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All About You: Control your thoughts – and your mood

Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

“You are what you eat.” No doubt you’ve heard this age-old saying – and research has shown that the quality of your diet affects your physical and mental well-being.

When it comes to your thoughts and moods, we can say something similar: You feel how you think.

If your thoughts are uplifting, you’ll feel uplifted. When depressing thoughts take up residence in your mind, you’re more likely to feel down.

I’ve often been asked why I’m always in a good mood. I’m not. Things I’ve heard from people, together with my own observations, have led me to believe that I’m more upbeat than the average person. But I still have times when I’m sad or feel anxious or any of the other “negative” moods and emotions humans experience. However, I work diligently on better controlling my thoughts, and the effort has paid off.

Here’s what helps keep me upbeat most of the time.

Pay attention to your thoughts

Our thoughts can show up like uninvited guests. Years ago, I discovered that I could block a thought from continuing and replace it with a new one. So can you, of course. But you need to make a conscious effort to pay attention to your thoughts.

It’s a simple type of mental exercise. It’s easy to execute but difficult to remember to do – at first. With time and practice, you’ll see that negative thoughts show up less and less.

This doesn’t include thinking about a difficult situation. At times you must deal with problems, and you’ll need to think about solutions or plans of action. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to needless thoughts, such as disparaging self-talk about your abilities, or something in the past that went wrong or even dreading a project at work.

When I notice a needless, negative thought popping into my head, I recognize it for what it is and then replace it with another thought of my choosing. I like considering something upcoming that I’m looking forward to – even if it’s a simple pleasure, such as buying a new audiobook. Pleasant memories work, too.

Take in less negative information

There are all kinds of ways you can fill your brain to the brim with anger, despair, fear, etc. I limit things that aren’t helpful to my mental health. You don’t have to be ignorant of world events, but too much doom, gloom and tragedy can distort our thinking and ruin our outlook on life.

Safety and health pros must learn about hazards of all sorts, and we often deal with harmful incidents. It can make us more apt to think about the negative in our day-to-day lives. I lead sessions on reducing stress for nuclear power plant control room operators. One common concern among the operators is how to not be so concerned with “attention to detail” (vital to safely operate a power plant) when they get home. One of my tips: Before they get out of their car in their driveway, I tell them to think about something positive that’s going on in their life and remind themselves (with humor) that the control room isn’t in their house.

Change what you’re doing

If you can, change your actions when you realize your thoughts are souring. If I’m at home, I’ll go outside and listen to the birds or search for something inspiring online. When I’m at work, I’ll seek out someone to whom I can talk about something amusing. It’s incredible how quickly you can turn around your demeanor by changing the setting and your actions.

Although much debate exists among scientists and philosophers about what thoughts are and how consciousness works, there’s a consensus that thoughts are mighty contributors to how much we enjoy life. The wondrous thing is, you can control them!

This article represents the views of the author and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps leaders inspire employees to care more about their safety and health so “nobody gets hurt.” He also has a long history of success getting safety leaders to increase their influence and make safety fun. For more than 35 years, Richard’s safety keynotes, training sessions, books and “Safety Stuff” e-zine have made a positive difference in the safety and health field. Learn more about how Richard can improve your employees’ safety performance at

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