beliefs

Severe Blushing Stinks! One Legit Strategy to Make It Go Away.

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Fear of blushing is a prominent complaint by many with social anxiety. We can hide many things with our anxiety, but blushing totally exposes us. Our body seems to betray the fundamental laws of loyalty and self-preservation. It’s embarrassing and all-around miserable.

The physiology of why some of us turn tomato-red at the drop of a hat, and others don’t, isn’t totally understood by researchers and doctors. But one aspect that seems to play a big role is how we respond to that dreaded physiological arousal called blushing.

When we feel that familiar flush and sudden onslaught of warmth fill our cheeks we instantly get self-conscious. Many times we’re filled with some hierarchy of self-hate. If we can escape a situation we will. If we can hide, even better.

All our thoughts get lassoed into one big self-focused bundle and only intensifies the more we think of how red our face is. It creates a vicious cycle. The more we think of how much we’re blushing, the more we blush. The more we blush the more we think of how much we’re blushing. And since it is soooo noticeable to everyone around us, we think about it even more… and want to crawl under the nearest rock.

Needless to say, that’s not the response that’s helpful.

2 Effective Ways to Combat Severe Blushing

In all my research, I’ve found two effective ways to help curb severe blushing. The first is an expensive and sorta crazy sounding surgery. Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy is a surgical procedure where the nerves that cause the facial blood vessels to dilate (widen) are cut. Um. No thanks.

The second is teaching those who experience severe blushing to explicitly focus their attention on to anything else but their blushing.

Seriously. This simple strategy is an extremely effective way to help people decrease their blushing and cope with their blushing at the same time.

Self-focused Attention

Blushing and self-focused attention mutually reinforce each other. It’s cruel. I don’t know the evolutionary explanation as to why some of us “need” this extra ill-timed dilation of our facial and chest blood vessels. We blush and then we turn our attention on ourselves and the fact we’re blushing and so we blush harder and then we focus more of our attention onto the fact that we’re still blushing… Clearly we made it this far so maybe it isn’t all bad. Okay, that’s not how I really think. I personally hate blushing unnecessarily so I found something that works.

It comes down to redirecting your attention outward and away from your blushing. Seriously. Acknowledge that the blushing has commenced and then pivot to Plan A. Plan A is stop thinking about your blushing by turning your attention to whatever you’re doing and your environment. With practice you’ll be able to break through the vicious blushing circle!

Were you hoping there was some secret intervention to stop your blushing in the first place? I know I was years ago when I began my research into this in an effort to help me with my own blushing. But I have to tell you since I’ve been practicing turning my attention away from my ‘self’ and turning it outward onto what I’m doing, it has become the next best thing!

I can definitely vouch for this one. What has helped you?

3 Novel Ways to Change Your Anxiety

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We are both complex creatures and waaay too simple for our own good. For the sake of time, I’ll skip the complexity and jump right into the simple stuff. More specifically, the simple stuff around our anxiety. And for that, it all drills down to our mental model. 

Mental Models

A mental model is the framework we use to understand the way things work, make decisions, and conceptualize challenges. We create them as we grow up and they become just “who we are”. 

When life is going great we don’t seem to have reason to explore our mental models or question them. We pretty much just rock. 

However, when life stinks we still don’t explore them…

That’s a problem. Mental models offer the key point of intervention for creating good things in our lives and extinguishing the bad things in our lives. 

Let me show you how to get started exploring your mental model around anxiety. And changing it.

Take a moment to think about these questions.

  • What happens when you start to experience that panicky feeling?
  • What are the negative thoughts that your mind has when you are feeling anxious?
  • What do you remember being your worst time with anxiety and what are you fearing is going to happen next time?
  • How much do you hate having that anxious pit in your stomach and racing mind?
  • How often do you avoid certain things to try to avoid feeling anxious or get that impulsive feeling to bolt from situations to feel better?

The answers to these questions contribute to your anxiety mental model. They make up how you view your anxiety. Plain and simple, without changing things within your mental model, it’ll continue to fuel your anxiety. 

To create change in your anxiety do these 3 things to start altering your mental model.

  1. Question your lynchpin underlying assumptions, the driving forces that perpetuate your anxiety. It’s frustrating, often we can’t figure out why we have anxiety. But frankly I think spending a lot of time trying to uncover the why is a waste of time. Better, start with identifying the main thoughts that perpetuate your anxiety. Do any of these sound familiar? “I’ve always been anxious, that’s just how I’m wired”, “I can’t help it”, “I don’t have time to do anything differently”, “I shouldn’t be like this”, “I’m weak.” Those underlying assumptions that you’ve subconsciously taken in as “facts” and built your anxiety upon, need to be changed and replaced. Manually. As in saying to yourself, “I no longer believe that I’m hard-wired to be an anxious person.” Period. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to support that statement with examples. You will lose that game. In order to change your lynchpin underlying assumptions you just need to declare to yourself that you no longer believe that to be true. And repeat the new assumption when you feel your anxiety rise. 
  2. Seek out individuals and information that offer a different interpretation of anxiety. It’s human nature to want to surround ourselves with people who think like us. It’s comfortable and takes little mental energy. Two high priorities for humans! It’s such a natural way for us to operate that we’ll even subconsciously discount or reject opposing opinions in our effort to find others that confirm what we believe. Psychologists call this ‘confirmation bias’. So in order for you to make strides in eliminating your anxiety, it’s important not to fall into the confirmation bias trap. Read from different sources of information than usual, listen to different interpretations about anxiety and it’s treatment than you have in the past. If you find you’re just hearing what you already knew or suspected…look for something that totally contradicts it or suggests something different. Talk to different types of professionals. The point here is if your anxiety isn’t going away on its own or with the strategies you’ve tried, it’s time to figure out a different mental model. The only way to do that is to expose your thinking to new ideas AND notice when you are clinging tightly or looking to confirm your original beliefs. 
  3. Pay attention to novel experiences. In order for us to deal with the amount of information and stimuli we are exposed to each day, our brains consolidate things and opt for the most energy-efficient strategies. This is the reason why we have confirmation bias so badly. Our brains don’t want to invite anything that is going to be a drain on its energy. As a result when it comes to our anxiety, we fall into the practice of glomming all of the times we feel anxious into one known quantity. When x happens then y happens then z happens… Our brain’s think “Here we go again!” and don’t have to give it any more thought or energy. In order to change our anxiety we need to disrupt this ‘autopilot’. We need to pay attention to the times and things that are different. We need to be curious about how long our panic attack lasted or the fact that we didn’t get a tight chest like last time. When we pay attention, even though it takes more energy and sometimes more uncomfortable, we get a more accurate and undistorted view of our experience. It is in this place that true opportunities for effective interventions lie!

Our mental models pretty much dictate how we see the world and how we are in the world. The good news, they’re not set in stone. It’s in disrupting these previously held frameworks that new and improved ones can take hold and our anxiety can finally start taking the backseat. 

Do have any mental model busting strategies you’ve tried? I’d love to hear about them. 

 

If you’re the DIY, super busy, dip-your-toe-in-before-diving type and would like to overcome your anxiety in the comfort, convenience and privacy of your own home, check out my 4 week online mini-course.

5 Ways to Focus When Your To-Do List Has A Million Things On It

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Part of the solution to focusing better is letting go of the strongly held “anti-focus” beliefs you may not even realize you have. Here are the top 5 that make us lose valuable time and keep us feeling swamped. And what you can do instead.

5 Focus Beliefs and How to Change Them

  1. Belief: If I don’t do something as soon as I think of it, I’ll forget it. Antidote: Write it down on a running list you keep on your phone (or notebook) and do it after you finish what you’re working on. Don’t change tasks each time you remember something and don’t bog your brain down trying to remember this type of information. Write it on something and stay the course.

  2. Belief: Working on a few things at once will help me get through my to-do list faster. Antidote: To see for yourself, this may take a leap of faith. You need to actually put the blinders on, ignore the other things needing to be done, and do only one-thing-at-a-time to see for yourself. Go ahead, set your stopwatch. Science is on your side.

  3. Belief: Distractions of my choosing are okay, it’s the other ones that eat away at my time. Antidote: Micro-time losses add up over the course of the day regardless of whether we are consciously initiating them or not. Each time we stop what we’re doing to quickly zip off this email, check the notifications on our phone, or look up that one little thing, even if we are choosing to do so, we lose time transitioning back to our original task. Bottom line, fight the urges to interrupt your attention to what you’re doing. Squirrel!

  4. Belief: There’s not enough time in the day to do everything but I’ll pretend there is and waste energy on stressing about getting everything done! Antidote: Hate to get all tough love on you but you’ll truly benefit from coming to terms with reality here. Even if you have folks knocking down your door, when it’s literally not possible to get everything done, don’t get pulled into crazytown over it. Stress takes up valuable time and energy so allocate it wisely to things in your control. Take a deep breath and know your sense of what you can do is based on reality. Calmly press on forward.

  5. Belief: I don’t know what to do first and since I need to do the absolute first thing first if I don’t know what that is, what do I do? Antidote: Do the hardest thing or the part that you are least looking forward doing first. If a priority order isn’t readily apparent, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck with this strategy. Your plan B should be doing the thing at the top of your list. Your plan C should be doing them in alphabetical order. Plan D close your eyes and point to one and do it. Plan E…you get the point, just do something. When you continuously work on your list, prioritization becomes more apparent. It’s sorta like magic.

Huge to-do lists and distractions are here to stay. These 5 strategies will help you replace work-overwhelm with work-momentum!

 

Boom! Mic Drop on Your Social Anxiety

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Self-Awareness

It's confusing. All we hear about these days is self-awareness this and self-awareness that. Everywhere we turn there’s another self-help article on the importance of getting in touch with our thoughts and feelings.

And yet, research shows that heightened self-focused attention plays a huge role in social anxiety.

What’s right?

It turns out both are, but the devil is in the details. Let me explain.

Self-Focused Attention and Social Anxiety

First, the down-low on self-focused attention and social anxiety. Research has found that when a person suffers from social anxiety, they direct too much attention on themselves during (or in anticipation of ) social interactions or performance situations. They pay too much attention to their emotions, their self-thoughts, behaviors, their physical appearance, nervous system arousal, etc. and pay too little attention to what they’re doing, to the other people they might be with, and their environment. With social anxiety, a person becomes acutely and overly aware of themselves.

It’s like a giant spotlight has been turned on and focused right. On. Them.

Can you relate? I know I can. There are many times in the past when I became so self-obsessed, so self-focused that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees! Miserable. And anxiety provoking.

Scientists have also found that when we become so acutely self-focused, we often do worse at the things we‘re anxious about doing in the first place! Add to that, because we aren’t focusing on the other people and things around us, we end up relying solely on our own negative impressions, thereby confirming… we’re a loser.

It is a vicious cycle and it totally reinforces our anxiety.

Breaking the Anxious Cycle

But once you realize it’s a cycle you can break it. The way to get out of this loop is to disrupt it. And the best way to disrupt it is to start turning your attention away from yourself. It’s the opposite of self-focused.

Yep, I know this also flies in the face of what we think of as being self-aware.

So to help with this, let me be a bit more clear about what self-awareness actually means.

Self-awareness is just that, being more aware. That’s it.

Like, “Oh, I’m aware that there’s a lot of traffic today” or “Oh, that felt really crappy” or “Oh, I feel my body starting to feel anxious.” Self-awareness is merely noticing and noting what is happening or what you are feeling. And it can end there. No need to figure it out or dwell on.

Contrary to popular belief, the major benefit to self-awareness isn’t an increased ‘feeling of our feelings’ or ‘thinking of our thoughts’. Actually, that’s often totally counterproductive.

The major wisdom of increased self-awareness is to notice our feelings and thoughts and not get pulled in by them.

A great way of not getting pulled in by them, after we notice them, is to turn our attention onto whatever we’re doing.

Instead of being totally self-focused, we become totally task-focused.

We turn our attention outward onto the specific task we’re doing. By doing this one little strategy, we release our tendency to become overly self-focused thereby releasing our anxiety… all while being self-aware!

Boom! Mic drop.

Is It Anxiety or 'A Shot in the Dark'?

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A couple years ago I got a coffee ‘to-go’ from the neighborhood coffee shop on my way to work. I usually have my own mug with me but didn't that day. No problem.

Not too long after arriving at work, my body started freaking out. I was sweating, my heart was beating out my chest, I was jittery, my mind was racing and I started feeling panicky like never before.

It came out of nowhere and was totally scary. My day was busy and there was a lot on my mind but this was weird.

I started taking some deep breaths to try to calm myself down. That worked marginally, but I could still feel my heart and my mind was still racing. I didn’t know what was happening. Was this a panic attack? I’d never had one before but definitely knew about them.

At some point, I glanced at my paper coffee cup and noticed the barista’s markings for my order. It read “shot in dark”. “What?” I thought to myself, this was supposed to be just a regular coffee.

I then realized that my reaction was a result of accidentally picking up the wrong coffee order at the coffee shop that morning! Instead of my usual coffee, I had drunk one with two extra shots of espresso! No wonder my body and mind were freaking out! I had just bombarded it with a super high jolt of caffeine and it was reacting as I would’ve expected it to.

I felt better instantly. Well, my body was still a jittery mess due to the caffeine coursing through my veins and my mind was still faster than usual but once I realized this logical reason for my reactions, I was at ease. It was a false alarm brought on my a ‘shot in the dark’.

Upon labeling it a false alarm, all of those symptoms that had captured my full attention and had me so worried soon became a fading-into-the-background noise. My symptoms were still happening but they no longer gripped me with their power.

I got back to work and waited it out.

You can do this too with your anxiety. There are so many similarities.

  • If you start to feel your body anxiously amping up, check in. If something isn’t immediately requiring your “fight or flight” reaction label it a false alarm.

  • Anxiety triggers false alarms. Teach your mind to settle down with the realization that this type of experience can be attributed to ‘anxiety’ just as my type of experience could be attributed to too much caffeine all at once.

  • Just like my accidental coffee with a double shot of espresso, your anxiety is something real and once it has been activated it needs to quietly run its course in the background. Important point: In the background! Label it a false alarm and then turn your attention back on to what you were doing or need to do.

  • Remind yourself periodically if you need to that you’re experiencing a normal reaction to something that just triggered your anxiety (usually a thought) and that you can let it dissolve.

  • Your anxiety is super uncomfortable because it captures your full attention and usually spirals to become even bigger. Check it. Label it. Forget it.

Have you ever had an experience that mimicked anxiety? What happened? How did you deal with it?

5 Easy Ways to Ensure Your Brain Isn’t Pulling One Over On You

Brain and Narrative Short cuts

You’re sitting there in your yoga pants sipping your favorite hot beverage and reading a Reddit article on your phone. Seems pretty mellow right? For the most part it is. But on a sensory level, your brain isn’t resting. There are still tons of pieces of information your brain is processing and staying on top of. Now picture all the information that your brain takes in as you ride down the busy escalator to the packed subway on your way to work. No doubt your brain is working double-time!

Fortunately, your brain is expertly equipped for both situations, and all situations in between. 

So let’s pause a moment and give your brain the props it deserves. Nice work brain, keep it up!

Thank goodness too, that your brain isn’t the complaining type. From a cognitive perspective, information is costly to take in, store, manipulate and retrieve. The more information it is presented with, like the subway station during rush hour, the more taxing. Don’t be fooled just because your brain makes it look easy. It’s not.

The way your brain is able to function efficiently during even the most stimulation-dense situations is through various short-cut systems it has at its’ disposal. One of the most common is the use of narrative. 

Narrative, or the way you explain things to yourself, fill in the blanks when you don’t have facts, and the stories you tell yourself, creates patterns. Patterns are easier for your brain to recognize and manage than tons of disparate bits of information or things that don’t make sense. 

There are many types of patterns your brain relies on. 

Causality, that is logically progressing from cause to effect, makes for an efficient narrative and is a common ‘go-to’ pattern for our brains. A story that progresses logically in this manner is easier to neatly package than one that takes wild twists and turns and may not wrap up nicely. It’s no surprise that an overworked brain likes causality. And no surprise then, that we quickly come up with answers for everything, explain anything that comes across our paths and try to avoid uncertainty at all cost!

We feel better when we know the why of things and when things ‘make sense’ to us. We even feel better when we totally make things up that fit that bill. We end up telling ourselves a lot of stories that increase our impression of understanding, without needing them to be based on reality. 

Your brain’s ‘Causality Narrative’ pattern building is essential for continuing to function at the high level you do. But in order to make sure this short-cut is helpful and doesn’t lead you astray, it’s important to do these 5 things:

  • Become aware of the cause-and-effect stories you tell yourself
  • Become aware of the ways you fill-in-the-blanks when you don’t know the facts
  • Become aware of the ways your wishful thinking or pessimistic thinking influences that way you explain things
  • Become aware of how your stories fail to respect the facts that you actually know
  • Increase your comfort level with uncertainty so you don’t automatically explain things you don’t know.

The more you understand how your brain works and practice fine tuning it, the higher performing your brain will become without negatively effecting its’ efficiency.

Like It Or Not, You are the Average of the 5 Thoughts You Spend the Most Time With

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There’s a famous saying, “You are the average of the five thoughts you spend the most time with.”

Wait, something doesn’t sound right about that. And yet, something sounds totally right about that.

The famous saying by the late Jim Rohn was actually, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” What he meant by that is that when it comes to relationships, we are greatly influenced — whether we like it or not — by those closest to us. The people we spend the most time with affect our way of thinking, our self-esteem, and our decisions. Sure, we like to think we are our own independent snowflake, but research has shown that we’re more affected by our environment than we think.

I think the same can be said for your emotions and thoughts. I think if you were to reflect on your main thoughts you would see that they shape you more than you think.

Check it out and see for yourself. What are the thoughts you have most often?

Are you having a hard time remembering specifics? It’s really not much of a surprise if you are because scientists estimate we have anywhere from 12,000–60,000 thoughts per day!

If it’s hard to figure out one of those 60,000 thoughts per day off the top of your head, you can work backward from what feelings you recall having most often. We’re often more aware of how we feel then the actual thoughts that are causing the feelings. So think of the five feelings you usually have most throughout a typical day. Gratitude? Resentment? Pressure? Joy? Uncertainty? Irritation? Anger? Impatience? Creative? Stress?

Good. Once you identify the feelings you have most often you can backtrack to what types of thoughts might be causing them. You don’t even have to necessarily identify your exact thoughts, a ballpark grouping fits the bill here.

Use the feelings you just identified to recognize the thought “ballparks” you find yourself in most often? Negative thoughts, positive thoughts, worrisome, hopeful, realistic, unrealistic, anxious, assured thoughts?

It’s estimated that a ridiculously high percentage of the thoughts we have each day are repeats.

That’s right, most of our thoughts are recycled over and over each day.

If you are spending most of your day repeating negative thoughts, then it really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that you’re going to trend toward the negative. If you spend most of your day repeating worrisome thoughts about this, that and the other thing then well, you can see how that will end up playing out. Likewise if you spend most of your day repeating thoughts along the lines of hopeful or positive thoughts, you’re going to trend in the opposite direction.

If you want to make changes in your life, start by tackling the thoughts you spend the most time with. If you find your thoughts aren’t ones that will help you, you need to start thinking different thoughts. It actually is that simple.

Simple but not easy! I know, that’s an annoying saying…but it is true in this case. When you find yourself thinking or feeling a way you don’t like insert a different thought. Literally any other thought (assuming it is not similar to the one you want to get rid of) will do.

Often the hard part is being aware of your thoughts in the moment, which happens to be the ideal time to insert new ones. But the good news is that choosing new thoughts/feelings whenever you remember to think of them will start to produce positive results over time!

Give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

Guilt and Anxiety When You Lead a Charmed Life: 3 Things to Do

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Complex Emotion of Guilt

A new client came in to see me recently and sheepishly admitted that she felt bad for being there. She had put off coming for almost a year and finally made herself come. But it wasn’t because of the emotional pain around a certain experience that made her feel so bad.

This new client felt guilty for having an issue with anxiety because she had such a “charmed” life.

After our meeting I couldn’t help but continue to think about the complex emotion we call guilt. Especially when it keeps us from doing something that will help us…like reaching out for help with something we need help with!

The thing is, anxiety doesn’t really care what kind of life you’ve had in order for it to slip in and make itself at home. Charmed, crappy, or anywhere in between is all fair game when it comes to anxiety. 

Anxiety must love it when people feel guilt and avoid help. The last thing anxiety wants is for its’ person to seek help. It almost seems that anxiety is in cahoots with guilt just for this purpose!

So what can you do about it?

 3 Ways to Overcome Guilt

  1. Recognize “guilt” is a conditioned feeling. We may not know how we picked up on this association. But at some point we started associating guilt with having more things than others or doing something others can’t do. We then repeated this association enough times until it stuck. So, to unstick it and condition a different response, whenever your feel your guilt, kindly thank it and then turn your attention onto something else to let it go.
  2. Get help anyway. Clearly you not seeking the help you want (and need) is not a message you should listen to. Think of it this way, if your friend gave you the advice to avoid getting help, you’d have no problem not listening to that friend would you? We need to treat our guilt the same way in this case. Just don’t listen to it and look up online someone to help you with your anxiety. 
  3. Turn guilt to gratitude. Life isn’t fair and unfortunately there are many examples of haves and have nots. Instead of feeling guilt if you are in the “haves” category, use it as an opportunity to express gratitude for what you have. And try to have that be: gratitude, full stop. It is extremely hard not to feel empathetic to others less fortunate than you. But denying yourself of the help you need does absolutely nothing for someone in a less fortunate situation than you. Gratitude, full stop.

If you find that you have a hard time letting go of the guilt after trying these 3 things, it might be helpful to do a little inner reflection on your feelings of self worth. It is extremely common for people to feel unworthy of good things.

Mainly because feeling worthy makes one think that it automatically assumes some people are unworthy. And that feels totally wrong.

And it is wrong. This is a false dichotomy, and simply not true. No one is unworthy of good things.

So replace self-worth with self-esteem so your brain doesn’t slip into thinking in terms of worthy/unworthy.

Overcoming Anxiety Isn’t an Intuitive or Creative Process. So What Do I Do?

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A Plan

Overcoming anxiety isn’t an intuitive or creative process. And it doesn’t come from digging deep or having an “aha!” moment that explains everything.

Overcoming anxiety like most things in life we want to change, takes deliberate, consistent practice of targeted strategies, repeated over time.

Not so glamorous I know. It would be so much more exciting if you, after spending months visiting a comfy overstuffed chair in my office working to uncover various childhood ups and downs, remembered that one incident that totally explained everything about your anxiety. And then, knowing that, your anxiety would plead, “Uncle!” and then disappear. It wold be like winning the recall lottery! The promise of that alone would be a compelling endeavor.

Unfortunately, that isn’t how things work. I wish I could spice up what is actually needed to help you overcome your anxiety, and I’ll try. But before we get to the targeted strategies and consistent practices we really need to check two things.

First, let’s check in with your thinking around having anxiety in general. Pause and try to identify what your thoughts are about having anxiety. What does having anxiety mean about you?

The second part is to take a moment and really become aware of your thoughts about how you get rid of anxiety. What do you think needs to happen in order for you not to have your anxiety any more? Is it even possible?

Your answers to these two questions will literally make or break your anxiety.

Your Belief System

Are they positive or negative? Set in stone or changing? Permanent or temporary? For example, do you think you are a flawed, weak human being because you have anxiety? Do you think anxiety is impossible to get rid of without some really good medication?

Here’s an example using a different struggle. Say I’m fat and think it is because I am weak, ugly and lack willpower. Let’s say I also think I’m always going to be fat because it runs in my family and on top of that, I’m big boned and have a stressful job. Can you see how I am going to have an uphill battle with losing weight with those two belief systems in place? I can tell you for sure that losing weight (with these beliefs) isn’t going to happen.

Anxiety is the same way. Your belief systems are critical in overcoming your anxiety. You’ll need to establish accurate and growth-focused foundational thoughts and beliefs about the fact that you have anxiety and that it is possible to overcome it before you will be able to make any headway in stopping your anxiety.

Tomorrow we’ll break down how to establish accurate and growth-focused foundational thoughts and beliefs. For today, just keep noticing your thoughts and beliefs about why you have anxiety and if you think it is possible to make go away.

Mindfulness When Your Life Stinks Part 2: Your Thoughts Aren’t Even Real

Thoughts and Beliefs

It’s funny that I’m actually writing this post because I can so vividly remember resisting this idea. My thoughts that I automatically and often subconsciously judge as good or bad aren’t even real. What thuh? I recall thinking, “If I can’t count on my thoughts being real, which btw have gotten me quite far in life, then where do I go from there? What can I even trust anymore?”

Oh, how young and naive I used to be.

I shouldn’t pretend it was so long ago! This is an incredibly complex notion to wrap one’s mind around. I routinely need to circle back to terra firma on this even though I understand it and it has my full buy in.

The notion that my thoughts weren’t real was a total bummer for me. Generally speaking, I had always really liked my thoughts. Most were funny, insightful, inquisitive, and clever, if I do say so myself. And they were a big part of my self-esteem. If you could see me now, you’d see my eyes wistfully staring off into the distance.

Oh, there were the negative ones too, but they served an important purpose. They let me know where I was falling short and, by gawd, needed me to know it. The notion that those thoughts weren’t real either just made me mad. I mean, where’s the power in beating oneself up, if it’s on false grounds? 

I couldn’t believe that the good ones weren’t real. And I needed the bad ones to be real in order for me to, well, feel bad about myself. Or to motivate me to change things or whatever bad thoughts are supposed to do.

I wish I remembered the exact thing I read or the specific thing someone said that provided my aha moment around this. But I can’t. You know when you hear something over and over and one day it so naturally clicks that it seemed like it was there all along? I think that’s what happened.

Who knows, maybe reading this will be the one that pushes you over that proverbial edge too!

Here goes.

The thoughts in our heads that narrate our lives need a serious reappraisal.

We get so worked up by them! We get so comforted by them! We get so hooked by them and think they are real. But they aren’t real. I mean, they are real in that they exist inside our heads, but they aren’t real in that they aren’t facts.

I mean, unless of course, you’re thinking of a fact. But let’s be honest, most of the time we are not thinking of facts.

Most of the time we are repeating the same subjective thoughts and beliefs over and over in our minds. The ones we constructed through a complex combination of nature, nurture, and our experiences. This combination creates a filter through which we take in all information and through which we form all our thoughts. We can’t help it.

And yet, most people never question that their thoughts aren’t real because it seems a) unnecessary b) inefficient c) weird and d) stupid. So they stay tightly bound to the ups and downs of their thoughts which lead to an emotional roller coaster of feelings.

There’s another way. And that is to acknowledge our thoughts aren’t real and get off the roller coaster.

So, if you want to go for it here are 6 things to try:

  1. Notice your resistance to the notion that your thoughts aren’t real.

  2. Frame this as an experiment. What happens when you have a thought and you tell yourself that it is just one possibility of that which exists.

  3. What happens when you try on different filters for the fun of it? How does that thought change?

  4. Allow the different filters to loosen your cognitive grip on the comfortable notion that your original thought was a real, meaning a fact.

  5. See how your emotions change with the different filters.

  6. Recognize that since you can choose your filter and your thoughts why not choose either neutral or good ones?