“I’ve heard it estimated that we have between 50,000 and 75,000 thoughts a day, and that 75% or more of these are negative. Every day, all day long, we have thousands and thousands of negative or self-limiting thoughts. “I’d like to have my own business, but I could never do that. I’d love to date so and so, but I could never ask him/her out. I would really like to try a new sport (or run a marathon), but that would be impossible for me. I wish I could stop this habit or addiction, but I’ve tried that before and nothing has ever really worked. I hate this job. I am too old. I am ugly. I am stupid. I wish my spouse would change. I’m such a failure for not being able to change my habit. I hate myself. I’d like to but I can’t…”
So where did those thoughts come from? Our parents? Friends? Society? Are they new and fresh and continually changing – or are we recycling the thoughts we had yesterday, last month, last year, or many years ago? Do you feel a sense of possibility and aliveness as you think about each day – or are you feeling stuck or frustrated because it is your belief that change is not really possible?
It would seem that most of us share a core belief (which we think is “the truth”_ that something is fundamentally wrong with us. This belief can express itself in many different forms. We may believe that we’re not good enough, don’t know enough or don’t do enough (e.g., “I’m lazy”). We might think that we don’t deserve to have what we need or want. Or it could be the belief that we are unlovable or unacceptable, or that other people won’t love and accept us for who we really are.
Our minds create more negative thoughts to reinforce core beliefs formed earlier in life that “something’s wrong with you” in some way: “I’ll never have enough money.” “I’ll never be happy in a relationship.” “I can’t do work that I really enjoy.” “No one will ever pay me for that.” “Change is not really possible for me.” (Or whatever those core beliefs are for you) And the more you keep listening/telling yourself these thoughts, the more they seem like “the truth” for you. Beneath our unwanted habits, behaviors, compulsions or addictions, I’ve noticed these kinds of thoughts and beliefs. This is perhaps why so many of our attempts to break our habits are so ineffective.
We try to change the outside behavior instead of dealing with what’s going on inside. The same is true when we want to help others change their habits; we often try to “motivate” them in ways that actually make them feel worse thereby reinforcing their negative and dis-empowering thoughts of “not being enough,” leading to more feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness.
Paradoxically, even while believing we are ‘not enough’, we may be high achievers. We may hold the highest standards for ourselves, or always try to be the best at whatever we do. The ‘over-achieving’ habit may be an attempt to disprove the underlying belief that we are ‘not enough’. But our best efforts never seem to be enough to quiet these negative thoughts for good. And it’s this conflict within us that contributes to our gnawing feelings of discomfort, discontent or emotional pain.
Arnold Washton, Ph.D., and Donna Boundy, M.S.W., describe this problem perfectly in their book Willpower’s Not Enough: Recovering from Addictions of Every Kind; “Part of having an addictive “dis-ease” means that we hold certain contradictory beliefs that set the stage for inner conflict and struggle – such as believing simultaneously that we are not enough and that we should be perfect.”
[Thus] …A faulty belief system lies at the root of addiction. This belief system… embraces the idea that it is possible to be perfect, that the world should be limitless, that our image is more important than who we really are, that we are not enough, and that externals (people, drugs, and other things outside of ourselves) hold the “magic” solutions to life’s problems.
And what if the Cognitive Behavioral Therapists (CBT) are correct when they say Thoughts Cause Feelings? If 75% of our thoughts are negative and thoughts cause feelings, then logic would have it that 75% of our feelings are also negative. Is it any wonder our society is so desperate to escape these uncomfortable feelings, that we’ll even turn to destructive habits or addictions to do so?
In fact, this reminds me of my experience in the 12 steps where I used to teach a particular passage out of the big book of alcoholics to anyone and everyone that felt they or someone they cared about might have an addiction problem of any sort.
The passage was actually written by the late Dr. William D Silkworth. When describing his observation of the “alcoholics” he worked with, he stated “they are restless, irritable, and discontented unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by having a drink.”
I would have the person I was working with substitute the word “alcohol” for any habit or behavior the person was having a problem with and ask them this “Is it your experience that most of the feelings you have on a day to day basis could be described as being “restless, irritable and discontented” ?
To this question, people would say “YES” without hesitation. I would then ask “is it your experience that your habit, behavior, compulsion or addiction gives you a sense of “ease and comfort” compared to how you were feeling just before you engaged in that habit, behavior, compulsion or addiction?”
Every single one of them would say “YES” - and I mean even those who considered themselves addicted to cutting, abusive relationships, hair pulling, anorexia, bulimia, controlling others, work. I mean this applied to everyone. It did not matter what the “addiction” was, across the board, their unwanted “habit” was giving them a feeling they were looking for.
This had me wonder if all addicts (and possibly even most people) are actually addicted to a feeling that could be described as “ease and comfort?” A single word for that could be “peace.” Could our negative thinking be one possibility of what might be causing this overwhelming lack of peace in our lives?”
From the book Choice Centered Leadership, by Scott Gallagher