I have been feeling really tired lately. Like bone-crushingly weary. When I sat down to figure out why I realized it is because my brain will not stop talking to me. It would be easy to blame Covid 19, or the discord in our country, or my parents failing heath for my fatigue but no, that’s not it.
I bet you didn’t know that the average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day. I wanted to know what percentage of those thoughts are negative thoughts, because I know that negative thoughts create negative feelings. I figured around 60%. Nope. According to the National Science Foundation, a staggering 80% of our thoughts are negative. And 95% of our thoughts are repetitive. I’m no mathematician but that is a sh*t ton of negativity on repeat in my brain.
The prehistoric part of our brain is still wired for a fight or flight response to danger. The problem with that is that most human beings, at least the ones likely to be reading this blog post, are not in imminent danger when they have a negative thought. Our brains still release cortisol when we think a negative thought and we then feel a negative emotion. If we think the negative thought often enough, we end up in a negativity loop- with a constant swoosh of cortisol flowing through our body.
The problem with negative thought loops is that these are thoughts that have been hanging around in our brain for a long time so we have developed a pattern that we need to act affirmatively to break. For example, I found myself in a negative thought loop every time I would pass someone on the street and make a negative snap judgement about them. Ugly dress. Dirty hair. Bad driver. My judgement, whatever it was, was immediately followed by the thought “I’m going to hell.” Which is kind of funny because I don’t actually believe in hell… but that’s beside the point. Do you know how many times on a judgy day I gave mental space to the thought “I’m going to hell” and then had the resulting shot of cortisol infuse my body? I am going to have to collect some actual data on that but trust me when I say it was A LOT. Imagine taking up all that energy telling myself I’m going to end up in hell! And it was really bad for my physical health. No wonder I was tired.
Now I understand that I don’t have to believe all of the thousands of thoughts that run through my head all day long. If I find myself judging others, I can let it go. I can be curious about why I am feeling judgy in the moment without judging myself. Usually I can trace my judgement back to a thought about something I don’t like about myself, or something I am worried about being judged on by other people. And I can reflect and ponder and ultimately decide what I want to believe.
Who I am is just a collection of thoughts I have about myself. Why not make them good ones?