I wish there was some magic formula here that I could share with you, but like anything, changing how you think takes some time and practice. The good news is that I am living proof that you can do it. It’s a simple process that you just have to submerse yourself in. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all linked together. Your thoughts affect how you feel, how you feel affects your behavior, and your behavior affects how you think. It can be a vicious cycle to break once you get stuck on a bad path. With some practice, though, you can break it.
Some more good news is that if you have already started your sobriety, you have already started this process. You have a positive action to build on. Focus your thinking on that positive behavior of not having a drink in X amount of time. Any amount of sober time is worth celebrating. It probably hasn’t been an easy path to achieving your sober time so think about how hard you’ve worked, how proud you are of yourself, and what it means to you. Think about the positives you are experiencing by not drinking or using. How does that make you feel? It’s a naturally good feeling to accomplish something you are proud of. Recognize that feeling and where it came from. A positive action caused a positive thought which caused a positive feeling. This is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and has been very instrumental in my recovery.
Awareness of how you are feeling is key to this process. By recognizing and being aware of how you are feeling, you can intercept negative thoughts and redirect them to positive ones. For me, this took a lot of practice and work with a therapist. Being clear-minded allows you the awareness you need to identify your thoughts. If you’ve been numbing yourself with a substance for a while, you probably aren’t used to all of the feelings you have. Some can be uncomfortable but that’s okay. It’s important to feel uncomfortable at times in order to recognize negative feelings and then learn how to redirect your thoughts around them. You can’t change your thought pattern if you’re numbing out the feelings associated with them. The discomfort sucks but it is part of the process of change. When a negative or uncomfortable feeling comes, that is when you can identify the thoughts that made you feel that way and challenge them. Forming a positive thought process related to what you are feeling can lead you to take a more positive action to interrupt the process.
One important tactic that I have discovered to help with the process of turning negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors into positive ones is to surround yourself with positiveness. For me, this required cutting negative people out of my life. It’s not easy, but it’s a necessary step to protect yourself. I stopped associating with negative and self-destructive people, both in-person and online. I started surrounding myself with more positive and optimistic people. I cut out activities that did not serve a purpose for my newfound positiveness. It’s so easy to get caught up in the vibe of your environment and if that vibe is negative, you need to make some changes. Set boundaries and stick to them. Don’t let other people or things rob you of your chance to be happy. When I’m feeling down, I like to get on YouTube and look up video of random acts of kindness. I like to post to my Twitter followers or Facebook groups that I know will be most genuinely supportive. I like to work on one of my personal projects that makes me happy, like writing for this blog or preparing for the upcoming new podcast or designing a positive meme in Canva. Find some things that you enjoy to do and use them when you’re feeling off. You have more control over your environment and surroundings than you think. If you surround yourself with happiness and optimism, you will gradually adopt that mindset naturally over time.
So, we’ve talked about being aware of your feelings and surrounding yourself with positivity. But how do we actually practice changing our thinking once we recognize a negative thought? How do we challenge an unproductive thought? We simply be a little patient and talk ourselves through the thought. A thought I commonly have comes from my anxiety and goes something like, “I will be too nervous to go to this new meeting because I don’t know anyone and they will all judge me.” I challenge this thought by questioning it. First of all, so what if people judge me? What other people think of me is truly none of my business. What’s the worse that can happen? Someone calls me a dumbass? I’ve been called worse and most likely no one is going to do that in a meeting. I have been to new meetings before and I have survived. Even when I’ve been awkward and anxious, I’ve made it through new meetings without dying. And most people are too worried about themselves and what everyone else is thinking about them to be too concerned with negatively judging me. So what if I’m anxious and my tremors act up? Is anyone really going to care? The worst they could do is say something about it and I’m comfortable enough now to just be honest and tell them I have essential tremor. It’s really no big deal. This is an opportunity to get better at being part of a group and to work on my social skills. My confidence is so much better than it used to be and this is an opportunity to gain some more. Going to that new meeting isn’t going to hurt me in any way.
Challenging thoughts and changing them into positive behaviors is really just taking things slowly. Slow down and really process the thought and challenge it. Your urge to use a substance may be unbearable but it won’t last forever. Your urge to gamble may sound like fun but what is it going to do to your finances long term if you lose? Just taking control of yourself and your mind can lead to a change in behavior. Take a few deep breaths if you have to and remind yourself of where you are in your journey and why you are doing it. Tape quick go-to activities that you can do to distract yourself somewhere you will always see them. Things like go for a walk, journal, exercise, read, etc. Sometimes it just takes doing something small for five minutes for the unhealthy urge to pass. Learn to challenge every thought, good or bad and to get into the habit of thinking it all the way through. Play the tape forward, what will happen if I do this? What are the short term gains vs the long term consequences? Be smart and trust yourself and your judgment. You have the power to change your thinking and your life through small steps in the right direction. Calm yourself down and be your own voice of reason. Once you get in the habit, it starts to be a natural thing that you don’t have to force yourself to do.
By understanding how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interlinked, we can change our thoughts by being aware of them, surrounding ourselves with positivity, and by challenging them. As I said, there is no magic formula, it’s just understanding and effort. If you have trouble with this process, consider finding a therapist. I am telling you that working with a therapist who practices CBT has made a huge impact on my life. Having that constant reminder to be aware of my thoughts, challenge them, and think them all the way through has had a hugely positive outcome for me. In the beginning, I needed all of the reinforcement I could get. Now, these things come naturally for me and I often do it without even realizing it.
What thought patterns are you having trouble with? How do you deal with negative thoughts and feelings? What alternatives do you practice? Let me know in the comments or via social media. As always, please like, comment, and share this post if you find it relevant or beneficial to you.