How much control do you think you have over your thoughts and emotions?
Do you feel peaceful, in control most of the time or chaotic and powerless?
It is hard to remain calm with all the noises in our head and around us. But if you want to have more mental clarity, perform better, feel more at peace and actually look forward to building your dream life, managing our thoughts and emotions is crucial.
This is probably why you’re reading this article in the first place.
Let’s talk about the basic-but-hard-to-master stuff today: our mind. 🧠
Ever struggled to fall asleep because your mind is racing through trivial matters? Ever felt anxious or depressed while lying in bed safely because the mind is time travelling? Not to mention our inner critic that loves to judge our every move…
We don’t have to be our worst enemy.
With 4 simple steps (note: simple, not easy) and some creative tools, we can learn to manage our mind better, hence regulate our emotions and change our behaviours with more grace.
Imagine feeling more in control with our thoughts and emotions and living a life with purpose and passion… that’s the goal. 🎯
Let’s dive in.
1 You are not your thoughts 💭
This might sound weird but bear with me: imagine laying all your organs out. Your brain, your lungs, your hands, your kidneys etc…
My point being: human beings have this incredible ability to do time and space travel in the mind.
We can go back in time and replay certain scenarios in our head from our own point of view, or play the memory like we’re watching a movie in the cinema.
We can also travel to the future and plot out possibilities. We can analyse potentials and threats and make backup plans accordingly.
But you are your own person.
You are not your legs, your heart or your brain.
You are not your thoughts.
Creating distance between yourself and what you’re experiencing is the first step to feeling more calm and in control.
Your Language Matters 💬
To emphasise my point further, I want you to pay attention to your language next time you label your feelings:
- “I am sad” vs “I feel sad”
- “I am disappointed” vs “I feel disappointed”
Language is powerful. It makes or breaks us.
It’s a lot easier to brew a spiral of negative thoughts and feelings if we always associate ourselves with our feelings: “I am disappointed at myself. I am a failure. I can’t do anything well. I will just give up.”
This is the first step we need to take: untangle ourselves from our thoughts.
You are your own person.
The simplest way to untangle ourselves from our thoughts is to shift our attention to our body sensations.
This is the beauty of our breaths – it’s always there, it generates oxygen and blood flows, and it regulates us through rhythm.
2 Observe and Spot Thought Patterns 🧐
There is no self-development without self-awareness.
– Steven Bartlett
No one knows you like you do.
When we understand our thoughts, emotions and behaviours, we start to manage ourselves effectively and make better decisions for our future selves.
Before we can analyse and study our thoughts, we need to gather data first.
What Gets Measured Gets Managed 📊
Here’s why people who track their weight, calorie intake, workout, habits, even mood changes are more successful in managing their health than those who don’t: tracking builds awareness.
Do you know how much time you spent on scrolling social media last week? Check your screen time.
Do you know how well you slept last night? Check your health app/smart watch.
What gets measured gets managed.
It requires some effort for sure, but in my opinion it’s worth every minute.
I track my health, work hours, my mood, my project progress (currently my pull-up reps, language learning) etc…. Call me a nerd, but here’s when the magic happened:
I not only built self-awareness around my habits, performance and how I spent my time, but also improved steadily because I created a game for myself –
How can I break my record last week?
Similarly, tracking our thoughts and emotions helps us manage them.
Here are my best prompts for you to get started with observing your thoughts, emotions and behaviours:
- What are some repeating themes in my mind this week?
- What/who boosted my mood this week? How do I replicate success?
- What/who drains my energy?
- Do I know my triggers?
- Were my behaviours aligned with my goals last week? What do I need to change?
- Who brings the best in me?
- How was my sleep overall last week? How did that impact my mood and performance?
- What food makes my stomach happy? (probably not donuts…)
- When do I make the best decisions?
- What should I do today so that my future self will be grateful?
Start tracking, testing and tweaking today if you haven’t already. 🙂
P.S. want to find out your emotional resilience score and reclaim your peace of mind? Take the free quiz here.
A Note on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 😳
You might have noticed that I mentioned thoughts, emotions and behaviours a lot in this section.
The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) basically states that how you think and act affects how you feel.
Changing any part will change the whole equation and activate a new cycle.
While I’m a music therapist and also a client who benefited from CBT before, here’s a caveat:
I personally doubt how much control we actually have towards our thoughts. We cannot stop random thoughts from popping up in our mind, replaying certain situations or imagining the worst case scenario. However, we can control how we respond to situations and whether we want to engage in our million thoughts.
As said, we are not our thoughts and not every thought is meaningful/urgent to act on.
One helpful tool to track and observe our thoughts is the thought record. It’s based on CBT but really, it’s just a journal and an outlet for you to gain new perspectives.
Track the situation that triggers you, rate your emotion, write down your thoughts. Then start spotting patterns (since most of our thoughts are repetitive) and giving new narratives to the situation. We can then decide what’s the best action to take.
What I found the most helpful about the thought record is that it allows me to see a better set of “reality”. Often times we are caught in the negative emotions and the chatter in our mind that we can’t see the big picture. But as we create some distance from what we are experiencing, we can recalibrate and act rationally instead of reacting in the moment.
Try observing and tracking your thoughts and emotions at this stage.
Get the thought record Notion template here for free.
P.S. if you are interested in getting more toolkits to manage the chatter in your mind, watch my video here.
3 New Stories, New Reality 🗾
Now you know how you think, function, behave and make decisions. You have a brief idea of what makes you feel good and perform at your best. You have tools to track your thoughts and emotions.
What patterns have you spotted? What stories have you been telling yourself? Where do they come from? What thought typically causes certain emotions?
For example, you might realise that it’s not your colleague who pisses you off, but the fact that you think your colleague doesn’t respect you.
Now this is something under your control – change your thought, or communicate with your colleague.
It’s not easy to challenge our own worldviews and beliefs, but this almost-interrogation-like attitude is crucial in changing our negative self talk and managing our emotions.
We see the world as we are.
As we move on, how we see our past changes and we start telling different stories.
But we don’t have to wait till years later to conclude our current situation in hindsight.
Remember that we can travel in time and space?
Leverage this powerful tool.
We can picture the same situation in our mind but look at it from an audience’s point of view. We can also imagine it’s our friend facing the same situation and look at it more objectively.
More importantly, we can start giving advice and taking action to solve the problem.
This is key to managing our emotions: to starve our anxiety with actions.
My favourite storytelling and self-expression tool to use in music therapy session is song-writing.
Forget about the rules, the rhymes, the dissonance.
This is your song.
Narrate it however you wish.
If song-writing sounds too daunting, try lyrics substitution.
Do you know that music therapy can help you feel more positive emotions, relax, increase focus and manage pain? There are many creative tools you can use to improve your emotional health. Read more here.
4 Ongoing Thought Management Journey 🎢`
You now have the awareness and tools under your belt to manage your thoughts.
It is a practice – we have to constantly put in the work and adjust as we progress in our journey.
So go pick or create your favourite tools and keep managing your emotional health. Make it a habit even. I’m here to keep you accountable!
If you’ve taken this free emotion resilience quiz here you would have received my Notion wellbeing support pack which contains everything you need to regulate and strengthen your emotional health. It’s a good starting point to build your emotional health management system 🙂
Take it Further 🚀
Join me for a live handpan music x blackout poetry workshop on 15 April.