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12. Challenging automatic thinking


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 Challenging automatic thinking  transcript

This stren provides insight into the automatic negative thoughts that pop up regularly in our conscious awareness.  Like an underground spring that bubbles water to the surface, our brain is continuously active and multitasking.  Much of this underground activity has to do with the perspectives of instinct and the traditions of our nurturers.  Instinct is hard-wired by our genes over the nine months prior to our birth. 

Our nurturers have their way with us through our prolonged years of immaturity.  If we don’t pick our genes and we don’t pick our nurturers.  Fate and circumstance make us what we are until we acquire the mental strength to become what we choose to make of ourselves.  Here’s the wonderful news:  you can become the third source of power to manage your thinking, feelings, and actions.  You have reached the self-mastery stage of your life. We can learn to tune out bother some automatic thoughts as easily as changing a radio station or switching to a preferred TV channel.  Here’s what you need to know.    

Brains, like all specialized organs, are hard-wired at birth to work automatically without our direct conscious effort.  We call the pre-wired inherited programming of the brain instinct. More complex species need additional direction before they are ready to manage on their own.  Sources outside our self, mainly nurturers, add a second set of directions.  Through mimicking and repetition, our nurturer’s commands also become hard-wired into our brain, which means instinct and tradition are ready to direct action automatically and relatively effortlessly.  The “mindless” responses of instinct were necessary for survival in a primitive, savage environment.  The programming we receive from our nurturers equips us with tradition, the behaviors proven to work for yesterday’s challenges.  Tradition is most useful when today’s issues are unchanged from those our nurturers faced.  Since many of life’s challenges repeat themselves unchanged, most directions from instinct and tradition serve a valuable purpose.


  Unfortunately, the hard-wired solutions of instinct and tradition are poorly equipped to solve new problems, especially those posed by the rapidly growing knowledge and technology that make us powerful creators.  Common sense wisdom is our means to manage the power of new knowledge.  We create flexible, soft-wired innovative solutions to new problems.  Instinct and tradition don’t die a natural death; they linger on until we selectively single out those responses that have become bothersome or dangerous and replace them, or we teach ourselves to ignore them.     

Can you imagine the automatic instinctive thoughts that were important when our ancestors lived in a primitive, savage environment, when instant response was key to managing emergency situations?  Our ancestor’s survival required constant anticipation of life-threatening emergencies to protect their tribe. And of course, any tribe where a powerful instinct to reproduce was lacking would soon become extinct.  Automatic thoughts arising from instinct therefore might be expected to include aggression towards outsiders, blaming, worry, preparation for fighting or running away, primitive sexual thoughts, and a total lack of concern for the well-being of anyone or anything not directly related to oneself or one’s tribe.  Instinct is ever ready to urge immediate action for whatever pleases at the moment with little regard for the future.  


While automatic thoughts directed by instinct are pretty universal, the automatic thoughts our nurturers program to comply with their traditions have considerable variability from tribe to tribe.  Much of our nurturer’s hard-wiring includes an overdose of commands to restrain instinct’s primitive desire for immediate pleasure and avoidance of any discomfort.  Common favorite words are “no, should, have to, must, and ought.”  They prescribe how we think, feel, and act.  Nurturers are notoriously a source of guilt, self-putdowns, and the automatic negative thoughts that make us a poor traveling companion to our self.   

            When the more civilized perspective of our nurturers or the common sense thinking of our intelligent brain confront our primitive automatic thoughts, there is conflict.  The conflicting thoughts of instinct, tradition, and common sense create anxiety, worry, and other harmful consequences until we learn to recognize that even the most outrageous negative thoughts are natural.  They can easily be managed once we understand their source.  We can teach ourselves to understand that while their popping up is not in our control, we can certainly choose to ignore them.  We can also amuse ourselves by viewing them as no more than a curious aberration, something like a bad dream or a bit of garbage for our disposal.  

Now comes the practical application of a newer way of common sense thinking (ANWOT) to teach yourself to challenge your negative automatic thoughts.  Experience feeling better and doing better through self-endorsement.  Enthusiastically reward yourself each time you spot and label any automatic negative thought:  “Attaboy/Attagirl! Hurrah for me!”  

Learn to say to your automatic negative thoughts:

You got in but you are no longer welcome.  No more attention for you.  Get out now or I’ll kick you out.  I’ve got more interesting ideas to direct my attention.   

When people engage in negative thinking, they often totally overlook the greater number of positives in their lives.  This creates a distortion.  Most people distort habitually.  Your written list of positives can serve as a resource to balance your negative thinking. 

For daily practice: Write out some of your biggest negatives and current worries on paper to keep near your list of positives.  Every time you spot a negative idea, balance it with positives.[1]  With regular practice, this will become habitual and so automatic that it will require little effort.  Once you start to realize the power and control you have over your automatic negative thoughts and feelings, you will find that you will practice tuning-in to the positives even more frequently.  You will develop your “thought control” muscles for feeling well in addition to doing well.  You will increasingly grow joy and fulfillment in your life.   You will love having yourself as your best friend.

11. The Secret of Acquiring Patience
13. An attitude of gratitude


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