Mental patterns: what they are, what they are for and how to improve them

If your mental patterns are negative and dysfunctional, you are bound to suffer. But you can start today to modify them. We tell you how to do it.

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 14 March, 2022

Look for a moment at your current life: do you like what you see? Whether your answer is yes or no, you should know that your reality is largely the reflection of your mental patterns. Therefore, it is very convenient to know them, identify them and make the necessary changes. After all, they are directing your course.

It is said that we have about 60,000 thoughts a day. But these are not new and different ideas, but rather a constant repetition of the same beliefs and interpretations.

Unfortunately, this mental content is mostly negative. By playing it over and over again, it ends up affecting us. For this reason, we want to invite you to change it to obtain better experiences and results.

What are mental patterns?

Mental patterns are structured thought schemes that are repeated over time. We can say that it is a way of thinking that was established at a certain time and which has subsequently been used on many occasions. They refer to the way of interpreting events, as well as the emotions derived from this interpretation.

For example, victimhood can be considered a mental pattern. Thus, the person learned to see himself as affected by injustice and unable to act. Now replicate that thought in many different situations.

Mental patterns revolve around three aspects:

  1. The way we see ourselves.
  2. How we see others.
  3. The way we see the world.

We can have positive schemas, such as that we are capable and valuable, that people are good and trustworthy, and the world is a safe place; Or we can have negative schemas, such as that we are clumsy and unworthy, that others are selfish and treacherous, and that life is hard and unfair.

The important is that we are interpreting and giving meaning to what we experience based on these patterns. For this reason, and as you can imagine, the difference between having one or the other is abysmal.

In the internal dialogue that we have on a daily basis, we apply one or another mental pattern.

What are they for?

Mental patterns are useful, as they without them we could not function day to day with ease. Being automated thought schemes, they allow us to respond and react to the circumstances of the environment without having to carry out a whole deliberate process.

We resort to that information and those mental steps that we already have internalized to be more agile. If we have learned to think, feel and act in a certain way when we succeed, we will repeat that sequence in all similar situations.

These thought structures are created during childhood. Let’s say that we come into the world as a blank sheet of paper and, depending on the interaction with our parents and figures of reference, we install these interpretive programs.

If we have learned to be resilient, confident and optimistic, we will continue to do so for years to come. But if we have learned to complain, to feel like a helpless victim or to react with anger, we will also continue to repeat these patterns.

How to improve mental patterns?

As we have commented, most of us have mental patterns that are quite negative and dysfunctional. These lead us to interpret reality in a way that makes us suffer, causes us discomfort or limits us. The good news is that we have the option to unlearn and install new schematics.

We can achieve this thanks to neuroplasticity. It should be remembered that each mental pattern has a neuronal correlation, that is, there is a path in the brain that was created in correspondence to that way of thinking and that is traveled every time we resort to it again. The more we use that mindset, the more the neural pathway becomes stronger and the more likely we are to use it again.

For this reason, the objective is to create new neural connections that allow us to think, feel and act differently. By the above principle, the more we practice these new ways of thinking, the more they will be strengthened at the brain level. And so we will have achieved new, more useful and positive networks.

Identify your mental patterns

This first step can be complicated because, as we have mentioned, these are unconscious and automatic thoughts. In this way, we may not even have realized that we have them.

So, start by identifying your mental patterns in all areas. But rather than think of them logically, take the opportunity to observe them in daily situations.

What do you think when someone cancels an appointment or meeting with you, when you make a mistake, when you succeed in a goal? How do you interpret your sentimental breakups, your problems at work or conflicts with your family? Observe thoughts about yourself, others and the world.

Set the alternative

You will find ways of thinking that you do not like and that are not good for you. So the second step is determine the interpretation alternative you want install in your brain. For example, stop perfectionism and start being compassionate with your failures; or be more tolerant of others instead of always assuming that they want to hurt you.

Try to write down your initial thoughts and the alternative you want to replace them with. In this way, with a graphical representation, it will be easier for you to clarify your ideas and begin to implement the change.

Practice and strengthen the new path

Finally, start practicing your new way of thinking. Walk this new path that you have created as many times as possible. For example, if you responded to criticism feeling extremely offended and attacked, begin to react calmly and see it as an opportunity to improve.

This change will not be easy at first. Remember that the old path is strong and the new path is still weak.

Therefore, you must make a conscious effort not to let yourself be carried away by automatisms past. However, as you practice your new thought patterns, you will see them settle in and become easier and more natural for you to use.

It is not easy to change what we think and what we do accordingly. But it is possible.

Mental patterns determine your well-being

The steps are simple. It just takes determination and perseverance.

If you notice that it is difficult for you to identify your automatic thoughts or that you cannot replace them with new ones, do not hesitate to seek the support of a professional to guide you. But in any case, do not miss the opportunity to make this change.

It is your mental patterns that direct your life and determine your well-being and mood. Therefore, working to adapt them is one of the best decisions you can make.

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