Written by: Peter M. Lucas, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Are you struggling with automatic negative thoughts? What if it were possible to decide what to do with our thoughts before they appear? In this article, we explore how to use curiosity as a strategy to overcome fear and anxiety, and ultimately lead to your liberation from negative thinking.
These days I am striving to cultivate a deep state of contemplation, gratitude, and contentment. A sense of deep connection to myself, and the environment, underpins my spiritual practice. However, this wasn't always the case. There was a time in my life when things were very different, a time when I was physically and psychologically enslaved to negative thinking.
Besides my role as an entrepreneur and professional coach, I was also a United States Marine for 20 years. Indoctrinated paranoia and stress intensified my feelings of negativity, anger, and anxiety. The combined effects of extensive military service led to a formal diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In spite of the fact that I am not a psychologist, I have been greatly affected by overly identifying with my thoughts and can thus provide some perspective.
It might feel like you’re the only one lying awake at night, dwelling on a decision you made earlier that day or worrying about tomorrow’s to-do list. But you’re not alone research suggests 73% of 25- to 35-year-olds chronically overthink, along with 52% of people ages 45 to 55.
A tendency to overthink or overidentify with thoughts can sometimes be a sign of depression and anxiety. For me, it came out as anger! An ever-present representation of what was going on in my head. The result was an overwhelming sense of isolation, doubt, and self-deprivation. However, I had a natural sense of curiosity and a desire to explore. I became determined and utterly committed to resolving this issue that had literally taken over my life.
After years of yoga, meditation, research, and introspection, I discovered a way out of the psychological drama. However, there was an unexpected twist. In my exploration, I found that the way out for me was the way in. I had to gain a deeper understanding of myself and my thinking patterns which led me to the discovery of how to use Metacognition (thinking about thoughts) as a strategic process to decide what I will do about a specific thought before it occurs.
Let's review some background on thoughts and the relationship between them and real-world information.
The ideation of thoughts has been a part of the human experience for quite some time. A deeper understanding of our thoughts, emotions, and their effects both internally and externally has spawned a generation of great thinkers. Philosophers such as Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Simone de Beauvoir, and Frederick Douglass laid the foundation for philosophical ideals.
But to be more specific, thinking about thoughts can also be described as Metacognition. In more precise terms, it refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of:
A. one’s thinking and learning and
B. oneself as a thinker and learner.
Another aspect of your thought process that should be considered is the fact that thoughts are a representation of the physical world because they contain an aspect of information.
A distinction of this kind is useful because it demonstrates an important fallacy regarding thoughts and their basis in reality. Generally, we become so attached to our thoughts that we think we are our thoughts instead of realizing that our thoughts are just an extension of our functional human brain.
How many times have you responded unconsciously to your thoughts, like a moth drawn to the flame, compelled by an impulse
over which you had no control?
Rolf Landauer, an IBM physicist, stated the case: "Information is not a disembodied abstract entity; it is always tied to a physical representation. It is represented by engraving on a stone tablet, a spin, a charge [i.e., of elementary particles such as electrons], a hole in a punched card, a mark on paper, or some other equivalent." We can use this reference without getting lost in the details (unless you like that sort of thing), to understand that the thoughts we have are physical in nature. Although your thoughts are not you, they have a physical presence in the world and should therefore be treated as such, rather than suppressed or ignored.
Do you perceive your thoughts as having the power to manifest your physical reality, or do you unconsciously bypass your potential and creative power by letting your thoughts control your actions? Who's in charge, you or your thoughts?
If this is the first time, you hear such a thing, I can only imagine what’s running through your head, thoughts right! Where did those thoughts come from? And how to deal with it. Even if this complex understanding of thoughts is oversimplified, there must be a way to navigate through this minefield of the mind.
Buckle Up: Here’s how I did it!
As a result of my experiences in meditation, mindfulness, contemplation, and yoga, I've realized that most of my thoughts are spontaneous, and not deliberate actions. This is not to say I don't deliberately think. However, are you breathing at the moment? Were you breathing before I asked you the question? What was happening while your consciousness was not focused on breathing? It's the same with thoughts, the function of your kidneys, and all the other things that happen inside of you. Your thoughts are not necessarily a product of your consciousness.
According to the National Science Foundation which states that an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% are repetitive thoughts." While initially skeptical, this general idea appeared to match my own experience, especially during my lowest points of overanalysis, paranoia, and constant anger as a member of the armed forces.
Although it took a bit of time, I began categorizing my thoughts in a way that created patterns of decision-making before my thoughts even occurred. What I mean to say is that this method will offer you a systematic way to steadily bring your focus and attention to the root of your thought patterns so that you can easily recognize your repetitive thoughts and address them in the most productive manner.
Are you still with me? Good, let's get started.
Breaking Down the Strategy to Stop Negative Thinking:
1. Practice observing your thoughts without judgment by using meditation, contemplation, mindfulness, and yoga. This will help you to begin creating a space between yourself and your thoughts. Using this ability, you can begin to realize that you are not your thoughts and that your thoughts happen as the wind blows.
You cannot control your thoughts, they exist despite your participation.
2. After learning to observe your thoughts, the next step is to recognize their patterns. In other words, if 95% of your thoughts are repetitive, as the National Science Foundation suggests, you will only have 5% original thoughts remaining.
Taking the research literally, your thoughts are mainly repetitions of similar experiences. This might be correlated with a function of the brain to interpret the information we get from our senses. With this in mind, I applied meditation, mindfulness, and contemplation practices to pay attention to my thoughts based on the circumstances.
As an example, whenever I had to speak in public, I would get nervous, and my mind would manifest worst-case scenarios based on my fears. This left me feeling constantly crippled and limited because, as a military leader, I had to continuously show up in front of hundreds of Marines looking to me for guidance on what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
So one of the first things I did was to begin to notice patterns by focusing on one area of my life that I wanted to improve. In this case, I chose public speaking because it impacted a major function of my career.
I suggest keeping it simple in the beginning so that you do not get overwhelmed by trying to map every single thought. As this process is intended to relieve you of stress, let's not reverse it by taking on too much at once.
3. Since we have taken this simple approach to recognize patterns in one area, we can now focus on what happened during the set circumstance. My initial decision was to begin mapping out my decisions about my public speaking dilemma.
Similarly, I approached this with a simple method. I used a document to track what happened during the circumstance (public speaking) and what happened to my thoughts whenever an opportunity presented itself. I then decided that whenever these feelings came to my consciousness, I would choose to become curious.
There is remarkable research demonstrating that mammals have a hard time being curious and afraid at the same time. The reasons for this are numerous, but an important one is that fear and curiosity are both derived from the same basis at the cellular level. Norepinephrine is part of your sympathetic nervous system, which is part of your body’s emergency response system to danger, the “fight-or-flight” response, and is the basic component of both curiosity and fear. Therefore, we can simplify this by saying that if you can train your subconscious to perceive curiosity for a specific event or situation in your life, over time, if you were afraid or anxious in the past, you will feel a sense of curiosity instead.
I must admit that this explanation is an oversimplification of the empirical scientific research and data available about the subject. However, simple does not necessarily mean easy. And if you can implement this strategy effectively, I am living proof that the impact on your life can be profound. Let’s imagine a scenario in which you were once paralyzed by an event in your life (such as public speaking), only to have it continuously ignite your excitement and curiosity.
Underestimating the Power of Curiosity
Unfortunately, most of us put our passions first and avoid curiosity altogether. There was a time when I was only concerned about pursuing my passions. Despite my ferocious pursuit, I found I was leaving myself unfulfilled as the things I was chasing were empty. It is understandable to pursue passions intently. Who wouldn't want to live a passionate life? In terms of pursuing passions, however, most of us have never explored what makes us happy. And as a result of the industrial revolution, we have a global public education model that has the primary purpose of creating cogs for the wheel of industry. Perhaps this is why most of us are never asked or have been asked, what we like to do. Although there are healthy alternatives, such as the Montessori Method of Education, most of us did not have the sense of curiosity that was fostered by the model of education that was presented to us during our most formative years.
So without exploring your interests, without knowing what you like to do, how can you know what you are passionate about?
The answer lies in curiosity! When you see an athlete like Cristiano Ronaldo strike the soccer ball with expert accuracy, we forget that this passion originally began with a child being curious about the game, trying to understand the dynamics of space and time (Albert Einstein), or how to hold a basketball at the perfect angle for a jump shot (Michael Jordan). Curiosity is the foundation of passion, and it can help you achieve peak performance in any field.
What was the result?
This strategy has produced remarkable results. Before I could even realize what was happening, my subconscious took action without any effort on my part. Now, when I feel fearful or anxious, I automatically respond with curiosity, a scientifically proven method for overcoming these debilitating symptoms.
Since this process of genuine curiosity has become a permanent attribute in my life over the past five years, I have been exploring different ways to step closer and closer to fear. It is not that I intentionally put my safety at risk. I draw this distinction because sometimes we confuse fear with danger. While fear is based on an unfounded belief, the danger is based on an impending, present threat to your safety. With this distinction in mind, I have been exploring what it truly means to step into a space where the creative genius of my soul can shine. And as a result, my spiritual connection, personal life, and professional career have all seen monumental improvements. I would consider this a successful result!
Admittingly there are instances when professional therapy is needed, and each individual should be held to the standard of seeking out a professional physician or therapist as necessary. Having said that, we are all capable of remarkable things. Managing our thoughts and emotions will become more and more critical as we approach a new age of technological advances and global uncertainty.
Don't let your subconscious dictate your physical reality. The proposed strategy to overcome negative thinking, fear, and anxiety can help you manage your thoughts and emotions and become the best version of yourself.
You don't need to be improved; all that you need is already within you.
Peter M. Lucas is U.S. Marine, Author, and Transformational Life Purpose Coach, with a mission of connecting humanity through holistic education; you can stay connected with Peter at https://www.alifeonpurpose.com Or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter M. Lucas, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Peter is a U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience. As the Co-Founder of A Life On Purpose, a program dedicated to connecting humanity through holistic education, he has an impactful voice in the world of personal growth. Peter has participated in programs with the US Military, Department of State, and has been featured on Mindvalley. Furthermore, he is passionate about practicing and teaching yoga and meditation.
Lewis R. MD. “What Actually Is a Thought? And How Is Information Physical?
Landauer, R. “Information is a physical entity.” Physica A. 263, no. 1-4 (1999): 63-67.
Landauer, R. “The physical nature of the information.” Physics Letters A. 217 (1996): 188-193.