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A message to all the worriers and pessimists: you are not your thoughts

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Negative thoughts can get the best of us and create a cage that’s difficult to get out of – until we realize that the bars of the cage are imaginary.

In his world famous poem ‘Invictus’, William Earnest Hernley wrote: ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.’ These words gave Nelson Mandela the power to go on during his imprisonment in South-Africa. It’s like it often is with art: it has a different meaning to every individual.

Thoughts at the steering wheel

Personally, I read the famous poem as a manifesto for self awareness and faith in yourself. A nice and inspiring thought. Yet, I often find myself in situations where my thoughts are at the steering wheel – not me. I let my thoughts decide what I think, regardless of whether they are true.

At times when I'm feeling good, that’s fine. My thoughts are beautiful, cheery and positive. It’s more difficult at times when I don’t feel so great. Things can get dark and destructive in my mind. The nagging voice of self criticism keeps talking and before I know it, I’m in a downward thinking spiral.

Thoughts are just thoughts

Luckily, there are several ways to escape the negativity. Humans are not victims of their own thoughts and emotions. Our thoughts don’t have to decide the course of our lives nor our moods. Thoughts are just thoughts. If we let that insight really sink in, we no longer have to fight the thoughts. We can just allow them to be there.

Four questions

One of the originators of this theory is bestselling author Byron Katie. She created The Work, a method of finding negative thoughts and examining them by asking yourself four questions. Katie believes emotions such as sadness, anger and dissatisfaction come from our faith in our own negative, untrue thoughts.

Kind thoughts

The four simple questions from The Work help you to keep your thoughts from getting the best of you, and looking at them in a different light. This causes a distance that makes us kinder. Kinder towards ourselves and towards others around us. Or, as Katie would say: ‘I don’t let go of my thoughts. I encounter them with understanding, and then they let go of me.’

Destructive thoughts? Ask yourself these four questions (and write down your answers)

1. Is it true?

2. Can you be certain it’s true?

3. How do you react, what happens when you believe the thoughts?

4. Who would you be without the thoughts?

Text: Joanne Wienen - Photo: Marco Xu