We’ve covered thought stopping techniques in a few of our group talks. The most commonly recommended technique is the issuance of the “stop” imperative when an unwanted thought appears. I prefer a more technical approach, which is performing a cost-benefit analysis on the thought. I ask myself, “What are the costs of thinking that thought and what are the benefits?” For our maladaptive thoughts, the costs are high and benefits are few. So why is it so difficult to stop them from reappearing when we’re just trying to enjoy the day?
The answer lies in our brain structures. Areas of the brain that are used most often grow, and the parts that are used rarely atrophy. Positive and negative thoughts arise out of different areas of the brain. If the region used for positive thinking is used most often, it will grow like a muscle that’s exercised, and positive thinking will take precedence. On the other hand, if we’re consistently thinking negative thoughts and dwelling on bad experiences, maladaptive thoughts are more likely to dominate our thought processes.
People who suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders that lead to or result from low self-esteem, spend an inordinate amount of time engaging in negative thinking. The negative thinking part of the brain grows and the positive thinking part of the brain shrinks, which leads to even more negative thinking and less positive thinking.
This explains why it is so difficult to stop the negative thoughts. What’s needed is a combination of engaging in less negative thinking (using thought stopping techniques) and more positive thinking. One way we can do that by showing gratitude for the good things in our lives. We all have things we can be grateful for. By acknowledging those things, we become more positive, and positivity begets more good things in life.