During the late 1970s when I was a college psychology student, I worked in 2 different psychiatric hospitals. I was enthralled with my studies, and loved learning what made people tick — especially what motivated them. At the same time I was disturbed by the therapy I was witnessing in the hospitals. Depressed patients were heavily sedated and walked the halls like zombies. When that didn’t work they were given electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), better known as shock treatment. I rarely saw anyone improve.
Disgusted, I abandoned my long-term goal of becoming a therapist and put my psych training to work in the advertising industry. What I didn’t know was that a revolution was beginning at the fringes of psychology. Dr. Aaron Temkin Beck was pioneering the concept of Cognitive Therapy. It is an idea based on thoughts becoming feelings. Negative thoughts lead to depression; and positive thoughts lead to feelings of well-being. It’s such a simple common sense concept that applies Occam’s razor to the complexity of psychotherapy rooting out core causes of depression.
While I personally believe it is essential to discover the core causes, I also think it’s great that by changing your thoughts you can feel good now.
A few years ago, I came across these sage words by Lao Tzu: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
While I had heard similar things in the past, such as the Serenity Prayer, Tzu’s words really resonated with me. I realized that when I got depressed, that I had spiraled into that feeling by ruminating on past bad decisions, lost opportunities, and good times that I might never experience again. When I became anxious, it was because I was worrying about things that I was unable to address in that moment. Often they were only theoretical problems that might never materialize. I found that when I focused on the present, and addressed things that were in my power to change in that moment, that I finally found peace.
The trick is recognizing the negative thoughts as soon as they begin before they have a chance to dominate your thinking and turn your good feelings into bad ones.
Cognitive therapist David Burns, M.D., in his The Feeling Good Handbook, offers a variety of ways to change very specific negative thoughts, such as the fear of death, procrastination, public speaking anxiety, and many more. I find just reading his book makes me feel better.
Others offer short cuts to feeling better. Joyce Rennolds, a Law of Attraction speaker, suggests ending a negative thought by stating the word, “Cancel,” then state how you want to feel and ending with the word, “Now.” For example, if you are thinking that you don’t have enough money, before that thought turns into depression, you say, “Cancel. I am receiving unexpected income, now!”
One-word affirmations have been termed Switchwords by James T. Mangan, author of The Secret of Perfect Living, because they have the power to change your thoughts from negative to positive. Most are commonly used words that have universal meaning within the collective unconscious of people who speak the same language. The idea is to state them over and over again as you would a mantra until the polarity of your thoughts switch from negative to positive.
Kent Boxberger, an Atlanta-based business coach, whom I’ve previously written about, says that when you become aware of a negative thought, or if you are feeling bad, you can change your mood by repeating the following sentence, “How much fun can I have in this moment?” He says that in a short time you will feel better because the word, “Fun” has such a powerful association with feeling good in our minds.
He also suggests that you can change your thoughts by appreciating what you have. He prefers the word “appreciation” over “gratitude,” because gratitude conveys a sense of obligation. He says appreciation has greater power, because it more purely reflects the feeling.
The important thing to know is that you have a choice in what you think and in turn how you feel. It may not seem like it when you are in the throes of a deep depression or caught up in the frenzy of anxiety, but waiting for a piece of good news to pep you up and put the brakes on your runaway feelings is not the answer. Knowing that you can control your feelings by controlling your thoughts is much better than waiting endlessly for an elusive boost from outside yourself. And, the sooner you feel good, you’ll find that you think faster with more clarity and creativity. All of which will continue to reinforce your good feelings.