Strangely, the fact that we control our own thoughts is not something we think about.

I’ve heard many people say that they can’t help but focus on the negative. It’s as though someone else is controlling their brain, forcing them to only see one side of things. When was the last time you heard someone say that they couldn’t fall asleep because they could not stop thinking about a stressful event? Why couldn’t they stop? It’s their brain, so couldn’t they just think about something else? Of course, it all sounds very logical but it is never that easy.


Our brain is a pattern matching machine. We are constantly scanning for new patterns that match old patterns we have already committed to memory. For example, when you reach for a doorknob, you do not need to look at it, assess what it might be, feel the texture or try to determine what it does. Similarly, there is no need for us to tell our hand to grasp the doorknob and turn it until the door opens. We do it automatically because it has become a TOTE (Test Operate Test Exit). Shaking hands with another person is a TOTE.  A TOTE is a pattern and they are enormous time savers.

I  like signs, especially in large buildings like hotels or hospitals. My TOTE is to look for a sign to tell me where there are elevators, washrooms, room numbers or parking garages. When I find the appropriate sign and arrive at my destination, I am relieved. It irritates me when I cannot find a sign and believe me, I look for them everywhere. I prefer not to ask people for directions hence my sign dependency.

Can thoughts be merely patterns? Of course they can! Talk to someone who has issues with jealousy or anxiety. They will tell you that they seem to have no control of their thoughts and that they reoccur even when unwanted. Having negative thoughts can be talked about without end so let’s just focus on something simple to help when sleep seems impossible due to our own thoughts.


A common pattern among people is to lay sleepless and replay the same thoughts over and over. We have all done it and we will all do it again. However, recognizing that you can control these thoughts is the first step. Initially, tell yourself that you are going to focus on how you are feeling right now. I whisper the instruction out loud just to be sure my brain heard me. Tell yourself all the things you are feeling right now; warm, comfortable, grateful to be in bed, enjoying the dark room, sleepy etc. Stop there … make sure you only think about how you are feeling right now. Repeat as necessary. Sleep will come easily once you control your thoughts and create a new pattern or bedtime TOTE.




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