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Do you know that worrying is a habit? Anything we do repeatedly over time becomes habit. Because worrying is only a mental pattern to which you’ve become accustomed, you can stop doing it and learn a more constructive way of thinking and behaving.
You brain neurons grow according to what you do. One of my favorite authors, Ruth Rendell, British writer of psychological thrillers, wrote dozens of books. By continuously developing new plots and plot twists, she kept expanding her brain’s neural pathways in this direction, one great idea begetting another. Similarly, brain scans of New York City cab drivers show an enlarged brain area relating to spatial relations.
Worriers let their thoughts run free and follow them wherever they go. They let their thoughts lead them around, rather than carefully selecting what they will allow to engage their minds. Worriers act as if they have no control over their thoughts. That in itself is an erroneous belief. We do have control. Okay, maybe not 100%, but more than we think. Worriers grow their brains into worrying machines.
Rather than engage with any old thought that flits into your mind, use what’s called intentional attention. Decide what’s going to grab your attention and what isn’t. When a thought comes into your head, PAUSE—then choose whether or not you want to engage with it, as you do when the doorbell rings and you peep through the hole and decide whether or not to open the door. Consider which thoughts you want to focus on and which you don’t. Make a list. If thinking about your emotional needs that weren’t met in childhood enrages you, recognize that enraged is not what you want to be and ignore that thought when it arises. Return to those memories only when there’s a purpose, say, when a therapist asks how the abuse has affected your self-esteem.
You wouldn’t let your pets or children wander wherever they wanted to, would you? Then don’t allow it with your thoughts. They are at least as important as your pets or progeny. As their gatekeeper, say yes or no to them with conviction. By practicing intentional attention, you’ll rewire your brain. Be proactive about thoughts. Make up your mind to think about “this, not that.” Nudge your mind in positive directions of appreciation, gratitude, success, what’s best for you, and what makes you happy.
Intentional attention will enable you to stop acting like a victim. Thoughts are electrical impulses, not facts. When you think positively, picture new neural pathways sprouting and grooves deepening in your brain. Put yourself in charge of your thinking and life will get better because what and how you think generates your feelings and behaviors.
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