I often talk about rewriting your story, especially when it comes to weight loss. A big part of that is knowing the story your brain is telling you by raising awareness of what’s happening in your brain.
One of the most effective ways I do that in my day-to-day life is by doing thought work and thought downloads.
What is thought work?
Thought work is a process I use for progressive, focused, journaling. It’s not journaling to record the events of my days for posterity.
It’s me trying to really observe what is going on in my brain and get it out on paper so I can process it through it.
I can separate facts from fiction and understand it. I see patterns and nuances. And that is how I really create forward motion.
I wonder and get curious and learn so much about me through this process.
It’s kind of like clearing clutter in your house. I used to have this room in my basement that I jokingly referred to as my room of shame. It was a room where I dumped some stuff after an event I was in charge of intending to “put it away later” and later turned into three years and 50 more events and holidays worth of stuff.
When I finally had to clear out the room, I spent a solid two days sorting through what I wanted to keep and what to give away — but I did it. And now it all lives in two meticulously organized closets of carefully labeled tubs. The shame was gone and I now know where everything is, and where it goes when I’m done with it. And that way, it’s easy to maintain the clean.
This is a lot like our brains and thought work! Most of us are living with brains like my room of shame. We know there is a lot to sort through and organize but because we’re overwhelmed by the process, we shut the door so we don’t have to look at it.
But it’s not going away by itself.
You have to pull it out, sort through it, and decide what you want to keep, and what you want to let go of.
This is where a thought download comes in.
How to do a thought download
You can do a thought download any way you want, but here’s some examples of what it looks like for me.
Sometimes it looks like a journal entry where I just lay it all out in detail. Sometimes it looks like a free write where I just write whatever comes to mind. No punctuation, no paragraph breaks, one subject just running into the next.
Sometimes I split the page in two vertically and write the story on one side, and then go back and pull out the FACTS ONLY. I make a list of the facts on the other side. It’s helpful to see how much of your current experience is fact and how much of it is your brain’s story about it.
Sometimes it looks like a topical download where I pick a specific topic I am struggling with or challenged by and I write it at the top of the page. Then below it, I write all of the thoughts I’m thinking about that topic.
Sometimes it looks like a list of thoughts. I write one thought per line in list form. I do this for thoughts that are creating discomfort as well as for thoughts I want to think: power thoughts and helpful thoughts.
Sometimes I write a question at the top of the page and then answer it in depth. I am always listening for questions from podcasts I love, books I’m reading, and even my own brain. Questions are thought finders.
Sometimes I notice my complain brain is switched on and in high gear. My whole thought download consists of complaints. Sometimes I’ll just let it go and get it all out. But other times I take the opportunity to E.A.T.
Not eat cupcakes! E.A.T. in this case stands for Equal Air Time. I like to give equal air time to what’s working, what’s good, what’s helpful, and what I’m grateful for. I can still be grumpy and frustrated if I want to be (which is usually how I want to feel when I’m in complain brain) but I have at least acknowledged that there are some other options of thoughts to think, even in this moment of complaining.
What to do after your thought download
Once you’ve completed your thought download, you might notice that by the end of it, your mind has started to clear out a little.
There’s an exercise I’ve been doing that I want you to try out. I call it “I AM” and you can use it yourself right here.
Here’s what to do:
- In one column, you are going to make a list of all of the adjectives you would use to describe yourself, your mood, your state of mind, and your emotions right now.
- Next you are going to make a list of all of the adjectives you aspire to be right now.
- Last, you’re going to pick one adjective to be your feeling focus of the day.
So here’s the work. When you’re feeling low and doubting, but want to focus on your chosen feeling instead, you have to find a thought that creates that feeling for you.
For example, after my recent thought download, I chose “accepting” as my feeling focus of the day. So I needed to find a thought that creates the feeling of “accepting” for me.
This starts as an exercise of imagination at first.
If you were feeling accepting, what would you be thinking? Imagine some of those thoughts and see yourself believing that you are feeling accepting.
Some of those thoughts for me were:
- This is how I am today.
- This is part of my journey.
- This is what my feeling landscape looks like today and that’s ok.
- It’s ok to be right here.
“It’s ok to be right here” was the thought that I picked to practice. And then all day I made a conscious effort to keep bringing that thought and feeling to front of mind.
My brain would offer a complaint and/or some judgment and I would remind myself: “It’s ok to be right here.” And I would feel accepting. Even just for a moment.
This is how we make a new thought a default thought. We practice it. Deliberately, consciously.
This kind of thought work is invaluable on your journey to losing weight for life. If you’re ready to get started, watch my free video on how to lose the first five pounds — and keep going.