Quick, think of one of your favorite life memories!
Next, immediately think of a not-so-great life experience.
Now, try and think of both those images at the same exact time.
How did you do? Were you able to simultaneously think about a good and bad life experience? The answer, of course, is no.
Choose your thoughts
The point of the exercise above was to illustrate that it is impossible for human beings to focus on two different thoughts at the same exact time. Want to stop thinking of negative thoughts? Then choose to think of positive thoughts. When we choose to think of positive thoughts, we build a wall around our thinking, preventing negative, disruptive thoughts from entering our minds. This is an incredibly important concept to digest, as it is empowering to know that if we want to rid ourselves of one thought that’s not helping us, we can substitute another one that will.
Squash negative thoughts with prompts
If you know you are especially prone to negative thoughts (i.e. always thinking the worst in certain situations, like an athlete who worries about playing poorly), you can mitigate the risks of your negative thinking by employing a cue word strategy. For example, if you tend to worry and self-sabotage with your thinking, you might scribble a word like “focus” or “success,” or even an acronym like RMFP (reach my full potential). Coming up with the word, phrase, or acronym is the first step, and once this is accomplished the only thing left to do is to place the cue word somewhere that’s easily visible to you in times when you need it. Some athletes have found that strategic places include the palm of the hand, wrist, piece of equipment, or any other discrete spot that can be quickly accessed when thoughts of insecurity and frustration begin to occur.
Our behaviors follow our thoughts, for better or for worse. Good thoughts lead to lower anxiety, greater focus and confidence, and a positive attitude. Negative thoughts can be disruptive, annoying, and interfere with important mind-body synchrony (or muscle memory). While we can’t always prevent negative thoughts from entering our minds, we can quickly eliminate negative thoughts by having alternative, positive thoughts quickly available to us. It may not always be easy to change your thinking, but it is possible and that’s a really great thing to embrace.