How to Change a Thought Pattern You’ve Had Your Whole Life
posted on April 2, 2018 | by Amanda Holstein
One of the most important things therapy has taught me is that changing your thought patterns can change your entire life. We’ve all grown up with certain thought patterns engrained in our mind, based on what we’ve learned, observed, and inherited. Some are more positive, like “It feels good to help other people”. But some can be more debilitating, like “I have to succeed or I am not worthy”.
These thought patterns are actual neural connections in our brains that have been strengthened over time. So changing them isn’t easy. In fact, it’s like retraining a muscle. It takes time and effort, but when you do, man is it worth it!
Step 1: Recognize the Thought Pattern
The first step in changing a thought pattern you’ve had your whole life is simply to start recognizing it. Often times we think a certain way without even knowing it. First, just try acknowledging the moments when those thought patterns kick in. For example, I’ve recently realized how much pressure I put on myself to do everything right. I’ll notice moments when I get stressed throughout my day and realize they’re often created by this thought process. Even something as simple as getting in the right line at the grocery store. I’ll notice a slight feeling of anxiety and realize it’s stemming from this idea that I cannot do anything wrong.
But rather than shaming myself for having these thoughts, I try to simply acknowledge them. I’ll just notice when they are there. I don’t try to change them right away, but simply getting in the pattern of acknowledging them is essential for the next step. It also weirdly makes me feel less anxious. Naming the thought or emotion that is going on in my head can actually relieve some of the anxiety associated with that thought.
Step 2: Understand Where it Comes From
It’s so important to understand exactly what these thought patterns mean, where you learned them, and what you truly believe about them. Once we examine them, we can realize how illogical or unrealistic that way of thinking is. This can be most beneficial with a therapist, but you can certainly do it on your own or with a friend as well.
All you really need to do is continue asking yourself questions, like “Why do you feel this way?”, “What other people in your life think this way?”, “Who taught you this way of thinking (directly or indirectly)?”, “What is your earliest memory of thinking this way”?,”What would happen if you didn’t think this way?”, etc. Questions like these can help reveal so much about yourself. And once you get a better understanding of why you think a certain way, it can be easier to alter that way of thinking.
Step 3: Create an Alternative Response
Once you take time to think through where these thought patterns come from (which can take hours or even years), the next step is to create an alternative response. Try and come up with something you could say in your head to replace the thought process you’re trying to change. For example, with the absurd amount of pressure I put on myself, the alternative response I came up with is: “You don’t have to be perfect.” It’s something I’ll repeat to myself in those moments when I can hear those old thought patterns coming through. It may sound simple, but it can really help as long as you come up with an alternate response that truly speaks to you.
Step 4: Practice and be patient
From how I’ve laid this out, it may seem like you just go through the three steps and then you’re fixed. Well, it doesn’t quite work that way. Changing the way you think takes time and effort. It’s very similar to muscle memory — retraining your muscles is like retraining your brain. So be patient with yourself. Let yourself stay in Step 1 for as long as you need, or repeat Step 1 when you’re just feeling too anxious to listen to an alternate response. And if you realize over time that the alternate response you came up with isn’t working, allow yourself to explore another option. Give yourself the time and space to allow this thought pattern to change as it needs to.
Porcelain Doll Says
Such a great post, thank you! Lately I’ve noticed some patterns in my own life but I never really knew, how to change something. Now I do. :)
Wow, what perfect timing to read this! I have literally been thinking about this topic recently because old thinking patterns have lingered in my subconscious, even after all of these years and experiences and “healing.” You make an awesome point to replace those old thoughts with new ones. I’ve been having existential questions lately, and I find that replacing some negative thoughts with “you create your reality, so make it beautiful” makes me feel much better.
Thanks for the insight! <3
Yes! There are so many points throughout my day where I’ll get stressed because something isn’t perfect. Most of the time it’s insignificant, like how you said you picked the wrong lane to stand in. I’ll have to practice creating an alternative narrative…or at least be more patient with myself. Thank you for sharing!
Lovely tips. I was really needing this. Thank you!
xoxo, I || http://youngbooty.blogspot.co.uk
Gallantly, gal Says
I’ve been dealing with problems just like this! Thanks for sharing. I would notice it and do exactly what you said I shouldn’t: try to change it. Instead of letting it pass through, I get very disappointed in myself and frustrated that I can’t change my reaction to things around me because of the thought process that’s been ingrained in me for so long. I will take my time patiently trying to do as you say!
understanding the real cause of a thought is important and i suppose it does solve!
Natalie Redman Says
Great post! Love this.
Just love the way you have expressed it :-) Wonderfully said I liked and idea and concept hopefully this helps to change my thought pattern for better life. God bless you Thank you for an amazing post!
Just love the way you have expressed it :-) Wonderfully said I liked the idea and concept hopefully this helps to change my thought pattern for better life. God bless you :-) Thank you for an amazing post!
Clifford Anthony Brock Says
Excellent advice, comprehensive. “The next step is putting it all in to practice”..
Your advice really hits the nerve..
Inheritance advanced Says
You need to get over your fears and look at life from a different perspective. Some events can change your life completely.