For you, intrusive thoughts are just a part of life.
Something good happens, and your mind immediately conjures up a horrifying tableau of disasters.
But what if controlling your thoughts could change everything?
When you learn how to control your mind, you can change how circumstances shape your present and future.
You know the secret to bringing good out of anything.
Controlling your mind is the master key.
And it’s within your reach.
Can You Really Control Your Thoughts?
One of the most significant clues to how you think is what you say aloud when you’re not trying to impress anyone. Another is how you react when things go sideways.
And it works both ways. What you say out loud—or write down—affects your thinking. And while you can’t control what’s happening outside your head, and you can’t stop every random, unwanted thought from coming, you can choose how you respond.
So the answer to “Can you control your thoughts?” is mixed. Yes, you can control your conscious thoughts—your rational mind. And you control the expression of that mind: what you say out loud and what you do, as well as what you write down.
The tricky part is finding a way to steer your automatic, reactive thinking in a better direction. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, it can be done.
How to Control Your Thoughts: 9 Ways to Manage Your Mind
Read through all nine strategies for controlling your thoughts and make a note of the ones that stand out for you.
1. Listen to Your Thoughts
It also helps to write them down. When you’re feeling angry, sad, or overwhelmed, take a moment to listen to the thoughts bouncing around in your head.
Which thoughts are the loudest? Which thoughts hurt the most? Which ones feel impossible to shake off? Draw out those thoughts, and write them down.
You won’t get any judgment here. We know how dark intrusive thoughts can be. But you’re stronger than you think. And you have everything you need to fight back and win.
First, you need to know what you’re dealing with.
2. Rewire Your Brain
A daily practice of mindful meditation can change your brain structure, massively impacting how you think and feel.
Right now, you might be thinking, “Oh, sure, if I could actually quiet my brain enough to meditate, I’d do it all the time.” It turns out, though, your mind doesn’t have to be blank for you to reap the benefits of meditation.
Random thoughts will come. Your job is to simply accept them and let them float on by. If you catch yourself dwelling on one of those thoughts, forgive yourself, and let it go.
You don’t have to be perfect at this. You just have to keep trying—at least for a few minutes a day. You can do that.
3. Identify Thought Distortions
The chances are good that the thoughts that make you feel the worst are based on cognitive distortions. Ask yourself if any of the following sound familiar:
- All-or-Nothing or Black-and-White Thinking / Polarized Thinking—It’s either this extreme or the other; there is no gray area.
- Overgeneralizing—You take one instance or example and turn it into a negative blanket statement about something,
- Catastrophizing—Your mind immediately goes to the worst-case scenario, and it feels inevitable.
- Mental Filter—You focus on the negative details or examples and exclude all positive ones. You see only what confirms your limiting beliefs.
- Disqualifying the Positive—Instead of ignoring the positive details or examples, you negatively interpret them.
- Jumping to Conclusions: Fortune Telling—You make negative predictions about your future as if you could know precisely how the future will play out.
- Jumping to Conclusions: Mind-Reading—You make assumptions about other people’s intentions toward you as if you could read their minds.
- “Should” Statements—You use the expression “should have” to shame yourself (or someone else) for not knowing or doing more than you did.
- Emotional Reasoning—You tell yourself, “If I feel it, it must be true.” So, if you’re jealous, it must be because you have good reason to be.
4. Identify Limiting Beliefs
At the root of your self-sabotaging thoughts are deeply-held beliefs like “I’m not meant to be rich” or “I’m going to die alone.”
These beliefs stay with you not because they’re true but because you’ve (probably) never questioned them. Maybe you felt you weren’t allowed to. Or perhaps it was just easier to assume they were true.
What beliefs do you have that make you feel deflated, ashamed, or beaten when you put them into words?
When something happens, you can often identify these beliefs, whether you see the situation as bad, good, or indifferent. Your thought reactions can tell you plenty about what you believe.
Listen to those thoughts and then dig deeper to get to the beliefs behind them.
5. Be Proactive Instead of Reactive
When you’re on auto-pilot, you’re relying on old habits, which you can only break by acting consciously. If you can identify those thinking habits (often cognitive distortions), you can practice responding differently.
Start by taking a closer look at a situation that usually gets an adverse reaction from you. What exactly is going on? Resist the temptation to embellish your account with assumptions about the other person.
The way you see it and the way they see it are unlikely to match up. Once you reframe the situation in a positive or neutral light, it’s easier to see how you might respond in a way that benefits you both.
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6. Cultivate a Growth Mindset
Someone with a fixed mindset can look at one failing grade and think, “Well, that’s it, then. I’m an idiot. And I will never be smarter than I am, now. No one must ever know my shame!”
Sound familiar? It’s pretty close to overgeneralizing, but it’s more than that. It’s based on a deeply-held belief that you can’t get any better or smarter than you are now.
Someone with a growth mindset, on the other hand, will think, “Well, that didn’t go well. But it’s just one test. I have an active, curious, and adaptable mind. I’ll learn from this and find a way to do better on the next test.”
The difference in thinking is huge. And the difference in your life will reflect that.
7. Stop Listening to Negative People.
You know them by their general tendency to complain about anything and everything—and, to varying degrees, everyone. They have something negative to say about most of the topics that come up in conversation.
They see the world and most of the people in it through dark, dingy lenses. They might even pride themselves on it. Spend less time listening to these people and more time consciously choosing your own thoughts.
When you’re not constantly exposed to other people’s complaining, it’s easier to see something good in everything that happens. It’s easier to see evidence that your life is full of miracles just waiting to be noticed.
8. Tell Yourself a Different Story.
How you see the world depends on the stories you tell yourself:
- About the world
- About yourself
- About your potential
A depressing story has a depressing effect on its audience. But if you’re the one telling the story about your experiences and what you see in them, you can choose to tell a story that lifts you up.
I’m not saying you should lie; just focus on what’s good. Find a way to reframe your experiences in a positive or neutral way.
And stop punishing yourself for your mistakes. Learn from them, and let them go.
9. Get the Help and Support You Need.
You don’t have to figure your life out all alone. Learn to ask for help when you feel stuck in a place you don’t want to be. It’s not weakness to acknowledge your need for help in seeing things from a less painful perspective.
It takes strength and humility to honor your needs. Everyone has them. If you encourage self-care in others, do the same for yourself. Part of self-care can be regular appointments with a therapist or mentor who can help you see things differently.
And while you’re taking their advice, forgive yourself for those times when you slip up. You’re human.
Just keep trying.
Now that you know how to control your thoughts, which of the tips described stood out for you? And what will you do differently today?