Have you ever woken up, and within the first few seconds of consciousness, been bombarded with hundreds of thoughts at once? From the moment you open your eyes and look at the clock, you calculate how many minutes you have to get ready before you head out the door. You mentally review your schedule for the day: 4 clients, two meetings, finishing the excel spreadsheet your boss requested, and dealing with that difficult staff member. You need to make coffee, set your child’s clothes out, pick up milk on the way home from work, pay three bills this week, try to find a babysitter so you can work late Thursday night, and the list goes on. You haven’t even gotten out of bed yet and your mind is absolutely cluttered. “How is this possible?” you wonder. “How did I literally JUST wake up, and already my mind is running 1,000 mph? I’m supposed to feel well-rested, but I already feel overworked, stressed out, and exhausted… and my day hasn’t even started yet.”
A few years ago, I woke up to this automatic thought vomit every day. My mind was utterly flooded as soon as I opened my eyes. I remember one particular morning that I woke up, stepped in the shower, and just succumbed to the mental war that was my life. The hot water poured over my face while, completely unintentionally, I started singing the song that was stuck in my head from the day before. I then remembered my ex-boyfriend and how much he hurt me. I thought about the time we were out getting drinks and he refused to let me dance because he said it was embarrassing. And the time he said my psychology degree was a joke and that I thought I knew everything because of it. The recollection continued, and I became completely lost in the toxic memories of a relationship that made me feel small, unlovable, and needy. “Maybe I really wasn’t good enough. Maybe he really will find someone better than me, and I’ll still be alone. Maybe no one can love me.” I felt the same sting, rejection, and shame standing in that shower that I did back when it happened. I tilted my head to the side to allow the water to cover the rest of my body.
I then thought about my day ahead at work. I could feel my heart rate quicken and the dread of my day intensify. “I really am doing the best I can, but every single day I leave drained and frustrated. There’s so much work and not enough time, staff, or resources.” My mind continued to swirl and the anxiety grew as I listed off everything I needed to do. “Maybe I’m just not smart enough or organized enough for this job. Is this how the human services field is? I got my degree in psychology, but maybe I’ll just add to the number of people who don’t work in the field they received their education in. I feel like I’m failing.” I thought back to all of the mistakes I made on the job, and remembered the meeting I completely forgot about the week prior. My heart sank, and again, I felt the shame and guilt from that day. The fear of making more mistakes that confirmed my feelings of inadequacy further cluttered my mind.
“Oh gosh, I’ve been in the shower too long and haven’t even put shampoo in my hair yet. What has it been, probably 4 or 5 minutes? Shampoo, rinse, conditioner, wash face, wash body, rinse conditioner, turn the water off. How much time will I have to get lunch today? I have no leftovers to bring with me… I’ll have to stop somewhere. Oh I hate the winter, I’m going to be so cold when I pull back the shower curtain.”
My mind darted from thought to thought, stringing together any memories it could pull from the archives – a memory from 15 years ago to a memory from 2 days prior. So many thoughts ran rampant in my head – sometimes two or three at once – with no understanding of the consequences. I wasn’t controlling my mind, it was controlling me. I was being dragged along the ground by this thought train, and felt whiplashed mentally. I bet you do too, just from reading thus far!
It’s no wonder I was exhausted at the start of every day. It’s no wonder I felt trapped. It’s no wonder I found myself asking if this is all there is to life. It’s no wonder I couldn’t find inspiration, passion, or creativity anywhere, no matter how hard I tried. My mind was stuck in a loop, thinking thoughts that reinforced my deepest insecurities, as well as the lie that my value was determined by what others thought of me. I allowed my thoughts to run freely and get tangled in my head, at arguably the most crucial and life-giving part of my day: the morning! I was the one responsible for “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”. I was starting my day out in a panic, in chaos and depression, and it put me in a horrible mood. I was smothering myself.
What’s sad is that I had no idea that this hijacking of my mind was happening. Truly, there was no awareness that I had a choice. My thoughts were just there, like my fingers were. I didn’t wake up and become cognizant of my fingers and what they were touching. In the same way, I didn’t wake up and think about what I was thinking about. I had no idea there was any other way to be.
Please allow me to speak truth to myself and to you: Our lives don’t have to be this way. Our lives aren’t meant to be this way.
When I became aware of my tendencies to reflect back on memories that didn’t uplift me, and to work myself up into a frenzy regarding the day that lied ahead, I set out to very intentionally take control. I decided that I would refuse to entertain any thoughts that only served to keep me trapped in my past; I would refuse to stress about something that hadn’t even happened yet. Every time I caught myself doing so, I literally said, “You are not thinking this. Think about something else.” Of course, when we try to avoid thinking of something, we actually can’t think about ANYTHING other than that sworn-off thought. So, I learned to not only stop my thoughts in their tracks, but to replace them. I’d say, “These aren’t life-giving and positive thoughts. Let’s think about (insert subject here).” One morning I literally thought about bears! “Baby bears are so cute. Polar Bear cubs are probably so happy rolling in the snow. I wonder which species of bear lived first.” Those thoughts may seem silly, and they were. But they were also positive and served to take my head out of toxicity! Once you become more comfortable switching topics of thought, you can plug in self-affirmations like:
- I am not my job. I am a human and have an entire life outside of what I do for pay!
- Some of the best days of my life haven’t even happened yet!
- Others’ inability to see my worth DOES NOT mean I have none.
- Today is going to be an awesome day!
- There is only so much a human can do in one day. I will do my best to get a lot done, but if I can’t finish it all, I will NOT feel bad.
- I am created to be exactly who I am, down to my fingertips. I have purpose exactly as I am!
I practiced this every morning, and then throughout every day. I became so much better at thinking about what I was thinking about. Weeks went by and I realized, in that very same shower, that I hadn’t thought of my ex-boyfriend in weeks. Thoughts that plagued me and made me feel pinned down suddenly weren’t there. I was anchored in the present moment, and I felt so light; I felt as though 300 pounds were lifted off of my shoulders.
Over three years have gone by since I started taking control of my thoughts, and I’ll admit that some days I fail. But my life changed from the moment I realized that the quality of my thoughts determines the quality of my life. Most days I’m in control of what I focus on, and I’m no longer sitting on the sidelines of life while trapped in my head.
Controlling your thoughts, especially in the morning, is crucial. Your experiences in the morning set the tone for your entire day. If you start your day with self-deprecating thoughts, memories that make you feel awful, and panic about the day that lies ahead, how can you expect to have a good day? These days I’m talking about – they add up to your life.
Your thoughts won’t completely transform over night. After all, you have decades worth of thought patterns to re-program. But I promise you that with every thought you cast down and replace, you gain more control over your mind. You will get better at choosing right thoughts – positive, affirming, hopeful, and uplifting ones. Be gentle with correcting yourself when your thoughts revert back to their old patterns; you’re a work in progress, friends!!