Over the years I have improved how I focus on shaping my mental/emotional landscape. My wonderful therapist once said that if everyone had done the psychological work that I have we would live in a better world. The only thing is I don't have a choice. My options are make it work or go back to the roller coaster of my bipolar mixed states.
I've broken down the techniques I've developed with my therapist into four techniques: Evidence Combat, Leaning In, Back-Tracing, and Confirmation Theories. Of these Confirmation Theories are the most divisive (counter-intuitive to the title), but I will get to why after building up how to conquer them. These therapies are not a classic breakdown of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. They are my interpretations of what has worked for me.
My understanding of Cognitive Behavior Therapy is relatively simplistic. Thoughts cause emotions, those emotions circle back to cause more thoughts, and the cycle continues. This is one of the reasons in my experience that Atypical Antipsychotics work so well on the mind, because with less Dopamine this cycle is slower and less likely to spiral. When thoughts happen frequently enough, they become subconscious patterns. What this essentially means is that whenever you are trying to change emotional patterns you are up against a decade or more of subconscious programming. The subconscious looks for repetition in the conscious mind and then turns those patterns into subconscious behaviors. This makes sense because if we had to make every decision on how to interpret our world consciously, our minds would be overwhelmed (and we would likely make many more stupid decisions).
This means that the emotions you experience, and the way you behave are both products of your past. To be even more specific, it's a product of your interpretation of the past at that time. I have two main takeaways from this understanding. Firstly holy shit I'm up against a lot if I want to change these behaviors. And secondly, I get to change these behaviors. What all this means is that we have the ability to reprogram our behavior and subconscious in ways that are usually considered super human.
Evidence-Combat! This is my term for the process of successfully uprooting unwanted thought patterns. The process is about arguing with your own mind - not just with the intent to fight negative thoughts - but also with factual references that render the unwanted thought patterns inert. For example if the pattern is, "I'm not worthy" introducing "I am worthy" is a loosing battle for a few reasons. Firstly, deep down you already believe you are unworthy, and secondly a direct challenge like this will provoke your subconscious to fight back. Also in order to do this you have to focus on the unworthiness, which can make it grow. However if you say "I just completed a project," or "I just received a compliment," etc., you can begin to unravel the assumptions that lead up to that belief. This works best if you can narrow it down from "I am unworthy" to something more like, "I've missed a lot of deadlines, so I am unworthy. Then you could challenge it with some evidence such as "I am getting faster," or "I succeeded this time." A far reaching version of this is to create evidence intentionally. If you know hitting deadlines is a problem for your sense of self-worth you can break a project into smaller pieces and use those specific successes as the evidence.
Leaning-In! When you are in emotional pain I imagine you would give anything to not be in pain. Leaning in is the process of falling through the pain. The premise is that resisting the pain doesn't change it, but if you can accept it by feeling it you can move through it, transcend it, and move onto more painless places. There is a feeling you will experience when you lean into it; it's a calm relaxed feeling that means your defenses have come down. This is when its time to strike. When you feel that, slowly begin to imagine you are in a pain free place and your emotions will follow. If you try to move into a happier place before this relaxed defenses down state you will know very quickly that something is wrong. Dividing my emotions is something I used to do a lot... and it resulted in the most dangerous mixed state episodes of my life. Instead lean in and through something you would like to change.
Back-tracing! I call this the Navy Seals method of mental illness combat, think of special agents repelling down buildings and taking out enemy zones with striking precision. The premise is that if emotions can be caused by thoughts, and then more emotions etc., it's a good bet that the troubling thoughts you're having are rooted in an emotion of a thought from your recent past. By recent I mean within the last 5 minutes or so. Here is the important thing to know, the source may not be what you think it is. That's ok, because you can test a bunch of them out. It's probably not what you just thought about, it's most likely what you were thinking about a minute or so ago and by the time it cycled through you were onto something else. So back-tracing is the process of thinking backwards over the last few minutes trying to find what caused the anguish. And here's the great part, when you think you found it you can start using evidence combat on it. If nothing happens, that's not it. You will know when you find it because your mood will shift immediately (it's the most amazing feeling.) Using back-tracing you can identify your more prominent sources of unrest, which is super awesome.
Confirmation Theories! This is where the dragons lie (and currently my most productive technique.) Confirmation theories are when your subconscious mind believes something and generates thoughts, actions, and conclusions that support that underlying theory. In short your mind is bullshitting itself with false references to explain how it feels. The important thing here is to identify that this is happening; that the boss you hate, or how badly you wish your spouse would take out the trash, or the siren out your window may all not matter. It may be that you had a shitty day and these things are helping your mind justify how bad you feel. Back-tracing to identify that this is going on and then leaning in and letting the confirmation theories flow through you like water is your best bet to keep subconscious confirmation theories from making a bad day into a terrible one.
Among all of these techniques there is a high likelihood of relapse. Or to be more precise, there is a 100% chance of relapse on a smaller scale. Meaning once you begin successfully adjusting your mind, you will then have to adjust to your new mind. For me it has always been two steps forward one step back. Over the years I have become so happy with who I have become by doing this work, during the process I am both extremely optimistic and frustrated. If you find that fighting this is harder than you imaged, it always will be. It will also always work over time, always. You just have to get motivated to fight the battle.
My psychologist, in addition to teaching me these techniques, has a wonderful way of expediting my process. I always come out of his session wildly more productive and I highly recommend pursuing these endeavors with a professional.