Control Your Thoughts
Hi. I’m Dr. Chad Larson. One of the ways that we can achieve a goal or develop a skill is to control our thoughts. What we think about and what we ignore can really influence our skill building and our ability to achieve a certain goal. Obviously I think of things mostly through the healthcare lens. When somebody is trying to achieve any kind of health goal, what they ignore and what they focus on can really make all the difference.
This is similar to my previous video, the first part in this series that I’m doing on Grit. We talked about the grit of perseverance and the different components of that. I said that physical perseverance is a great way to build a neurobiology with which you can improve your mental perseverance. Physical perseverance means things like exercise, such as increasing the amount of weight that you can lift or the number of repetitions. Or if you do some kind of cardiovascular activity, it means going for more mileage or climbing a hill or exercising for a longer period of time. We’re trying to improve our neurobiology and develop neural networks that help with increasing our perseverance. Then when something in life throws an obstacle in our way, we already have the acquired neurobiology to overcome that obstacle, and it makes it a heck of a lot easier if we kind of build up that skill over time.
Similarly, the grit to control our thoughts allows us to avoid certain mental distractions and focus the brain on what we want.
This can be really helpful when we’re trying to achieve a goal or acquire a skill. But it’s also important while we’re still in this global pandemic, because the number two risk factor for a poor outcome, according to the CDC website, is anxiety and fear disorder. And that’s basically the ability to control our thoughts. Anxiety and fear disorders are oftentimes neurobiologically based issues, and this could be part of it. It’s something that we can develop over time.
So how do we develop it?
There are some things we can do to help us control our thoughts, some skills and activities that we can incorporate in our lives, hopefully on a daily basis, to bolster that part of our brain and develop that grit skill.
- First, positive thoughts.
We’re inundated with negative thoughts, and experts have shown that it takes three positive thoughts to kind of override one negative thought. So positive thinking sounds New Agey, but actually it’s not. This is based in neurobiology and neuroscience. And it’s very clear, there’s lots of really good data on this fact. It’s not New Age and it’s not really psychology, although psychology is kind of wrapped into it. It’s neurobiology and it’s neuroscience. And it’s about improving the neural networks of the brain and creating the neurotransmitters to foster this type of development. So that’s number one: positive thoughts.
- Along that same line is gratitude practice.
Again, this sounds kind of New Agey, but it’s based in absolute, clear science. And what is meant by making this into a skill is, for example, you can write down a list of ten things that you’re grateful for. But you can’t be emotionally flat about writing down those ten things. You want to actually feel the gratitude as you’re writing them down. That’s what helps to instigate and nourish and develop the mindset, helps to develop the neural chemistry and the neurobiology of gratitude. If you do this on a daily basis, your nervous system starts to hunt for things to be grateful for. Throughout the day the brain is thinking, “okay, he’s gonna ask me to come up with a list of things that I’m grateful for,” so then your brain starts collecting things to be grateful for. This is a way that we can really start to develop the skill and the grit to control our thoughts.
- Expand your gratitude and write a paragraph.
Another easy gratitude practice can be to take one of those ten things on the list and you expand on it, write a paragraph about it. And again you really want to put yourself in a state of gratitude for the thing that you’re expanding on. Another gratitude practice is writing a thank you note. For someone or something that you thought of before, just write a note. Whether or not you send the note is up to you. That might be a little bonus. If you send it to somebody, they could feel the appreciation of the gratitude. But writing it is really the skill you’re practicing, is the way to develop this gratitude which in turn helps to develop this grit skill.
In addition to positive thinking and gratitude practice, there’s also mindfulness.
Again, I know, it sounds New Agey. But it’s steeped in very clear scientific understanding. There’s a certain neurobiological thing that happens when we practice mindfulness.
But what is mindfulness?
It’s kind of like exercising at the gym or going for a run. You’re not just exercising in the gym to get stronger at gym exercises. You’re getting stronger in the gym so that in your daily life you have the strength to pick up that heavy object, or to handle some kind of stress or carry a mental load. Maybe you have the kind of work environment that demands that you’re able to stay strong in your everyday life. You know, one of the things that can really age a person is losing grip strength. Grip strength is actually a metric to measure aging, sort of a longevity marker. Losing grip strength can be a sign of the aging process. My point here is that practicing mindfulness is similar to exercising at the gym in that you’re building skills you can then take into daily life, so that you can ignore the distractions and focus on the things you’re trying to focus on. Mindfulness is just a way of developing that particular skill.
It can be something as simple as focusing on a word you come up with, whatever word you like, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be some fancy mantra, although you could do that if you want to. It could be some kind of object like a candle flame. You could do it while sitting in a total meditative environment. Or you can do it while going for a walk in nature; that’s one of my favorite ways of doing it. But you come up with an object or a word to focus on. And what you’re doing is building up a skill to train your central nervous system to avoid unwanted thoughts and to focus on the things you want to focus on. Then you’re not allowing other thoughts to jump in there and take over.
-Dr. Chad Larson
So the things that we ignore and the things that we focus on are a result of developing the grit to control our thoughts.
These are a few skills for that, and the more you practice them, the better. You should at least try to practice them more days than not, and daily would be ideal. That way you can really develop the skill. Last time, we talked about the grit of perseverance. This time we talked about the grit to control your thoughts. Again, we’re inundated with negative thoughts and things that distract our ability to focus. And this is really what we need to do on a regular basis to get back in control of what we’re thinking about, and to avoid things that we don’t want to think about. I will keep reading the studies and bringing you the information. Until then, keep it real.