I devoted a whole chapter to thoughts in Thank God For Depression.
I’ve used this practice so many times for depression and anxiety, and I’ve found it very helpful and empowering.
Anytime you are confronted with a thought that feels icky or uncomfortable, you can pause and ask these questions, practicing what I call “thought alchemy.”
Here are 6 simple steps for how to alchemize negative thoughts into thoughts that serve you.
When a mean thought comes in, simply get curious. Pause, take a deep breath, and slow things down.
2. Write it Down
Get out your journal, write the thought down in it’s simplest form or say out loud the thought that is uncomfortable for you.
3. Fully Accept The Thought
First, welcome the thought. Give it a warm hello, a big yes. Allow and accept it. You can even thank it for coming. Don’t resist any of it.
4. Gently Question It
Notice and gently examine the thought: This might be the most important step, look at the relationship you have with the thought.
Questions To Ask Yourself
Where do I feel this thought in my body?
What’s the tone and voice of this thought? Which emotion is behind this thought? Is there anything I am unwilling to feel?
What am I resisting?
What led me to this thought? (i.e., what was I doing or thinking right before this thought?)
What is the belief behind this thought?
Is this thought true? (Would my closest friend say this about me or agree with what it says?)
Is this thought something I would say to a close friend or loved one?
What do I stand to gain by believing this thought?
(Where does my life go, and where does this thought lead me if I believe this?For example, say the thought is, “I’m not good enough.” It can lead you to turn down a job or romantic opportunity because you don’t feel worthy.)
5. Alchemize The Thought.
Now that we have this info, here is where we can transform the thought.
What thought could I replace this one with that would better serve me?
AKA: What is the opposite of this thought? How could I turn this into an affirmation? (For example, “I’m fat,” becomes “I’m perfect as I am, and I love my body.”)
What does this thought have to teach me?
What is the lesson here?
6. Thank It
Lastly, thank this thought for coming into your life with whatever its message was, and thank it for being a teacher. If you don’t need it, say “Thank you, I’m not in need of your services.”
I’ve found it’s really helpful to journal on this. When I was dealing with the “kill yourself ” thought, I kept a bullet journal page of every time it came up and notated where I was, what I was doing right before it came up, and a positive thought to replace it with, like, “There is a purpose for my life.”
This gave me empirical data. “Oh, I’ve had the ‘kill yourself ’ thought in bed in the morning five times this week. Maybe I need to get out of bed.” Or, “This thought flares up when I’m around this person. Maybe I need to spend less time with them.” When we alchemize our thoughts, we can start to adjust our lives to better help and serve ourselves.
Every Thought Is a Teacher
We can see thoughts as teachers.They clue us into our belief system. They tell us where we need work and how we can better take care of ourselves. When we watch our thoughts, they can show us where we are stuck, reveal our self-limiting beliefs, and teach us how we can better take care of ourselves when we’re suffering from depression.
When we pause to watch our thoughts, we can rewrite the stories.
The biggest beauty in this work is that you start to change the relationship you have with your thoughts. They are no longer terrorists but teachers because every thought is a chance to learn more about who you are, what you need, and how you can better take care of yourself. Instead of hurting you, thoughts will guide you.
I write about this process, and more on how to handle negative thoughts in my book, Thank God For Depression.