Breaking the Loop of Negative Thoughts

If you pay attention, you may find that you are in a repeating loop on certain thoughts. As if your mind cannot find peace or resolve the problem so your mind keeps reminding you to think about it. I wish my brain had post-it notes so it could just write it down and leave me alone! Keeping me up at night and distracting me from having fun during the day. Ignoring these thoughts never helps. If this sounds familiar, then I have a journaling exercise for you to try.

I am currently reading a book called The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. One of the chapters is entitled “Changing Your Mind”. The author suggests that we can get stuck in a feedback loop. Very common and very human of us! Sometimes these thoughts cause negative feelings aka impact our overall happiness. Taking a psychology look at it, he explains a method from cognitive behavioral therapy. We have to catch our repeating thoughts and challenge them. When I say challenge them, I literally mean as if they were in court on trial. Letting it know that you are not going to accept it repeating in your head anymore. Understand the thought as much as possible; look at it from different angles/perspectives. The goal is to gain a more clear perspective; one that is not clouded by our own personal doubts, fears, etc.

Is it easy to dissect your own thoughts in a subjective way? Nope! But it is an interesting tool to try. Much better than sweeping it under a rug and later tripping over the huge mound that has built over time.

First I want to back track a moment and explain “where” the repeating thoughts “live”. Why we seem to have almost no control over them. (This again is from the same book.) He breaks it out into an example of a rider and an elephant. The rider is the conscious mind, our controlled thoughts. If I told you right now to think of a red rose, you probably had some sort of image pop in your mind. That is the rider. The elephant (note is it larger in size since it has the most influence on our daily life) is our subconscious mind. It is our gut feelings, emotions and intuitions. All of which are automatic in nature. The elephants takes A LOT to change/modify. Meaning working on it just once a week will not make an impact. The automatic thoughts are deeply in us. We can “train or tame” the elephant if we focus on it daily. I have found that setting aside a quiet journaling meditation has been extremely helpful to at least acknowledge the thoughts that my elephant has been stomping around with for so long.

Here is the method…

  1. Catch one thought, write it down
  2. Name the distortions. This is listing all of the ways your judgement is clouded.
  3. Find alternative aka more accurate ways of thinking. Seeing it from a different perspective. Are there any positives or benefits? If someone else had this thought, what advice would you give them?
  4. Repeat…daily. Tame your elephant of the automatic thought loop. Learning slowly to let go.

It is important to note that this does take time. Our elephants are slow to change. Focus on one single repeating thought at a time. Set some quiet time aside daily, even just 5 minutes. Best to you in taming your elephant, I know I am still actively working on mine.

Pranidhana “Surrender” Mudra for learning to let go

  • Connect thumb to middle and ring fingers on each hand.
  • Bridge the hands together by uniting the index and little fingers.
  • Aids a gradual letting go process. 
  • Allowing us to see that in this release, we are not losing anything.  But rather gaining inner peace and ability to appreciate life more completely.

Gift of Silence

How do you feel in silence? Is it uncomfortable? Do you fill the space with distractions?

Do you find yourself reacting to things automatically (unconsciously) or thoughtfully/mindfully?

Do you feel a strong connection to your true self aka who you really are as a person?

Silence is not our norm. It could even be seen in a negative light. Think of a timeout for a child or giving someone the silent treatment if you are mad at them. Our typical reaction is to avoid it or drown out the silence.

What if instead, we saw silence as a gift, an opportunity, a freedom.

Silence is the key to an inward journey to self. When we tune out everything else, it is only then that we can realize our true feelings of the heart and can mentally evaluate a situation clearly. This space of taking time to think is powerful. It can lead to a healthier and more appropriate response.

I like to think of silence as a “fitness” for the heart and the mind. Strengthening your feelings/emotions and thoughts. Just like any “muscle”, the more you work on it, the stronger it becomes. Practicing the skill of listening completely to how you feel and what you really want. Both knowing and understanding your true self. Take a reading of your internal weather. Knowing how to move forward in an authentic way. It can be thought of as practicing mindfulness.

Do you need to be in a quiet room to do this? No, but that comes after you have a strong practice. When beginning, it helps to be in as quiet of a room as possible. All electronic devices turned off.


Here is both a yoga term and also a visual guide to help frame this better.

There is a Sanskrit term in yoga for this called Pratyahara. The withdrawal of the senses. This is the journey into the inner world, away from loud noises, to do lists, visual distractions, your daily life pace. The attention/focus is then tuned inward.

Image of a snow globe. Any stimulus from any of your senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch) shakes the globe a little bit. The snow swirls around and floats like a flurry in the globe. When the snow is moving around, we cannot see the center. The distractions continue the snow moving around. Only when we set down the snow globe, give it some time, the snow settles to the bottom. Revealing the image in the middle, aka our self or our internal world.


Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl

Yoga has an element of this inward journey (aka finally seeing ourselves in the center of the snow globe) if we spend the silent time in practice. One way I suggest is a calming quiet practice where you hold a pose for a longer duration of time. Examples include yin, restorative, savasana and meditation. These are methods for us to set the snow globe down on the table. Spending at least 10 minutes to let the snow settle at the bottom. Then see when is in the center of your globe.

Try doing nothing and see what happens. You might even enjoy it!

Don’t just do something, sit there.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Keep in touch, join my free newsletter. Take care…Carol

Resources

Turtle Speed = Slowing Down

Are you rushing during your day? Is your day one long to do list and then a hard stop to go to bed? Do you take quick moments to stop the momentum and just enjoy life?

I enjoyed my Yoga for Healthy Aging training/certification from Baxter Bell and his wife Melina Meza this past year. One of the best items I took to heart was the importance of slowing down. Taking more breaks during my day to disrupt my busy momentum and give my entire self a rest. Focusing fully on one task at a time. Not just to give my full focus, but for safety reasons as well; in the case of cooking or even going up and down the stairs in my home multiple times a day. This slowing down and giving myself intentional breaks during the day, has also improved my overall mood and sleep pattern. Of course I technically get less down during the day with these mini breaks. However, my intention for my life isn’t just to get a bunch of stuff done or have a perfectly clean house, it is to enjoy my time and have fun.


The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of his days but by the numbers of his breaths

B.K.S. Iynegar

Connecting to the turtle spirit animal with the breath

A slower breath pattern to relate to the master of conserving energy, the turtle. A reptile with one of the longest lifespans. Focusing on a slow pace, low volume, light breath that is centered around the low ribs or diaphragm location. This decreased rate impacts the body and mind to feel more relaxed, as if in hibernation. If comfortable, including a pause after the inhale and after the exhale as well.


“My senses rest inward, restored completely, allowing me to live with clarity and vitality”

Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian Le Page

Kurma (Turtle) Mudra

Mudra supports a drawing inward to self, just like a turtle into its shell. Both for safety and restoration. Cultivating an inner calm and silence.

  • Right hand = Curl middle and ring fingers in towards palm
  • Place right hand palm down onto left hand’s palm
  • Right thumb to middle of left wrist
  • Connect right index finger to left thumb
  • Connect right little finger to left index
  • Curl remaining three left fingers around right hand

Enjoy a Turtle Speed Yoga Flow Video (full length version on Vimeo) or YouTube