4 Steps To Reconceptualize a Toxic Thinking Habit Into a Healthy New Neural Network

This week’s blog and podcast is a follow up to one I did recently on depression with my daughter Dominique. I received a lot of amazing feedback and questions from all of you, especially on the reconceptualizing process and what this looks like. So, this week I am going to discuss what reconceptualizing is, how it works, and walk you through an example from my own life to help you better understand how to use this amazing mind-management technique. 

Let’s start off with what reconceptualizing is. Reconceptualizing meansto conceptualize or think about something afresh. It involves developing a replacement concept for something, that is to see things in another way or with “new eyes”. It is all about viewing things from a different perspective and redesigning a mindset, but in way that sustains and supports the changes you are making in your life.

This process is different to CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), where you are training yourself to identify the wrong thought and replace it with the correct one. You aren’t simply swopping out files in your brain; you first need to find out whythat “file” was there in the first place. When it comes to reconceptualizing something, you first need to find the reason whyyou need to reconceptualize it. In fact, there could be many reasons, which is why this is an in-depth process—the thinking pattern you have built into your mind and brain is not a nice clean file. Rather, it’s like a complex spider web, or maybe even a splatter graph! This is why you can’t just try to condition yourself to think differently without identifying the cause of why you were thinking that way in the first place; you are not Pavlov’s dog. You need a reason to reconceptualize something and a reason to practice using what you have reconceptualized, and you get this from figuring out how you developed the negative way of thinking in the first place.

Although this may sound complicated and rather daunting, the effects of reconceptualizating are incredibly satisfying and bring a deep sense of internal peace. They will keep you motivated to keep changing and help you sustain this change in your life. How? Let me give you an example of reconceptualization in my own life that has made the world of difference to me:

I am very driven and used to always think about how much I didn’t finish at the end of day—it would stress me out and keep me awake at night, affecting how much I got done the next day and making me even more stressed out! I decided that enough is enough and I need to reconceptualize this, and, now, instead of saying what I haven’t done, I say what I have accomplished. I have made it a habit to list what I have done at the end of the day and speak to my husband about it, which makes me feel happy and satisfied with how I have spent my day.

Now, let’s look at why this process works. Reconceptualizing is very effective because it is the result of a deliberate, self-regulated process that engages the whole brain and body and helps change your thinking in tangible way (through the process of neuroplasticity). As you reconceptualize something, you feel like you are getting control of it, which makes your neurophysiology and physiology work for you and not against you. This is intensely satisfying because it is a creative process, moving you out of a negative spiral, which, in turn, makes you feel mentally and physically stronger, more capable and in control. As a result, you are less thrown by the inevitable ups and downs of life, and you experience greater inner peace and less turmoil. In fact, once you have mastered this on one thing, it’s so much easier to apply it to all your issues—it is the gift that keeps on giving! This is where my mobile app SWITCH can really help you, because it really teaches you how to become a master “reconceptualizer” over 21-days!

How does reconceptualizing work and how can you apply this technique in your life?

1. First, identify what you need to reconceptualize – the toxic habit, the toxic patterns that are causing you distress. You can do this by listening to the emotional and physical warning signals your brain and body gives you (such as an upset stomach, pounding heart, which tells you that something is wrong). My app SWITCH is also a great tool for helping you identify these signals.

You could also use a thought journal to track your thoughts, just as you would track food allergens in a food journal—a thought journal can help you find toxic thinking habits that are causing “allergic reactions” in your mental life. For example, you may notice that you tend to think a lot about the past and constantly say “if only this happened…” or “if only I did that…”. I myself am guilty of this, which tends to steal the joy of the moment.

2. Second, start looking for the underlying cause of why you have this toxic habit in the first place: what’s the unconscious driver behind this mindset? This comes from asking, answering and discussing this mindset with yourself or someone you trust using a series of “why” questions, such as “why am I thinking this?” or “what could have triggered me?”. My SWITCH app is great for this as well—I use it every day to examine my “if only” thoughts, which teaches me to learn from the mistakes I make rather than wasting time trying to change the past, which is impossible.

3. Thirdly, redesign the thought. For example, instead of regretting the past and saying “if only”, every day I tell myself that “This is what I have learned, I am enriched from it, and it was a great experience. It has improved my character, and now I know what not to do” and so on. I constantly remind myself that I influence how this experience plays out in my future!

4. Last but not least, practice using the new way of thinking. Remember, this is not a quick-fix or magic bullet; it takes at least 63 days to reconceptualize one thinking pattern, so be patient and keep on keeping on! This is why I recommend using my SWITCH app, which I developed based on my experiences and with 25 years of working with patients. I use the SWITCH app reminder every day—as it pops up daily, it prompts me, so I can easily bring the thought I am working on to the forefront of my conscious mind and practice it daily when I catch myself falling back into bad thinking habits.

You can listen to how to apply these 4 steps using an example from my life on this week’s podcast (episode 110).

Of course, I do understand that reconceptualizing is not always easy. But, with enough practice and over time, you will get better and better at using this technique daily and making a mental habit. And I promise you it is worth the effort! This mind-management technique has not only helped me improve and manage my mental health, but also countless others, including the patients I saw in my private practice. It truly is a life-changer!  


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