Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

To stop your drug or alcohol habit, you must change your thoughts.

In the mythical werewolf legend, you can kill a werewolf with a silver bullet to its heart. In recovery from alcohol and drugs it usually isn’t just one thing that makes a person stop using or drinking, but a combination of things. Recovery is actually more like a jigsaw puzzle. Now it doesn’t have to be one of those 1,000-piece monster puzzles. Probably, simply putting a few key pieces in place will complete a great recovery picture for you. One of the most important pieces of that puzzle is changing how you think; to change your thoughts. Why? Because we don’t do anything until we first tell ourselves to do it. So, if you want to stop your drug or alcohol habit, it has to start with finding out just what it is you think about.

What difference does that make? Maybe you’re like I was. You might believe that whatever thought comes to your mind is somehow “meant” to be there. “I have no real control over it. So if my thoughts tend to lead me toward doing something that is self-defeating, the most I can do is try not to listen to the thoughts. ‘I’m not ultimately in charge.’” I was amazed when I found out that isn’t true. I could actually learn to change my thoughts-so much so that for the most part it no longer became necessary to ignore negative thoughts, because I started not to even allow them in the first place.

Why to change your thoughts

Changing your thinking is possible, because most of how you and I think boils down to simple habit. We react to certain life events the same way because…that’s the way we’ve always reacted. It’s familiar. Fortunately, and unfortunately, our brains were designed to be efficient. It’s simply faster if I learn that touching a hot stove means a lot of pain and develop the “habit” of avoiding the thing the next hundred times I’m frying an egg than to have to stop and think, “Wait, let’s reason this through. Should I touch it?” That’s the “fortunate” side. The unfortunate side is sometimes the way we reacted to a life event created a self-defeating thought or belief that is actually no longer good for me.

Let me give you an example. A child on the first day of class is embarrassed when the class makes fun of him for wearing last year’s jeans. This devastates him, because all he wanted to do was fit in and not be “odd.” From that day on, to protect himself the child begins to predict what people are thinking about him, so he’ll be prepared for the worst just in case it happens. That’s called “mind-reading.” Ever done that before? The problem with that is that it introduces the thought: “Something might be wrong with me.” And from there, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump until you start believing that there really is. Mind-reading, however, is actually fiction, a completely made up story-a game the child plays to try to avoid being hurt: “Why are they looking at me today? Is something wrong with me?”

What should happen is someone should have a conversation with him, find out that he’s trying to be a mind-reader, and prove to him that it’s only a game he’s playing with himself. Someone should have asked the child, “OK, if you’re a mind-reader, then what number am I thinking of? Or who’s going to win the Super Bowl?” A thousand bucks says he’ll get it wrong. Adults play these thought games, too. Our thoughts were never challenged, so we still play them. The only difference is we got a little bit taller and a little bit older. In therapy other self-defeating thoughts and beliefs should be identified and if necessary, challenged and changed.

How To Change Your Thoughts

Joseph Luciani, Ph.D. makes a strong point about how to change these self-defeating habits in his book Self Coaching-The Powerful Program to Beat Anxiety and Depression: “Learn to develop the psychological muscle necessary to overcome the knee-jerk habits of insecurity that have been ruining and ruling your life. Why not recognize that the friction you feel is a clue that you’ve drifted away from your natural and spontaneous center, your capacity for genuine happiness?” When you can question the immediate, insecure response you can start to change your thoughts.

Luciani identifies insecure thinking as a source of much of our anxiety and depression. Knowing that, I can learn to recognize insecure traps, such as mind-reading or black and white thinking, and simply not allow myself to think them. Although these may seem to protect me from harm, they actually create insecurity. Guess what one of the top reasons is that people use drugs or drink? For most that seems impossible. “Stop my thinking? Good luck.” True, at first, it is an act of faith. But once you try it and experience even a few moments of peace that you created by refusing insecure thinking, you’ll want to try it again…and again…until that becomes a habit—a habit you’ll want to keep.

I always tell my clients, “The ‘position’ of mind-reader has been eliminated, and we’re also not taking any volunteers.” So, let me ask you, “What number am I thinking of right now?” A thousand bucks says you’re wrong.

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