I don’t know why, but this year feels important, I am filled with possibilities. Maybe it’s a story I tell myself each year, and so it has become part of my New Year story. And, frankly, I like it. What if I said to you that the choice between your hopeful and creative thoughts and your negative thoughts, was based on the thoughts you think? That the difference between the two has to do with the ways you automatically think about situations, and the stories you create as a result. What if it’s time to challenge those thoughts? Ok, let’s start with understanding what the 6 crucial thoughts that are getting in your way are.
“Who are we but the thoughts we think and believe?” say’s pretty much everyone.
Our stories are built on habits of thinking. Over time we hardwire these stories into automatic thoughts. It’s a time-saving habit the brain does to free up memory so you can learn new things and not have to focus on things you already know how to do. And, here’s the cool bit, if you can hardwire one story, you can hardwire new stories too. It takes time, but it is entirely possible. I am going to share 6 critical thoughts that cause 99.9999999% of your problems. That’s bold to say, isn’t it, to give you such a precise percentage? Still, I am standing by it, 99.9999999% of your problems.
6 Crucial Thoughts You Need to StoryJack
1. Black and White Thinking.
We have all done this. The pendulum, swinging from one side to the other. You may find yourself categorizing someone or a situation in extremes. You’ve most likely experienced B/W thinking when you are in a brain fog. When your focus on a situation or person is all this or that. Situations and people get boiled down to their essential, wonderful or horrible, in your mind. Each experience becomes tremendous or terrible.
The stories that we manifest as a result tend to be extreme also. Example: “If I don’t get that promotion, I’m a failure,” or “I am the only one who has ever felt this way.” This habit of thought is developed over time, and it often simplifies things, allowing us to react instead of respond. Right/wrong is easy, we don’t need to spend much effort on getting curious about our reactions because we can justify them instead.
Shades of gray require more in-depth thinking, empathy, and curiosity. Each time we see a situation in black and white, it makes it a little more likely that we will see the next situation in the same hard light. The pendulum will continue to swing, back and forth, until you choose to question each time your mind tells you a black and white story.
2. Assumptions and Attributions.
When I met Michael, I had a habit in which I assumed I knew what he was thinking, or I attributed to his behavior based on my past experiences. If he was quiet, it was because he was mad, or bored, or [insert something here]. It can also be called mind-reading, only it isn’t the type of mind-reading where you are actually reading someone’s mind…
This is the assumption that you “know” what someone else is thinking, based on how you are thinking. In my case it was how I got triggered by my own insecurities, “You’re mad at me…” or “You don’t want to be here…” One of the gifts of my relationship is that when I did this, Michael would say, “Are you attributing this to me?” I would have to stop and then ask, “What are you thinking?”
Humans tend to focus their attention on what feels uncertain or dangerous. This often leads to negative assumptions about how others are thinking and what their motives might be. It is a powerful trigger for self-preservation. We then tell ourselves snapshot stories, “You’re angry,” “You think I am an idiot,” “You don’t trust me,” again insert your most used snapshot story here. As a result, then you find yourself reacting and responding to these thoughts, crafting more complex stories that help you make sense of what your experiencing.
By recognizing our triggers and our patterns, we can decide to check our experience against the larger image of reality. My insecurity about Michael being angry at me, or being bored, was fact-checked with the question, “What are you thinking about?” Typically his thoughts were random, should we get our dog a new collar, or does the truck need a new carburetor. Lost in thoughts of his own, that had nothing to do with me at all.
3. It’s Personal.
What if nothing is personal? No matter what is said or done to you, the saying or doing is never about you. What would that perspective change in your life? We tend to walk through the world with our ego and self-centered perspective firmly attached to the goggles we wear to observe the world. We think about buying a new car, and suddenly everywhere we go, we see that car. Our focus tends to have us hearing someones tone of voice, or words, or behaviors. We assume that they are telling us something about ourselves. But, just possibly, what if other peoples words, tones, actions, and behaviors only ever tell you about them?
What if we let go of our externalized ideas of ourselves as seen through another person’s lens? I can’t even begin to count the hours wasted wondering what someone meant when they said something I took as belittling or questioning of my ability. Let’s just say too much time. Speaking a dream and hearing a responding, “You?” and taking it to mean that if they didn’t think I could do something, hmmm, maybe I should reconsider? Maybe that dream is too big for little ole me. I’m sure I’d never make it… wait… what? How did I let that other voice into my head and then create a story that said, “never mind, it’s a pipe dream”?
We give our power away when we personalize anything. We take it back when we decide to trust ourselves, craft the dream, do the work, and turn down the external noise. No one is living your life for you. There is no one else who will toss and turn at night over your unmet goals. You know the ones, the ones you gave up because someone else who was struggling with their own insecurities and then vomited those insecurities on you. And then you decided to pick up those insecurities and put them on like a shabby jacket and wear them around and own them. Really, was that the choice you wanted? The only thing that is personal is that you are the only person who knows what you are capable of surviving, dreaming, and accomplishing. Act accordingly.
4. Let’s be Happy and Comfortable.
We place a lot of emphasis on the concept of ‘being happy and comfortable.’ I think it’s important to recognize that there is a difference between being happy and having a belief that your goal is to be happy. I am not sure that happiness is a useful goal, in and of itself. When we try to buy happiness with things and experiences, we often find ourselves chasing the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The more you seek it, the more the rainbow moves.
And, I am not sure that comfort is what we need to get us moving in new directions. The willingness to sit with discomfort is what’s required to push past what you know, into the zone of the unknown. You know, where innovation and creativity happen, and the life you dream of is waiting. The one that looks and feels different, either epically or subtly, than the one you are sitting in right now.
Happy is a state of mind that comes from achieving goals that are meaningful. Often these meaningful goals push your comfort zone and ask you to step out into the world in new ways, leaving you to feel uncertain or vulnerable at times. Not comfortable at all, not happy. And, yet, when we push through fears and walk through that valley of fire we gain something. The relief and empowerment that lives on the other side of hard work are what genuine happy often feels like. Self-trust grows from pushing through discomfort.
Life is messy and uncomfortable, and if your sole goal is to be happy and comfortable, you may not take the risks required to earn your dreams. You may stop at every little or big hiccup that gets in your way. Every bump a roadblock.
When I was getting ready to go to grad school, I was saving money like crazy. To help I decided to have a garage sale. I sold pretty much everything I didn’t need; I kept my car, clothes, a bed, and my computer. Everything else had to go, I needed the money. After the garage sale, I went for dinner with a friend and my purse was stolen. Yep, you got it, not happy. For about 4 hours I cried, whined and told myself a story about how I couldn’t go to school now.
Then I dusted myself off and navigated what felt at the time like an epic plot twist. I figured out how to cut expenses and went anyway. Obviously, the money would have helped, and yet, I still went to school and graduated. But there was a moment when my negative beliefs could have derailed me. I could have made a completely different choice, and I would be living a completely different life right now. Pushing through the discomfort has led to a life that brings me meaning, in which I love what I do. This, in turn, feels satisfying, and for me that’s better.
We’ve all done this, looking at someone else’s outsides and judged ourselves. “They have it so much more together than I do…” “I can’t even imagine how they get it all done…” “They have the perfect, house, kid, relationship, job, I can’t compare…” This is the classic, judging my insides by other people’s outsides. You might as well acknowledge that you are making up stories, because, guess what?! You’re making up stories.
None of us know what is going on inside someone else’s experience. We live in our own bubble and make assessments about what we think is going on for someone else. We see them accomplishing something we want to achieve and decide that they are maybe lucky, or have more time, or have an easy life. Then we look at ourselves and say, “I should be doing more, or better, or faster.” It is a trick we play on ourselves, this comparison trick. We can simultaneously feel bad about ourselves and jealous at the same time. It’s quite extraordinary. We get to smack ourselves in the face and shame ourselves for not being enough.
The simple truth is that there is no one you can compare yourself to. There is also no point to it. It doesn’t matter if person A is doing all this amazing stuff, your focus on them stops you from doing all the fantastic things you are capable of doing. Comparisons are fake news that we adopt into our internal narrative. Comparisons can drive us to compete and maybe that is useful, if you are running a race. But life isn’t actually a race, it’s a journey, and what I am doing has little to no bearing on what you need to be doing. And, if you use what I am doing as a litmus test for yourself, your creating internal drama that isn’t useful.
I remember watching Oprah, many years ago. A woman in the audience said, “I want to be Oprah.” and Oprah responded, “I have that gig down, I am rocking Oprah, go be the best you, that you can be.” And, that is the truth, and that is your only job, to be the best you, that you can be. Let the comparisons go.
6. To Fail is to Fail.
This sort of thinking is often mixed up with B/W thinking, and it stops more people before they even begin than almost anything else. Our relationship with the idea of failure is so mixed up with ideas of being good enough, being perfect, being right, being [yes, you know what to do, add your own negative narrative here] that we feel like a tangled ball of messy yarn. You know the truth, no one has ever succeeded who didn’t buy a ticket to the adventure of life.
We may hear words like “Fail often and fail fast.” And, while we make pretty little quote boxes, using fancy fonts, these words often bounce off of us like raindrops when we are in the middle of a “fail often and fast” moment. When you find yourself worried about failing, how are you able to decide what to do? This is a fundamental question.
I know you may have heard me say this before, but it’s challenging to be curious and afraid at the same time. When you’re worried, and your mind is spinning like a top, it’s hard to get clarity. Failure feels enormous and overwhelming. So, then we twist failure into worry, not only about what other people will think of us, but also what failure means about us. It takes inner courage to push through in spite of the “what ifs…?” What if, is worry about something that hasn’t even happened yet. It’s a time killer and what it asks you to do is put your life on hold; instead of helping you create a life that’s meaningful to you.
Finally, if you are ever to get clear of the stifling and paralyzing fear of failure, you will need to shift your relationship to the story you’ve wrapped around it’s meaning. It’s important to question this one. Will failure kill me or teach me something important? And once you have an answer, then you get to decide what you will do to shift the story.
You are Not Alone
If you have ever struggled with any of these types of thoughts, know that you are not alone. Right here and right now, many people are working hard to rewrite their narratives. I believe that you have within you the tools to push past fear, get your life on track, to challenge any story that doesn’t serve you to move forward in your life, and to dream big. It is after all the journey of your life, to become aware and conscious of the thoughts you’re thinking and to get curious. Trust in yourself, that you can choose what will work to support you.
I would LOVE to hear from YOU!
- Which of the above thoughts do you wrangle with?
- What are you going to do, to challenge this type of thinking?