Ever had a nagging thought loop? The kind that just won’t go away? I want you to think about a thought loop that you had at some point that created a minor obsession of focus. It’s like your brain won’t let you stop thinking about it; it’s like an obsession of your mind. It can look like this: “Can you believe I said that? I can’t believe I said that” or “Can you believe I did that?”
You may have a thought loop around your drinking. You have an urge to drink and the thought is “I just want one drink and then I’ll stop.” Your mind tells you it is okay to have one drink since you will stop after that one. Then you take that drink. But after that one drink, you just go to the next drink without any thinking or decision-making about the next drink. It’s automatic. It feels like your brain has been taken over and you just act without thinking.
These thought loops are harmful since they don’t lead us to what we want. They become thought errors and these thought errors create a type of energy behind them. It’s like this anxiety or restlessness that needs to be answered right away when the thought loop appears. You know that you’re in one of these thought loops because you need to do something immediately. You need to take that first drink immediately. You’re past the point of reason. This unconscious loop has taken over.
Thought loops are harmful since they don’t lead us to what we want.
Once we see how this thought loop leads us to feel “lack” or that something is wrong, we begin to understand how we fall into previous patterns of thinking – thinking thoughts that led to self- sabotage and further away from our goal. When this type of buzzing, hurried, frenetic “take action” state comes on, remind yourself that this is a thought error and that you don’t need to take any action. You can remain calm. The thoughts will keep coming and they will feel all-consuming.
A great question to ask yourself in the moment is “What are you really wanting?” Think beyond the drink. What are you really wanting from that drink? Relaxation? Escape from the urge? We talked in a previous post about allowing an urge and not trying to escape from it. Feeding urges only keeps them alive.
Another good question to ask is, “How are you trying to justify this illogical action?” It usually involves some lying or the same lame excuses that don’t work. Some good examples include, “I’ll start tomorrow”, “One drink won’t matter”, “I had a rough day”. The same logic was used plenty of times in the past and wasn’t successful in cutting back.
Once you’ve recognized that your primitive, unconscious brain is on a thought error loop, then you can tap into your prefrontal cortex to observe it and manage it. Ask your brain the above questions to engage your prefrontal cortex so it can learn the skill of overriding the primitive brain.