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Try It: Cancel, Clear and Replace Unhelpful Thoughts

Has your mind been on an endless loop lately, circling checklists, appointment reminders and, even worse, negative thoughts?  This time of year is fun but also chaotic.  My ability to manage a routine to sleep, eat and workout well, the stabilizing factors in my life, are greatly reduced. The number of things I have to manage greatly increased.   It is the perfect storm for looping thoughts: 

  • Will I be able to workout today?
  • Did I eat too much?
  • Did I post on social media today?
  • How can I make my next TV report more impactful?
  • There’s never enough time in the day.
  • Is that wrinkle getting deeper?
  • What will I make for dinner?
  • Did I handle that parenting moment well?

As my head rests on my pillow, no matter the time of year, many of same messages run on repeat. The loop that circulates is exhausting, persistent and unkind, if I am truthful. 

Right now, I am sick of it.

I know that it is unrealistic to stop my looping thoughts or the negative ones. Instead, I have been practicing simply witnessing them and noticing how often they happen.  However, this awareness puts me into a funk.  It is overwhelming to notice how easily and often my mind wrestles with tasks and negative thinking. Frankly, it bums me out to witness my mental tapes.  Yet, breaking this incessant habit feels weighty and impossible.

I brought this heaviness to the attention of my coach, who asked: 

“When do you rest, Shibani? Your mind shifts from person-to-person, task-to-task and then turns against you. It is good that you have the awareness. But now you need to act upon it.  I want you to try the ‘cancel, clear, replace technique,’” he added.

“Tell me more,” I said.

He shared with me the steps to take my awareness of my thoughts and begin to slowly shift them in this 4-part technique that I have made my own:

The Cancel, Clear, Replace Technique

  • Notice the thought– simply notice that you are having a thought that doesn’t serve you
  • Cancel the thought– interrupt it once you notice it. Don’t let it turn into a paragraph
  • Clear the thought– erase the imagery, feeling or sensation from your mind and body. Movement, affirmation or environment changes can help
  • Replace the thought– this step is crucial in creating new grooves in the brain, step into another thought or image that better serves you to teach your brain how you want to think

For example, when I find myself feeling critical about my appearance, I will:

  1. Notice it – “There I go. I’m saying that thing I always say to myself.”
  2. Cancel it – “Nope. Not going there any more.” I interrupt the thought.
  3. Clear it – I change my gaze, move my body, breathe or shake my head to get out of the emotions and physical sensations that come up with the negative thought.
  4. Replace it – I call up an image that is of my best, most confident self. It can be real or fictional (in my case, I am on stage with Oprah – my best hair, outfit, self presented with confidence). An affirmation will also work. Sometimes I will say to myself: “I am a powerful leader for change with infinite potential.” I could also say: “I love and accept my body, for it is reflection of God’s will.”

Rinse and repeat all day long.

This technique has worked well for me so far.  It hasn’t yet changed the frequency of the chatter in my head, but it has shortened the duration. If I am able to notice and actively use the technique, I don’t spend as much time ruminating. I can string together more frequent moments of peace. And isn’t that the goal, after all, more moments of peace? 

Try it and let me know how it works for you.

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