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Change your Thoughts, Change your Reality

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Dawn Walton

Summer 2015

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality

There is something I tell all of my clients at their first session.

“My job is to clear your subconscious out of the way so that you have the freedom to think, what you do then is your choice.”

For example, with clients who come to see me with food addiction I say: I don’t care what you choose to eat (I am not a nutrition expert) or how much you exercise (I am not a medical professional). I don’t care what size you are (we are all different shapes and sizes). All I care about is giving you the freedom to make your own choices.

How we think thoughts work

We believe we are in control of ourselves most of the time. Occasionally things happen where we feel out of control but mostly we believe our choices come from free will. That’s not true. Our subconscious is in charge at least 90% of the time. It is only in the remaining 10%, in our prefrontal cortex, that we are able to exert true free will.

So when you have a problem, you are used to believing that you should be able to override your thoughts. You can spend a lot of energy beating yourself up because you feel you ‘should’ be able to do X but can’t. For example:

You should be ok with getting on a plane, but when you try you are terrified.

You should feel happy because you have a wonderful life and wonderful friends, but even getting up in the morning is a struggle.

You know the right food to eat but still find yourself eating rubbish.

You simply are not in charge of yourself. Your subconscious is. And it is working on rules established during childhood. Rules designed to give you the best chance of surviving as an adult. Unfortunately your subconscious is a bit stupid, and emotional so often the things it thinks it’s doing to protect you are causing you more of a problem. You try to override it, but before you have time to think, your subconscious has acted.

How thoughts really work

Let’s say you are scared of heights.

Even on the second rung of a stepladder you feel terrified like you are going to fall and hurt yourself.

Anyone with you is telling you that there is no way you are going to hurt yourself. You are perfectly safe. And yet whenever you are faced with the real possibility of walking over a bridge or climbing a ladder, you freeze. This is your subconscious. It switches off your thinking brain and takes you into a state of protection.

When you have avoided the high thing your subconscious gives you your thinking brain back. Then you start thinking in the same way as everyone else around you. You beat yourself up for not being able to listen to them. You call yourself stupid. You feel silly. Well it’s true in part – your subconscious is stupid. But you weren’t in control.

You can aspire to stay cool and calm as much as you want. You can practice breathing techniques to cope. But the problem is that as soon as you are faced with the real possibility of having to go up high it’s not you that reacts. It’s your subconscious. It goes “We’re gonna die!” and doesn’t even give you the option of thinking your way out of it. 

Thoughts aren’t real

We believe our thoughts are real. We know we are capable of not giving in to our primitive urges. We don’t have to eat everything we see in the supermarket aisle. We don’t have to have sex with everyone we can. This gives us the illusion that those thoughts that remain are based on free will.

But there is another type of thought that comes from our subconscious. I call them Ninja thoughts. They hide amongst the conscious rational thoughts. They are in stealth mode so we don’t even know they are there. They tell us to do things in such a way as we believe we are exerting free will, but because they come from your subconscious they really only care about protecting you.

They tell us that it’s ok to be scared of heights because going up high might mean you get hurt. They convince you that you are actually being quite sensible by staying away from such a risk.

Because they are Ninja thoughts, we can’t tell the difference between them and the other thoughts. Thoughts that say it would be crazy to climb up a tall rickety tower because there is a genuine risk of injury or death.

So we end up treating all thoughts as real and acting on them.

But thoughts aren’t real.

How it’s different once you’ve been to see a Cognitive Hypnotherapist.

When you come and see me, I stop your subconscious hijacking you. I stop that instant reaction that takes you into a protective state. I free you up to keep thinking.

But that doesn’t mean you now automatically know what to do with those thoughts. You still believe your thoughts.

The trickiest thing a lot of my clients find, after a few sessions of working with me, is that they don’t know who they are any more. They don’t know what is normal for them because they are no longer reacting.

They still have ninja thoughts mixed in with the normal free-will thoughts, but they now have a choice not to listen to them.

If you think about the fear of heights, before you see me you react first. Before you are able to breathe you have already frozen to the spot.

After you see me you keep on thinking. You think “I am scared of going up that ladder” (ninja thought) but you haven’t been hijacked by your subconscious. You are not frozen.

If you are able to recognise that it’s just a thought, you can banish it before you act on it.

You take the thought “I am scared of the ladder” and don’t treat it as real. You step on the ladder. All is ok.

If you can remain thinking you can get rid of a thought.

A simple task to take control of thoughts.

Here is a task I give most of my clients in their second session to help them learn that thoughts aren’t real. Set an alarm for 60 seconds

Focus on right now. This moment in time. You might find that you do that by focussing on your breathing, or a spot on the wall. Anything that forces you to focus only on this moment in time is fine.

When a thought enters your head label it. Maybe you can label it as a worry, a thing to do, a thought from the past. It doesn’t matter what label you use, just stick a label on each thought. This defines the thought as an object.

Once a thought has been labelled, imagine it leaving your head again. There are a number of different ways you can imagine the thoughts disappearing and you’ll find a way that’s right for you. Examples might include: imagine the thoughts as branches on a tree, as each grows it turns to jelly and drops to the ground, or imagine each thought is like a post-it note that floats off a wall, or a leaf dropping off a tree and floating down the river. It doesn’t matter how you visualise it, just make sure you allow the thought into your head, visualise it, label it, and send it away.

After you’ve labelled the thought and sent it away focus back on this moment again and when the next thought comes in, just label it and send it away again.

Do this for a week at 60 seconds. Initially you might find yourself glancing at your alarm after 5-10 seconds. Stick at it. Eventually you might find that you’re able to get through all 60 seconds repeating the visualisation.

If you get to the end of the week and you have managed the 60 seconds, do 2 minutes the next week. If not, do another week of 60 seconds.

Summary

There are different types of thoughts in our head. None of them are real but we are used to believing them. Once you realise thoughts aren’t real you can get rid of them, leaving you free to choose your behaviours. The key is to identify and define the unhelpful ones as ninja thoughts before they takes over, then it becomes easier to let them go.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein