We hear a lot of talk about how thoughts can affect our lives, but we tend to only know this at the surface level. In fact, many people never really take the time to see what kinds of negative thoughts are repeating regularly in the mind.
As such, these negative thoughts play a big role in your emotional state – and this can impact your addiction recovery.
Research indicates that positive thinking does you good. It actually rewires your brain in a way that helps you experience more positive emotions. No doubt we’d all like that.
You see, predominantly thinking positive can actually help the brain change physically. The neural pathways get rewired in a way that helps you live a happier emotional life.
The study of this is called neuroplasticity, which means that thoughts can change the actual structure of the brain. William James was the founder of this field of study way back in 1890, but scientists back then rejected his claims that the brain’s structure could be changed simply by thoughts.
Today, the field of neuroplasticity is largely accepted and booming. What does this mean for those who are recovering from addiction?
It means that you can use the power of positive thinking to rewire your brain to help you heal self-defeating thoughts you may have struggled with in the past. It means you can form new pathways that are in no way, shape, or form associated with whatever your drug of choice was.
It means that you’ll be far more apt to maintain positive thoughts on a consistent basis that will change the structure of your brain and you will feel more positive.
Neuroplasticity gives new hope for plenty of people who used to be told they had to deal with the consequences of certain illnesses or diseases. For example, doctors are seeing positive results for stroke patients who lost their ability to speak or walk. Holding the belief that the brain can reshape neural pathways that were damaged due to a stroke, doctors focus on positive thinking and visualization therapy to heal or reshape the damaged neural pathways. They are seeing positive results.
You see, the brain is not a fixed, static organ incapable of healing illnesses or addiction. In fact, it is quite flexible (plastic), and is able to reorganize and form new neural pathways that benefit you.
So, if you’ve been struggling with negative thoughts and emotions, be encouraged that you can retrain your brain to stop the negative thoughts and begin positive thoughts. It is through repetition that the change can take place. It is through becoming a “witness” and monitoring every thought that comes into the mind. If a negative thought pops in, you simply observe it and gently release it. Then, replace it with something positive.
Whether you’ve been in recovery a short or long time, learning to rewire your brain to benefit your life is worth the while. From the time we are children, we’ve been picking up negative programming from people and society, and those programs can be hacked and rewired in a way that serves you.
Here are some helpful tips to help you become more conscious about what’s going on in your mind. And, how you can change negative thoughts to positive ones.
First, monitor your thoughts for about a week. Think of yourself as a “thought detective”. Write down the kinds of thoughts you think consistently.
Are you constantly thinking about the past? Are you worried about the future? Do you think you won’t be successful? That you’re going to mess up? That your relationship will fail? Or you won’t ever find that special someone? That you will lose your job?
Really get in there and see what’s going on in your mind. What kinds of thoughts are dominant? It’s normal to have some negative thoughts pop in every so often, but they don’t have to be dominating your thought life.
After a week, look at what you’ve written down. Cross out the negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. Some refer to these as positive affirmations. Write down as many positive affirmations that you can think of. If you need some ideas, do a Google search.
Then, get busy applying the positive affirmations to your life. Recite them mentally and out loud often. Every time you catch yourself thinking a negative thought, immediately replace it with a positive thought. You can even say out loud, “stop” and then redirect to the positive.
This will take diligence, doing it even when you don’t necessarily feel like it. It’s a practice, and as you know, practice helps you become skilled!
For example, let’s say your partner walks in the door, looks at you, and gives you a nasty look. You may go right to thinking, “I’ll never be good enough. I suck at relationships. I must have done something wrong again.”
But rather than go right to the negative, go for the positive.
“I am a good partner. I have so much potential. Here lies an opportunity for me to see what’s going on with my partner.”
Who knows? Your partner could have had a really rough day or got cut off in traffic. Or they may be feeling sick or exhausted and that look had nothing to do with you.
Begin gravitating toward the positive. Recite, repeat – all the time. It will become habitual! This is what will rewire your brain over time.
If you’re recovering (or have fully recovered) from addiction, this is something to be proud of. You’re doing it!
Be aware that old patterns of negative thinking may try to come to get you off track. Draw a line in the sand and be ready to say, “No way. I’m doing things differently these days”.
The brain is an incredible organ. Neuroplasticity opens up a wonderful world of potentiality for you, not just in overcoming addiction, but in creating a rich, meaningful, and rewarding life.
Be consistent with positive thinking. If you slack off, you might find yourself reverting back to old negative thinking patterns. Rest assured that you can rewire your brain and you can become a person who thinks and feels positive much of the time.