Nagging thoughts are like ghosts with unfinished business. Their sulking is audible from a plane that you cannot see, begging for your attention, interrupting whatever you’re doing.
Once they have your attention they don’t let up. They look too much like the person you used to be and say all of the things you no longer want to hear. You want to put them in the past and lock them away, but something about the way they torture you keeps you from looking away.
You may think you’re safe when you haven’t seen them for a while, but they’re just biding their time, lying in wait until you’re at your weakest. On the day when you’re not feeling too well, or you’re sad or angry, your nagging-thoughts-ghost will reemerge to deepen your sadness, anger, and frustration Before you know, it has possessed you and now control what you do and how you do it.
Why you should deal with the thoughts that nag you.
The troubling thing about ignoring the thoughts that nag you is that these thoughts tend to come from a deep place within you, begging to be heard, understood, and resolved. How rare is it to hear something within yourself so strongly? For most people, it’s rare. By trying to lock these thoughts in a vault, you are willfully silencing yourself.
It may seem like you’re doing it for your own good. I get that. You don’t want to allow those thoughts out to hurt you all over again. However, listening and dealing with these thoughts does not validate or justify them. Thoughts can be dirty little liars sometimes. You deal with these thoughts because you’re a boss-ass-bitch (bitch, bitch, bitch)… These thoughts shouldn’t have this type of control over your life. You deal with them so that they can stop nagging you.
It makes a lot of sense to deal with these thoughts because while this ghost is haunting you…
• It’s preventing you from truly enjoying the moment. When your thoughts wander back to that time or ruminate on something that hasn’t happen yet, it’s keeping you from being present. The present moment is the only moment where happiness can exist (or that exists at all).
• It’s stopping you from learning the lesson that comes with dealing with that problem. When you deal with your problem, you’ll gain skills that will help you deal with future problems. Also, the act of dealing with a problem tends to make the problem smaller. For instance, when you stopped worrying about falling off your bike, you realized how silly it was to worry about it at all.
• It’s preventing you from being authentic. While your plastering a smile over the sadness you feel inside, you aren’t authentic. While you’re pretending to be above such nonsense, you’re not authentic. The thing that’s nagging you only has this much control over you because it matters to you. Somehow it goes against your beliefs or the way you want to see yourself. If that wasn’t the case it wouldn’t keep coming up to pester you. Remember when this happened; you’re not so perfect bitch, it whispers to you. Deal with it so that you can be true to yourself.
• It causes past insecurities to shape current realities. Though there is no short supply of lessons that can be learned from the past, the past is not an all-seeing crystal ball of life. Just because you were afraid once, it doesn’t mean you’ll be afraid forever. If the past did have this much of say, most people wouldn’t leave their house on the off chance that some unlikely disaster happened. Babies would never learn to walk; you wouldn’t know how to read or talk. If the past is an indicator of anything, it’s that mistakes are awesome.
To deal with the thoughts that nag you, you should..
• Commit to solving the problem. Before you can move forward, you have to make solving this problem a priority. The best way I’ve found is to paint a vivid picture of what you’d become once the problem is solved and of your life having not solved the problem. For instance, your nagging-thoughts-ghost keeps bringing up the time you sucked at an interview every time you go to an interview. If you deal with this nagging thought, you will walk into next interview with confidence that exudes from you regardless of the outcome. You will speak articulately about all those things you know so well and impress your future employer.
If you don’t deal with this thought, every time you sit before your interviewer your tension will stink up the room. You won’t be able to call to memory the things you rehearsed. Your true shine won’t come through, and you’ll be jobless.
• Open the vault. Allow everything that comes with dealing with that thought come out of the vault – the hurt, shame, and frustration. For a moment, let it all wash over you then away from you. Let yourself feel the feelings so that you can know what you’re up against. This part sucks but it’s a necessary evil. Part of the reason that these thoughts may be resurfacing may be because you never allowed yourself to go through it.
Let yourself feel it as long as you need. Cry until you’re sick of crying. Feel sad until you’re sick of being sad. If you think there’s not a limit to your tears, let me tell you, there is. Find it and you’ll be compelled to act. Don’t move on to the next step until you have felt the feeling and have LET THEM GO. You don’t want lingering feelings to stink up the next steps. If you find that your feelings keep coming back up, take a moment to feel them then let them go.
• Study your thoughts and feelings. Now that you have felt your feelings, analyze them.
— Are they irrational and groundless? If so, what makes you believe in them? A lot of the thoughts that nag you may tie into your personality. For instance, making a stain on the carpet doesn’t torment everyone. Is your defensiveness or perfectionism keeping you blind to the triviality of the problem?
— If your thoughts are sound, is there anything that you can do to change what you think or how you feel? Is it something about you that needs to change or the situation?
— Are your feelings about the past or the future? Are you pressuring yourself into thinking about some far off possibility? Or are you dwelling on the past?
• Resist the urge to have an opinion on your thoughts, bad or good. You’re a scientist right now. You’re just analyzing data. To make this easier, take yourself out of the context. Think about what a thought means instead of thinking of what it says about you. Because you are not your thoughts. Thoughts are notorious liars.
• Identify situations that trigger these thoughts. When are these thoughts most likely to appear? Do you find that every time you’re with so-and-so you think about that horrible time when…? What you may find through identifying the trigger is that your nagging thoughts may just be a warning to steer clear of something terrible. Your nagging thoughts ghost can see how what you’re doing right now is just like some other time something terrible happened.
On the other hand, this trigger may appear when you’re trying to push yourself. If that be the case, this may be a signal of some inner conflict that needs to be resolved. Maybe you need to store up some reserves of confidence, or you need to educate yourself more about what you’re going to pursue. I’ve found that most fears and insecurities come from not knowing.
• Remove the power the thoughts have over you by disillusioning the problem. If you’ve been holding off on an uncomfortable conversation, remind yourself that you’re talking to another human being. Everyone puts on his/her pants one leg at a time. If you don’t say anything to that person, you’ll only make yourself feel worse. Another powerful way to deal with a problem that nags you is to see how someone else who had a similar problem dealt with it. Their method may not be perfect for you, but it may give you some hints. Nothing is new under the son. If it’s your problem, it’s likely has been someone else’s.
• Take responsibility for your life. There are many systems in place that keep people stagnant: if you’re rich, you’ll stay rich; if you’re poor, you’ll stay poor. You only have two choices: 1) let the systems tell you your limits 2) tell yourself your limits. There are many people who have beat the system, so you can too. To do that you have to take responsibility for your life. No more so-and-so MADE you react this way. This is not to justify someone else’s bullshit but to keep you living your life, on your terms.
• Talk to a professional. Maybe you’ve had a traumatic experience that has shaped the way you see the world and the people in it. And for whatever your trauma may be, I’m truly sorry that it happened to you. Seriously. I joke a lot, but this is serious. I’ve had my fair share and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. If you don’t feel safe handling these thoughts on your own, talk to a professional. It’s the smart thing to do, and you’re a sharp cookie so do what’s best for you. If you’re worried about the stigma, don’t worry about the stigma. Most educated people today understand the need for the Mental Health Industry. For the people who don’t understand, I like to compare them to people who contested the Earth being round. If people leave you in your darkest moments, they don’t need to be in your life.
• It may take more than one try to tackle this problem. It’s nice to think that this thought that has been nagging you for days, months, or years can be solved in one sitting but chances are it won’t be. And that’s Ok. In some parts of this process, you may have to let it soak overnight or scrub away at it until you can move forward. You’re doing this for yourself. Allow yourself to be thorough.
• Everyone has thoughts like this. You are never as alone as you think. For every terrible thought, there is someone who overcame it and someone who let it control him/her. Which are you going to be?
• Don’t beat yourself up. The pressure you put on yourself is likely part of the problem. You are so abusive that you don’t want to deal with yourself. Stop that. Please continue to be honest with yourself but don’t mistake honesty for abuse.
Once you’ve begun to deal with your nagging-thought-ghost, you’ll learn to accept your thoughts as they are because they’re mostly happening to you.
–You’ll begin cultivating a healthier relationship with your inner voice. That nagging ghost is not the enemy. You just need to handle some things, and it’ll pipe down.
–You’ll even begin taking steps toward creating an environment conducive to the thoughts you want to create. You want to think thoughts that make you better you’ll be better off after the nagging thoughts are gone.
I encourage you to go forth and deal with your nagging-thoughts-ghost. And if you have strategies that I missed, please share them in the comment.
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