Thought shifting is when we identify intrusive, unproductive and/or negative thoughts and replace them with positive, productive thoughts.
Note: thought shifting focuses on replacing unproductive thoughts while other techniques (eg: mindfulness) focus on stopping the thought or allowing the thought to float away.
Why Thought Shifting Is Key
Our thoughts define how we see the world, they create our perceptions. This explains why people who’ve experience the same event interpret it differently. Or why one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.
We’re all prone to having negative or unproductive thoughts. Thought shifting helps us to generate a more positive outlook. This outlook can have us feeling better and can also help us:
- Conquer difficult tasks
- Achieve goals
- Stay motivated
- Create new perceptions
- Eliminate roadblocks
- Get unstuck
- Remove negative conditioning
- Stop self-limiting beliefs
- Reduce depression & anxiety
- Receive greater benefits from self-help practices
You’re Likely Already Practicing Thought Shifting
Think of thought shifting as the crème de la crème of personal development, self-care and betterment. It’s at the heart of wellness practices like meditation and mindfulness, it’s encouraged with techniques such as yoga and journaling, and it’s literally the foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy and grounding.
When we’re aware of how other outlets encourage thought shifting we can make thought shifting our goal and get better outcomes.
So if you’ve ever tried a grounding technique, practiced mindfulness or meditation then you’ve likely already practicing thought shifting. If you own a pair of Lulu’s, or perhaps repeatedly stated “I love my kids” while trying not to freak out staring at a huge mess you’re probably part of this crowd too.
Popular self-help gurus like Toni Robbins encourage thought shifting. And you will see a lot of social media pages and inspiration quotes whose sole purpose is to encourage you to perceive things a different way, or to be grateful.
What It’s Not
A lot of concepts are misunderstood. People jump on the bandwagon, and while they have good intentions, most don’t know what they’re talking about. Misinformation starts to spread like wildfire. For instance when people misinterpret Buddha and insist that “life is suffering”, when really his true message was just lost in translation.
Or when people misunderstand positivity and think it means always being happy or smiling. When really it means to have continued hope and faith that things can and will get better. Similarly, thought shifting is susceptible to being misunderstood, and it’s imperative that you practice it right to get all of the benefits.
So I want to make it clear that thought shifting is not intended to create denial. It’s not to say the man standing in front of his burning house should stop thinking “oh fuck” and start thinking “anyone have a marshmallow?” It’s to say that if our house burns down, instead of thinking: “my life is over, I’ll never get through this.” It’s to think: “I’m distraught, this is heartbreaking, I need to grieve and I’ll work though this in time.”
Your First Thought Shift
Thought shifting is commonly described as taking a negative thought and turning it into a positive thought. However, the term “positive” has been misinterpreted (and has evolved into meaning being happy and cheerful) making that description incorrect. So the first shift we’re going to make is also going to ensure you have the correct idea of thought shifting.
Misunderstanding what it means to be positive is damaging. If we think that being positive means smiling and being happy even though we’re sad we may invalidate our feelings. This invalidation leads to depression.
That shift involves changing how we define positivity. Positivity and being positive does not mean smiling or being happy. You can be angry, sad, or even cry and feel sorrow, and still be positive. Because positivity is having hope. Positivity is believing that things can and will get better.
So when you take a negative thought and turn it into a positive you are giving yourself hope. You’re not invalidating your feelings or forcing yourself to smile and be happy when you’re sad.
I hope this article was helpful. Please like, share, follow and/or comment. If you would like to see more examples of thought shifts click here.
Photo by Kristel Hayes