Have you ever felt as though your actions were on “autopilot”…? That somehow, you’ve been there before… and somewhere you’ve made the same mistake? Admit it or not, we’ve all been on the automatic thought ride.
Automatic thoughts are ingrained thought patterns that have no usefulness in the present. Simply, they are knee-jerk reactions to a stressful situation. Instead of looking at the situation at hand, we fall back into a comfortable pattern; healthy or not. Unfortunately, over time these automatic patterns make a road map in our brain and often stand in the way of positive change. With automatic thoughts, we forget we have a choice. We continue on a comfortable, albeit not useful, way of behaving.
Have you ever heard your parents offer a helpful hand, which appears like criticism to you? Have you ever looked in the mirror and seen your fourth grade self instead of the grown up person you are today? Have you ever been afraid to go on a blind date because your mind is telling you that you always fail? How many times do we react with anger when another approach would’ve given us what we wanted to accomplish.
My advice for the day is not to think. That may seem strangely counterintuitive coming from a therapist who spends countless hours in her office thinking. But when looking for ways to change our thought patterns and behavior, a physical activity is often the most effective way to go. Go for a walk or bike ride, take a yoga or Zumba class, do a crossword puzzle, try something new… These activities will jiggle your brainwaves and help to configure new neuropathways, creating a detour from the normal route.
Automatic thoughts may never go away completely, but by recognizing them and taking a pause, you are giving yourself the choice to do something more productive. Once you actively choose to do something more productive, then you will get out of your own way and give into the choice for a better life.