Psychology

How To Use Thoughts That Hold You Back

Written by Rhydian Fairfax

Ever had a negative thought? Then you’ll know that negative thinking can prevent you from being happy, trying new things and achieving your potential, as well as many other drawbacks. One of the most serious and life damaging effects it can have is to hold you back from doing things that you actually want to do.

You may think that you donít want to do something, but in reality you have been thinking negatively for so long that you can no longer notice. There may be many things that you think are beyond your capabilities and you have never even given yourself a chance to try, not because you don’t have the aptitude but because you think you don’t.

Negative thoughts can occur for many reasons. You may have been affected by someone else’s opinion. You may have said you were going to do something, and someone persuaded you not to. That type of thinking has then stayed with you and you have persuaded yourself not to do other things. You may have been faced with a challenge and been scared. You then told yourself that you didn’t want to do it anyway!

If you have had a very negative experience then it is easy to let that affect you for the rest of your life. It is natural that some part of your brain will try to protect you from being hurt again, and try its best to stop you from doing similar things. Many of us are very worried about getting hurt or failing, and this is why our thoughts protect us from scenarios where this could happen.

We all want to protect ourselves from pain, failure and embarrassment. The way we do this is through our thoughts. A voice in your brain tells you that you can’t do it or that you don’t want to.

There’s good news! you can learn how to control these thoughts and use them to your advantage.

Some protective thoughts do help save us from real danger, so it’s important not to start doing everything your mind tells you not to. You need to evaluate your thoughts and see if they are holding you back from situations that will help you grow as a person and enjoy yourself in the process.

Recognize Your Negative Thinking

You may think this is obvious, but for many of us it isn’t. Eckhart Tolle says that we are not our thoughts. When you grasp this concept, you can realize that although you may have certain thoughts, they do not define you or control you. As we discussed earlier, your thoughts may be based on an event that happened a very long time ago.

Think about whether there is something that happened in your past that has altered your thinking and is still holding you back. Evaluating your thoughts to see which ones are helping you and which ones are holding you back is very important. When you can realize that you may have persistent thoughts that are holding you back, and that they should not control you, you can start to pay less attention to them and create new thoughts that push you to achieve more.

Write down negative thoughts that hold you back on a regular basis. Think of the reasons why you have these thoughts. Are they stopping you from reaching your potential? What thoughts can you replace them with that would help encourage you forward?

When Did You Decide Who You Are?

One of the main characteristics of humans is to behave in a way that is consistent with who they think they are. You may have heard people use the phrases “that’s not me” or “I wouldn’t be good at that”. Of course this can be true but sometimes our view of ourselves has been affected negatively and we find it hard to change our self image.

The good news is that you can begin to change in an instant. By taking action you can start to rewire your thinking and show yourself that you can go past your current limits and do things that you previously thought you couldn’t, or that you thought you didn’t want to.

A useful technique is to turn your negative thoughts into positive ones by doing the opposite of what they say. If you think that you can’t do something that will benefit you in some way, you must attempt to do it, for example; “I can’t swim” turns into “I will learn to swim”. This will help you to cultivate a positive attitude to trying new things and getting more experience.

Changing your negative thoughts to positive ones is a straightforward process but it takes time, patience and commitment. You have to have patience with yourself! Remember, you may have lived with this type of thinking for a long time and this will make it difficult to change. Also, you have to move out of your comfort zone and face up to the fears that have been holding you back.

The final challenge for some of us will be other people; “You’ll never be able to do that”, “You’re not smart/good looking/talented enough” etc. Don’t listen! Focus on your positive thoughts and each positive step you take.

Snap Out of it

An interesting technique to change negative thinking is to have an elastic band round your wrist and every time you have a thought that is holding you back pull the elastic band and let it go. Associating a bit of pain with the negative thoughts will help you to realize how often you have them and also to change them. Once you have a negative thought turn it into a positive one straight away.

This a technique that is used in therapy, and I found it useful because it made me realize how many thoughts I had that were not helping me, on a daily basis. You will find that these thoughts will reduce significantly as you practice recognizing them, and then turning them into positive thoughts straight away. You also have to take action so that you can build up new reference experiences and new positive thoughts about your own capabilities.

Do Something Extraordinary

If your negative thoughts tell you that you can’t do something then take action! You can either take small steps or you can take one large step to prove to yourself that you can do it.

Make it a goal that you will move forward towards whatever it is that you have told yourself you can’t do. Focus on what you can do to get started and set a time when you’re going to do it. If you have put off learning to drive because you thought it wasn’t necessary and now you realize that you were just protecting yourself, and that you do want to learn to drive, then book your first lesson. If you feel you need to explain that you are anxious, then do so. Don’t be afraid. Find a teacher you feel supported by.

Remember, in the lead up to the first time you take action you will try to talk yourself out of it! This is when you must be strong and create new thoughts that will help you and push you to do it. You will feel so great after the first time that you will carry on. It will get easier every time you take action in the future.

There are people who will take action and do something and then let their old ways of thinking take control again and stop doing their new activities. This is why you must be vigilant in recognizing your old ways of thinking and constantly replace them with new positive thoughts. Write down your experiences after every time you take action and record how good you feel that you are finally making progress. When you are finding it tough to carry on, read through your diary to help you see your progress. Ask yourself when you feel really up against it; “what would the old me do?”  “What will the new me do?”

It will change your life dramatically if you start to evaluate your thoughts and think about what they are preventing you from doing, or being, and why. Think about which ones are helping you and which thoughts are stopping you from reaching your potential. Set goals to take action on the thoughts that are holding you back and keep a diary recording your progress. Set yourself an extraordinary goal to achieve that will get you out of your comfort zone. It could be anything from passing your driving test to giving a speech. You can use the thoughts that hold you back to show you where your self-set limitations are.

Remember that your negative thoughts do not define you! Take a step back from them and remember that you, and not your negative thoughts, are in control of yourself.

About the author

Rhydian Fairfax

Rhydian Fairfax is a Life Coach and founder of the personal development blog Thought Support. He lives and works in Cardiff, UK, and is passionate about helping others to lead a meaningful life.