The art of thinking clearly. How well can you differentiate negative or sabotaging thoughts from supportive and uplifting thoughts in your self-talk? Or do you just let your thoughts control you?
It’s not what you think (audio)
Do you find that your mind is always thinking – non stop? You know, feeding you thoughts and having your ego challenging you all the time? How much credence do you give the thoughts you are always thinking in your “left brain mind chatter”? How well can you talk over them? Can you? Or do you allow them to define who you are? It’s these incessant thoughts that I’d like to talk about today.
It’s attitude that matters
I have just had the wonderful experience of crewing at www.thecoachinginstitute.com.au‘s coaching fundamentals training. As part of my ongoing commitment to my own personal development I wanted to be reminded of the basics of the foundation skills my coaching diploma was based on and also to “give something back”. What a great group of excited students starting out on a new journey in their lives. What a professional training environment and what an excellent reflection of what really matters in our own lives and to those around us. There too taking leadership in our own thoughts and assisting others in the management of theirs was so fundamentally prevalent.
I was reminded that it is who we choose to be, that allows us to do what we need to, so we can have what we want in our life.
I was reminded how important our (particularly our internal) language is in influencing our attitude and our behaviour; that it all influences our results.
The art of thinking clearly
In my blogs Managing Your State; The left brain and the right brain; Attached and Detached; and Self Talk I spoke about these thoughts and how we can allow them to influence our lives, positively or negatively; constructively or destructively. I spoke about our “left brain mind chatter” being switched on all the time – incessantly. I spoke about the fact that in the past when we “still lived up in the trees”, our left brain thinking served the purpose of protecting us from predators and other dangers so that we could invoke “fight or flight” responses instantly in order to survive.
However in our modern world those fundamental dangers are no longer that prevalent, are they? Instead most of the things we fear and worry about are actually “self made” – created in our minds. And because we allow them to, our thoughts can actually start to become the illusion of reality to us, right? And so today we often allow that “mini-me” as it was referred to in the above training – namely our ego – to get in the way of who we really want to be and how we actually want to think and behave.
We aren’t our thoughts
This was a revelation to me when I first read Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now” and I realized that there is a distinct difference between who I am and what my thoughts keep suggesting I am, and that we can and need to make and understand that difference.
I learned that I am who I choose to be by the choices I make, also around my purpose in life.
I learned that I’m not whatever my mind keeps suggesting “I should” be and that this is largely influenced by which thoughts I allow to prevail.
Made by the mind
Judging by the labels, we might be forgiven to think that most things today are “made in China”, but the reality is that most things are “made by our minds”. I have spoken in the above blogs that whether we are doubtful or act with certainly in any given situation is a choice, not “just an emotion”. However, before we make that choice and act it out, our left brain will usually have a go at challenging us in order to “keep us safe” so that we don’t have a go and can’t humiliate ourselves, right? This is what I’m talking about here.
Remember Henry Ford’s famous quip: “whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re dead right”? The answer you choose is made in the mind.
Does having had a go at something and failing make you a failure? Put that way it seems to be such a stupid question, doesn’t it? However how often do we listen to the thoughts suggesting such things from our mind and then wear them or believe it or accept them to be true? We know that failure is usually a necessary part of any success; that each “failing” is taking is taking us another step closer to getting it right. Yet how often do we still allow those debilitating thoughts to creep in?
The Happiness Trap
I am currently enjoying the book “The Happiness Trap” by Dr Russ Harris because (as the name already suggests) it brings such a fundamentally different perspective to conventional thinking about our “always needing to be happy”. He introduces a number of very useful techniques, which align beautifully to what I want to express here.
We have often spoken about consciously choosing between:
- engaging a (what I call left brain mind chatter) thought
- or to just “let it go through to the keeper”.
Referring particularly to what he calls “unhelpful thoughts” he speaks about “defusing” them, meaning that we just acknowledge that the thought has arrived but not giving it any attention, or engaging it, you know like you sometimes nod the acknowledgement to someone arriving in the room, but don’t engage with them in any way?
I loved his analogy where he suggests that such an unhelpful thought that we choose not to engage is like the cars driving by outside your house. You know they are there, but you don’t get up to look at each one as you hear it passing, do you?
He speaks of these thoughts being like the radio – always on in the background. Sometimes we choose to “tune in” and most of it is “just there”, right?
I also enjoyed how he differentiated unhelpful thoughts from useful ones and how he teaches us not to “wrestle” with the unhelpful ones, but rather to just not engage them, as outlined above. He introduced a “struggle switch” which we can choose to:
- switch on (ie allowing ourselves to engage a thought and maybe “fighting it”)
- or we can choose to switch off (ie noticing it coming in but ignoring it like the cars outside).
In my heading I said “it’s not what you think….” in order to capture your attention. However it is certainly the way we think or our thinking that will help determine our success. But it is the right kind of “useful” thinking that will achieve that, not the “unhelpful” thinking I have tried to outline above. Einstein already said that the thinking that created a problem or situation will not suffice to solve it. That will require a different kind of thinking to do so.
So what if this week you were to choose to consciously observe your thinking, without actually engaging that “background radio noise”? What if you were to simply observe the kind of thoughts that float in and out of your conscious mind? What if you allowed yourself to notice the difference between the useful ones and the unhelpful ones?
And then, having recognized the differences, what if you were to start a process by which you allow yourself to engage the useful and “diffuse” the unhelpful?
What if you did and it started to make a difference on your overall outlook, you know – starting small and then building on that so that it first made a difference in your life and then to those around you?
What if you could?