We all have a friend who loves to declare, “I can’t eat that. I’m on a cleanse.”
For better or for worse, cleansing and detoxing have been the rage for years now. Most detoxes focus on physical health by eliminating toxic substances like alcohol, caffeine and sugar. Some seem to eliminate everything but the air we breathe.
Whether you’re for or against these de-bloating tactics, you may want to ask yourself the following question: what drives us to ingest “toxic” substances in the first place?
It’s in our mind.
This can give us a new perspective as we start the “cleansing” process with our thoughts. We will outline three (sometimes easy, sometimes not-so-easy) steps to detox your mind and live your best life.
“Toxic thoughts” can rob us of healthy lives and thwart efforts to achieve our goals. Let’s clean ‘em out!
Step 1: Identify Your Toxic Thoughts
Everyone has different toxic thought patterns. It’s important to identify your default toxic thoughts. Here are some common ones:
- All-Or-Nothing Thinking. Our brains like to find the most efficient ways to think, and thinking in all-or-nothing terms is usually easier for the boss upstairs. Examples are: “I never catch a break” or “I always get stuck in traffic, it’s just my luck”. This toxic thought pattern leads to less hope and more fatigue.
- If-Then Toxic Thoughts. Thoughts that suggest that what we desire is dependent on something we don’t yet possess. Examples like: “If I lose (blank) weight, then I will be happy,” or “If I make more money, then I can start dating”. These thought patterns are toxic because they can rob you of motivation and hope.
- Self-Worth Related Toxic Thoughts. Any thoughts that suggest that you’re not worthwhile. Examples include: “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not worthy of love or happiness,” or “I deserve my pain.” These thought patterns can be especially difficult to challenge because sometimes they stem from early experiences in life.
Once you’ve identified your default toxic thought patterns, you’re ready for Step 2. Go, you!
Step 2: Mindfulness
Google presents the definition of mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” (Thanks, Google oracle.)
Why mindfulness? Practicing mindfulness decreases stress and increases our ability to be more aware that our thoughts are just… thoughts. Often thoughts can be confused with reality, which can be really alarming when you’re thinking toxic thoughts!
Practicing mindfulness looks different for everyone and can be as simple as focusing on your breathing. There are apps and online courses that can help you increase mindfulness. Set a goal to practice mindfulness at least 5 minutes per day. Ideally, practice all at once but spreading your mindfulness out is certainly better than nothing.
Here’s an example of mindfulness in action:
On a morning walk, focus on your breathing and how the crisp morning air feels going into your lungs. Focus on how you feel when you fully empty your lungs. Observe your thoughts and visualize them like clouds floating by.
Once you’ve been practicing mindfulness regularly, let’s move on to Step 3…
Step 3: Seek Understanding and Compassionate Challenge
Fighting toxic thoughts creates brand new ones, like whack-a-mole. So, once you’ve identified the toxic thoughts you are struggling with, seek to understand why you think them.
Then, compassionately shift them towards thoughts you desire. How? Here’s an example:
Let’s say you struggle with thoughts of low self-worth. The common thought pattern is “I don’t deserve _____ (fill in the blank)”. You recognize that this is getting in the way of living your best life, and you want to change.
First, try to compassionately understand how these thoughts have been serving you all these years. Perhaps you remember being told this a lot growing up, so you learned to believe it. Then, you would tell yourself “I don’t deserve (fill in the blank)” as an effort to feel safe and connected to the people saying this to you. If you believe you don’t deserve something, this feeling is familiar and allows you to stay in a safe (but unwanted) pattern.
Once you’ve identified how the toxic thought has been serving you, construct a compassionate shifting thought – a thought that moves you in the direction you want to go, rather than the direction you’ve been going.
Using the above example, your compassionate shifting thought might be “I feel like I don’t deserve (fill in the blank) because that has felt normal for a long time. I’m choosing instead to think I do deserve (fill in the blank) even though this feels new and unfamiliar to me”. Accompany the shifting thought with a deep breath and short mindfulness practice.
Repeat Steps 1-3 as often as you can. Detoxing thoughts can be difficult and is more effective and efficient when done with compassion.
Here’s to living your best (and self-kindest) life!