In an ideal world, our thoughts, experiences and beliefs would remain in a continuous state of refinement and renewal. We would frequently be exposed to new and interesting people and situations, and we would constantly discover and enhance new aspects of our emotional and intellectual lives.
However, this is rarely how life progresses. For many of us, personal ruts and situational repetition are the norm. Our focus narrows to daily stressors and events outside of our control. Our careers slowly push ahead, our circle of friends holds steady or shrinks over the years, and we content ourselves with familiar forms of recreation, mental stimulation and social interaction.
Then, one day, we wake up feeling we need something … different. Perhaps we tire of dwelling on old worries or lost opportunities. Maybe we get bored of doing the same thing day after day. Or possibly we just want to see the "old" world in an entirely new way.
Whatever the reason, it's not hard to change the way we think -- but it does take some effort. What are some ways you can change the way you think? Read on to find out.
"I Will Think Differently, I Will Think Differently"
Some people believe that the best way to help yourself change the way you think is to tell yourself -- repeatedly -- to think a different way.
The idea isn't new. In fact, it's very, very old. Most religious practices involve the repetition of prayers, appeals or affirmations. Militaries across the world demand that recruits change the way they think, and use chants, cheers and oaths to help do so.
You may decide to choose a very specific mantra -- "Public speaking is fun!" -- or something a little more broad, such as "Live in the moment." As long as your mantra or affirmation isn't grounded in the status quo ("Nothing must change, nothing must change"), it may help you change the way you think.
But choosing a mantra isn't enough. It's important to take time each day to review and repeat the catchphrase, or you won't give its message time to sink in. Try to repeat it throughout the day whenever a situation presents itself that challenges you.
Next: Do differently, think differently.
Do Things Differently
Trying to change the way you think? Why not try changing the things you do? It's not easy to change your perspective on things, especially when you're doing the same old things over and over.
Even making little changes in your life can help. Pick up a new sport or activity that you've always wanted to try. Go to restaurants, parks and other gathering places that you don't normally frequent. Try out a new author or musician, see a movie screened by your local film society, attend a community potluck, volunteer at a nonprofit, or attend a religious service that is different from your own.
Are you something of a "control freak"? Farm out tasks to others and set aside your high expectations and instinct to take the project over and do it your way. If you're more of a passive person, make an effort (even if just for a day or a week) to take matters into your own hands and to be more assertive. Introverts, attempt to come out of your shells. Commit yourself to initiating and maintaining a five-minute conversation with a total stranger once a day.
By changing or breaking even small routines, your brain will be exposed to new stimuli and will create new neural pathways to accommodate changes.
You must know how you think in the first place in order to think differently, as we'll next discuss.
Work on Self-awareness
We can't think differently if we don't pay attention to the way we currently think. It isn't hard to walk through life with unchallenged or outdated beliefs, preconceptions, wrong assumptions and a personal narrative that's badly in need of updating.
Many people are afraid of acknowledging and exploring their own thoughts and emotions, choosing instead to focus on life outside their own skin -- the needs of others, career goals that have been set, and the constant static of the Information Age. Focusing on self-awareness can help you reconnect with your true needs, desires and dreams. It can make you pay attention to how you treat people and how you feel about how you're treated by others.
It may seem almost indulgent to work toward becoming more self-aware, but if so, there's nothing wrong with splurging on yourself. Increased self-awareness can facilitate major life changes -- many 12-step programs place large emphasis on personal exploration, the processing of painful events from the past, and the acknowledgment of resentments and fears in order to overcome personal demons and addictions. Identifying your moods and emotions will make it possible to adjust them. You can't change the way you think until you understand what's causing you to think the way you do.
Want to change the way you think? How about changing the people around you? Keep reading for tips on how to do that.
Meet New People
To bring new thoughts, ideas and perceptions into your life, get to know someone with a different perspective, occupation, background, culture or religion.
Why? Hanging out with like-minded people is a good way to hear constant reinforcement of your own thoughts and beliefs. This also makes it easy to fall into "groupthink" and makes it more difficult to see (or acknowledge) faults, shortcomings and falsehoods of our own.
That's not to say you need to get rid of old friends -- just spice up your life with some new ones. New friends and acquaintances increase the odds that you're introduced to new ways of thinking. You may be pleasantly surprised to have your worldview rocked a little bit by a simple conversation with somebody who views life much differently than you do. The great thing about widening your social circle is that new friends can help expand it even further by introducing you to people you might otherwise have little opportunity to meet.
You don't have to travel to exotic lands to meet new people who think differently than you do -- in fact, they're all around you. It may just be a matter of being willing to initiate conversations with people from whom you'd normally shy away.
Next: change the way you think by changing the places you think.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Going about your life the same way day after day, doing the same activities you've always done, and planning the next weekend to mirror the last one is a good recipe for shrinking your awareness, joy and understanding of the world.
We have a natural (and often useful) tendency to stick with the familiar in life and avoid situations that make us uncomfortable. This is a good way to stay out of sticky situations, but it's also a good way to get in a rut and stay there. Pushing yourself to embrace new activities and experiences that force you to step outside your comfort zone is a good way to change the way you think.
Perhaps it's something physically intimidating, like skydiving or bungee jumping. Maybe getting outside your comfort zone means you seek out public spaces in which you're an ethnic, cultural or religious minority. Instead of vacationing in well-worn tourist traps, try a new destination that's off the beaten path.
Now that we've gotten you on the path to seeing things a whole new way, tee the nest page for lots more articles on changing the way you think.
Horses are extremely sensitive to human emotions, mirroring feelings and providing feedback, which is what makes equine therapy so effective.
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- Burns, David D. Feeling good: the new mood therapy. HarperCollins, 1999. ISBN 0380810336, 9780380810338. http://books.google.com/books?id=UaEg_ujTKEcC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false
- Greenberger, Dennis; Padesky, Christine A. Mind over mood: change how you feel by changing the way you think. Guilford Press, 1995. 0898621283, 9780898621280.http://books.google.com/books?id=omJwsphImoYC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false
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- Oz, Lisa. Us: Transforming Yourself and the Relationships that Matter Most. Free Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4391-2392-8.
- Port, Michael; Samuels, Mina. The Think Big Manifesto: Think You Can't Change Your Life (and the World) Think Again. John Wiley and Sons, 2009. ISBN 0470432373, 9780470432372.