Getting Control of Your Thoughts and Actions

Does it sometimes feel like you’re an outside observer, watching the way you react to situations? Do you find that you’re obsessing over what you thought, what you said, what you did in the moment? We are not just slaves to a random series of reactions and choices based on genetics, hormones, or just “who we are as a person”. We can all endeavor to, and succeed in, getting more control over your thoughts and our deeds.

Know what you really can control
This is where every process of changing your life and your habits must begin. A lot of people have an issue of taking the blame when they really shouldn’t. For instance, let’s say you’re watching a friend’s child for a brief moment when they walk away. The child trips, falls, and starts crying. Is your immediate reaction to apologize when, in reality, there was nothing you can do? Take a leaf out of the stoic’s book, and remind yourself what you’re truly responsible for: your thoughts and your actions. If you start taking responsibility for things outside that sphere, you start taking the blame internally for things that aren’t your fault. Meaning you’re more likely to be a defeatist about your own actions and to give into habits that fit that view you hold of yourself.
Find your aims
A lot of life is reactionary. Even if you manage to distance your emotions and self-reflection from events happening around you, you often find you have to react to them. If your bed breaks, you have to save money to buy a new one. You have to get a job to pay the bills. You have to get a promotion or find a new career to buy a house. Don’t be entirely reactionary. Take control and write down your aims. It might be as simple as finding more time for yourself or losing some weight or it might be as grand finishing a novel. If you write your aims, you’re much more likely to achieve them. Just remember not to write aims that are out of your control.

Don’t let life pass you by
One of the aims that just about everyone should try to include near the top of the list is to try new things more often. We tend to go mentally unconscious, to settle into a rhythm when we’re living the same routine over and over again. You don’t have to move, to quit your job, or break up with your lifelong partner. Instead, simply trying new things every day gives you feeling of some input on your own direction. It also does away with the discomforting feeling of time passing by too quickly. Many studies agree that this feeling happens because we have fewer “firsts” in life and fewer noteworthy events as we get older. It’s important that you have some get-up-and-go in doing this, too. Start early, where your mind is at its freshest, right out of bed. Make the right choices at the start of the day and it creates a knock-on effect that keeps you making those choices as the day goes on. Put it off until too late in the day when energy reserves are low and it’s too easy to just put it off for another time, which inevitably never comes.
Find your deepest you
If we don’t take the time to ground ourselves, it’s too easy for our mind to become a series of stresses, anxieties, fears, and problems that we’re constantly racing to find a solution to. Clearing your mind and finding ways to ground yourself really does help. By focusing on something as simple as your own breathing through meditation or spending time with nothing but nature around you allows you to shed off those unhelpful thoughts and get down to you at your base. It also helps you learn mindfulness which can become one of the most useful tools in keeping control of yourself.

Practicing mindfulness
To be mindful, in the truest sense, is to pay attention. It starts first of all with being mindful of certain things around you. It might be your breathing, or the way a branch swings in the breeze. Then it goes on to you being mindful of your own reactions to it. Practice being mindful out in the real world, too. Be mindful of the little things that happen when you’re stuck in traffic or when you’re in the shower. When you start noticing the little things around you, you also notice the little things happening in your own head.
Stop, take time, and think
Applying mindfulness in real time is the aim of the game. You get into a situation that would usually provoke an immediate response. Perhaps someone says something that makes you feel insulted or belittled or, back to the old example, a child you’re watching trips and falls. Mindfulness helps you recognize your immediate reaction before it happens. It gives you the time you need to spot the connection before it’s made and to stop jumping to conclusions. Then you have the time to think and formulate a response that is often not only more under your control but a more measured reaction to an event.

Know your emotional triggers
You’re not going to become an immediate master of practicing mindfulness all the time. There are still going to be situations which cause you to give into anxiety or anger. It’s a good idea to get to know these situations and to identify your emotional triggers. At first, you can learn to avoid them, but as time goes on, you can manage your triggers. Managing them is all about acknowledging the harm that they cause you, but without allowing the pain of that harm to settle into your brain and take control.
Don’t neglect the physical side
Mindfulness is also used as a method of helping those with chronic pain. If you fixate on the pain your body is undergoing, then your experience of that pain is going to be a lot worse. Learning how not to fixate on the pain is going to make your experience of it much more bearable. But the relationship works both ways. Fixating on pain makes it much harder to find your center and ground yourself. So, don’t ignore potential treatments for chronic pain that might translate physical stress to mental stress. You should think about tackling both at the same time.

Fill the world with good
Getting in control of your thoughts and actions is usually done so that you can feel better about how you act. There’s nothing wrong with that, our sense of pride in our own way of handling life is an important thing to carry around with you. But beyond making changes to how you perceive your actions and change them from within, you can make a great start by simply giving yourself more positive actions to perform. In particular, it’s been proven that helping other people, in big ways or small, helps massively change our personal perception of ourselves. By being kinder to others, we tend to start being kinder to ourselves as well. Just avoid feeling obligated and like you fail your obligation if you’re unable to help someone because of your own circumstances. It goes back to the philosophy of stoicism, of always being aware of what you’re truly in control of.
Focus on your successes, not your failures
Your perception is also colored by what you spend your time thinking about. Rumination and ruin have a causal relationship in a lot of instances. We don’t think about our successes often because they seem par for the course, expected, whereas our failures are unexpected and so we think too much about how we messed up. Take the time to reflect on your successes. In fact, keeping a diary of your achievements for your own reading can help you much better appreciate what you do well. When you exercised that self-control, when you helped someone, when you got closer to your aims. You can see how much control you have over your actions already, which affords you even more control going forward.

Focus on one thing at a time
Multitasking is often lauded but it’s not often for a good reason. Employers love to see it and we praise women for having the natural ability to do it better. It comes in handy in a crisis, no doubt, but it should never be your default way of doing things. Monotasking is far more effective. It also helps you avoid the feeling like you’re spinning plates and only reacting accordingly. If you have a busy day, then take a few minutes to create a schedule for it, prioritizing and setting time for different tasks. You will feel much more in control of the day for it.
When you know what you truly can control, and you make choices using the abilities to improve your life and dictate your own direction when possible, it can solve a lot of your problems. You won’t avoid stress, anguish, or pain, but you can learn to make them all part of the experience.

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