, through my own personal experience and in the life coaching work I do, is that for our brains, negativity is often the path of least resistance. Meaning, for some of us, thinking negatively is the easier or “more normal” way we function. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as our upbringing, our current environment, our core self-beliefs, a past trauma, and/or just the way we are wired.
In addition, negativity is often connected or linked to strong, deeply rooted emotions, like those I listed above, making it an even more difficult pattern to break.
From a neuroscience standpoint, over time, these negative-based thought patterns create neural pathways in our brains. I like to compare neural pathways to well-traveled roads: they take little effort or awareness to initiate, as they have become so familiar. The same is true for our thoughts. The more we think these negative thoughts and fire and wire these negative pathways, the more dominant and more automatic these negative thoughts become in our daily lives.
For example, have you ever found yourself rehashing and reliving a negative event, conversation, or experience repeatedly, as if your brain is on automatic replay? This happens because a neural pathway (familiar road) has been established and the more we travel it, the more power it gains. These pathways shape our thoughts, our beliefs, attitude, feelings, perceptions, values, emotions, and overall mindset.
So, what is the solution? How do we escape the negative quicksand we seem to sink deeper and deeper into? Afterall, we know the mind can be an extremely powerful force to be reckoned with. We can feel helpless in this invisible mental battle.
While improving and changing our mindset is by no means an easy task, it is 100% possible and attainable. If this were not true, no one would ever recover from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). People including myself, who have been involved in violent events, would forever be crippled by the recurrence of terrifying and disruptive thoughts. Thankfully, this is not the case.
Whether we are suffering from more serious issues such as PTSD or depression, or we just have an overall negative mindset and demeanor, we can change. This is where mind discipline comes in and what I refer to as “flexing the inner muscle.”
First, let me say, if you’re dealing with more serious and significant mental health issues, I am not suggesting that “mind discipline” will resolve that for you. These types of issue can often involve additional, more complex factors besides an abundance of negative thoughts. While mind discipline can certainly help, often a trained, professional mental health expert is needed.
That said, mental discipline is always a key factor in decreasing negative thoughts and improving overall mindset and mental wellness. It is usually the first step and the continuing step in changing how we think.
I define mental discipline as the following: a raised awareness of one’s own thoughts and a set intention to reframe and reroute negatively based thoughts that are not serving one’s wellbeing.
Sounds easy enough, right? You may be thinking, “All I have to do to change my thoughts is become more aware of them, and then reframe them if they are negative?” Well, yes, in a sense, but it’s usually not that easy.
As I said, the brain wants the path of least resistance because it is hardwired to find the way that requires the least amount of energy consumption. If you are still reading this blog (because it resonates with you) your brain, most likely, finds negative thoughts easier than positive ones, especially as it relates to certain topics.
This is where the inner muscle comes into play. While our brains are not technically a muscle, they can perform like one. Meaning, the more we exercise them, the stronger they can get. As they get stronger, it becomes more habitual and easier, to become aware of our negative thoughts and to reframe them. Mind discipline is, in essence, the flexing of our inner muscle (our brain) … the exercising of our minds through specific activities that serve and benefit us and improve our mental wellbeing over time.
This principle is one of the main ways I recovered from a personal violent trauma. First, I had to raise my awareness to the negative-based thought patterns that had developed within my mind, and then I had to set an intention to change those thoughts (repeatedly). I reinforced this with inner muscle techniques, which I will explain next. When I began doing this, true healing started to take place in my life. My mind began to gain strength and thoughts that were not only negative, but also highly intrusive, began to become less and less.
Below are my favorite and most recommended ways to establish mental discipline and to help you flex your inner muscle. These all engage certain functions of the brain, that again, over time, increase mental discipline and improve your mindset.
- Prayer and Meditation: If you do a little research, you will find that both are backed by ample research. Consistent prayer and meditation help to curtail negative mind wandering, increase overall peace and calm, raise self-awareness, and increase positivity. They activate the Prefrontal Cortex which is the “executive” part of our brain that regulates many important functions, including our mood.
- Establishing a solid routine: Many mental health experts agree that routine is the “anchor of good mental health.” This is one of the first things I did as I began to heal my mindset, and I could not believe what a difference it made. Establish a routine and stick to it. Our brains like to do the same thing repeatedly (again, little energy needed); this is why we respond well to routine and structure.
- Journaling: Studies have shown that just 15 to 20 minutes a day of journaling can improve your mental health. You don’t need to be a skilled writer to journal. Simply jotting down notes, or even bullet points to express your feelings can be extremely helpful. My favorite way to journal is by using a guided system or a journal with prompts. Check our our Life Changing Journal here.
The Mental Health Benefits of Journaling | Psych Central
- Stop talking about your problems: When we talk about our problems or all the things we don’t like on a frequent basis, this only reinforces the negative neural pathway even more. If you need to talk to someone, do so, but choose wisely and sparingly. Meaning, it’s often best to talk to a trained professional, like a therapist or coach. Don’t tell multiple people about the same issue. Less is more. Verbalize your feelings but be cautious in how you do it.
- Exercise: I cannot say enough about this inner muscle technique. While this is obviously physical, it is equally, if not more, mental. Exercise requires dedication, tenacity, and consistency; these are all things that require a flexing of the inner muscle and that over time, make our mind stronger and improve our mindset. Not to mention all the positive hormones like serotonin and dopamine that are released each time we exercise, which improve our mood and outlook. Check out the following link; you’ll find some very strong statements about the benefits of exercise on mental health. The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Exercise on Anxiety (verywellmind.com)
- Practice gratitude: Simply put, gratitude changes brain chemistry. When you start taking note of the things you can be grateful for, often the things you don’t like, begin to fade away. In short, be intentional with gratitude; look for things to be thankful for rather than complain about.
- Nutrition/supplementation: Finally, what we put in our body absolutely affects our thoughts and brain health. We must flex the inner muscle of self-discipline and make the decision to be more health-conscious of what we are eating and drinking. When we are suffering mentally, it is often easy to make poor nutrition choices. This must stop. We must realize that everything is connected, and how we nourish our physical bodies plays a huge role in how we think and feel. I recommend whole-food nutrition as much as possible and I’ve recommended my favorite brain health supplements below. You’ll notice several of the supplements nourish, reset, and rebuild the gut microbiome. This is because there is scientific research linking the diversity of healthy bacteria in the gut, or lack thereof, to mentally related issues, such as depression and panic disorder. The health of your gut 100% affects the health of your mind.
- Concentrated Ashwagandha + | All-In Nutritionals (allinnutritionals.com)
- Total Omega + | All-In Nutritionals (allinnutritionals.com)
- Immuno-Gut Colostrum Plus * | All-In Nutritionals (allinnutritionals.com)
- Pure Collagen + | All-In Nutritionals (allinnutritionals.com)
- Kefir in the Trillions™ | All-In Nutritionals (allinnutritionals.com)
- Ancient Energy + | All-In Nutritionals (allinnutritionals.com)
In closing, if you want to change your mindset, you must change your thought patterns. These are 7 highly effective and powerful inner muscle techniques that can not only help us achieve increased mental discipline but can lead to the transformation of how we think, perceive and experience life.
The more we do these types of exercises in our daily life, the more self-aware we become and the more capable we become of changing what does not serve us. We gain control of our thoughts instead of our thoughts controlling us.
When we become more disciplined in our thoughts and more aware of our common mental pitfalls, we can stop negativity from not only hijacking our mind, but our overall life.
How we think 100% affects how we live; when we can truly realize this, we can begin to heal and live life to the fullest.