This podcast was recorded in the middle of a major storm and tornado warning, so the quality may be a little scratchy. Thankfully we were safe in the studio, and no significant weather-related damage occurred where our offices are located!
In this podcast (episode #443) and blog, I talk about something that I battle with: “if only/should have/could have” thinking, and how I manage my mind to overcome this negative mental spiral.
If we are constantly trapped in a web of “if only/I can’t/could have/would have/should have”, this kind of thinking can quickly become a toxic mindset that changes our perspective—the way we see and respond to the world. I know, I have been there many times! This is really something I have struggled with my whole life. Regrets and ruminations can really catch you in their snare and keep you stuck in a negative thought spiral, which, in turn, can impact your mental wellbeing.
This is why it is so important to remember that whatever we think about the most grows. Our mind has the power to impact our ability to think well and our mental and physical health.
Fortunately, all thought patterns can be changed through the process of reconceptualization, or reimagining and redefining how we use our mind in a particular situation. This process includes gaining knowledge that can help us turn a negative experience into a memory that allows us to grow as a person.
In the case of “if only/could have…” thoughts, when I practice reconceptualizing the narrative, I have found that I can move forward instead of getting “stuck” in a toxic, ruminative cycle. I can look for the knowledge I have gained in a situation, and proactively use this experience to help me manage similar situations in the future.
When we practice reconceptualization in different situations, we actually increase our mental resilience! It is essentially a mental “insurance policy” that helps improve our wellbeing over time, and is something we can all benefit from, because we all battle with intrusive thoughts. Yes, some people battle more than others, and some days are worse than other days. But having this mental health insurance policy in place when we need it is invaluable—it helps make the hard times more bearable, and reminds us that we have a powerful weapon at our disposal to meet the most important challenge: our mind!
A key part of this process is remembering that there is always a “because of…” behind our thinking. Thoughts do not occur in a vacuum. We need to get into the habit of identifying this “because of” and reconceptualizing it - that is, redefining the role it plays in our narrative, in a way that works for us and not against us. This is mind management in action, and a great mental self-care practice!
One way to do this is using the Neurocycle, which I discuss in detail in my latest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, and my app Neurocycle. The Neurocycle is a way to harness your thinking power through mind-management that I have developed and researched over the past three decades; any task that requires thinking can use it, which means everything can, because you’re always thinking! This de-stressing, self-regulation 5-step technique can really work with any issue, and can be done anywhere, any place and at any time—all you need is you!
Remember, you will not solve everything in one day of Neurocycling. You will need to do this daily for at least 63 days—below is just a sampling of how to go about this, which should take you under an hour.
First, gather awareness of how you feel mentally and physically when you catch yourself saying something like “if only” or “should have”. Are you frustrated? Annoyed? Angry? Gather awareness of the specific statements you say, such as “What is wrong with me?!” or “I always do this!”.
Next, reflect on how you feel. Why do you think you feel this way?
Then, write down your reflections to help organize your thinking.
Next, recheck: think about what your inner critic is trying to tell you. What is it signaling to in your life? Is it trying to show you where the source is? Look for clues in your writing, then start to reconceptualize the way you are thinking. For example, change a statement like “I am not good enough” into “I am actually pretty amazing! I am embracing my mess to repair and grow”. Another example is changing something like “I’m stupid” into “I am smart—look at my achievements so far! Just because this didn’t work out, doesn’t mean other things won’t”.
Lastly, do your active reach. This is a thought or action you need to practice daily to help you reconceptualize what you thought about in the previous step. For example, you can be thankful that your mind, brain and body are letting you know that how you have been thinking and speaking to yourself has a “because of…”: there is something in your life that you need to look at and change by practicing seeing yourself or talking to yourself in a different way.
One statement I have found to be particularly helpful when experiencing “if only” thoughts is “Just because things could, maybe, have been different doesn’t mean that things would have been better!” I often say this to myself when I feel regret, and I really think about what it means in the moment and how it can change my perspective.
Remember to practice this reconceptualized statement or action as much as possible to solidify the new thinking habit over time.
For more on the overcoming “if only” thinking, listen to my podcast (episode #443). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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2:15 How getting stuck ruminating on the past can affect your mental health
2:55 How to use mind management to deal with toxic thinking cycles
5:49 How I use mind management to handle frustration
6:40, 10:31 Just because things could have been different doesn’t mean that things would have been better!
This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.