I wonder how much of our thoughts are spent ruminating about stuff that doesn’t help us or move us towards our goals. In my case, I would say a vast majority of my thoughts have gotten in my way. In fact I would argue that allowing my unhelpful or unnecessary thoughts to take hold is some of the most self-sabotaging behavior there is.
It takes hold in many forms. Sometimes I spend way too long thinking about something I could have said to someone after feeling attacked. Or I spend time anticipating an argument that usually, NEVER happens. Where my thoughts are the most sneaky is when I am worried about loved ones. Because their crises are often quite real I can convince myself that this is absolutely the only thing I should be thinking about. I have even gone so far as feeling guilty for trying to better my life when everyone around me appears to be in a crisis. Do you relate to this? This is particularly tricky if you are working in the social justice field. When you are seeing others struggling to a degree that you can almost feel your heart breaking, the guilt is real when you focus on you. The good news is you can have both. You can have an open heart, and move in the direction of your goals. You don’t have to pick one, in fact please don’t.
So what do we do? Start paying attention to what comes up in your thoughts and be picky about what is allowed to stay. My therapist is actively attempting to get me to see this. Why does this matter?? In my case, my thoughts have been distracting me from exploring new aspects of my life, for years. When drama arises around me, I’m distracted from my goals because of how much time I give to the drama. Whether it be in person or in my head, when I feel slighted, misunderstood, burdened and can’t stop talking or thinking about it, I’m self-sabotaging myself. If you are not much of a talker and instead let this stuff ruminate in your head only, this is even sneakier because only you are privy to what goes in that noggin of yours.
What do you do when your mind will not get off the hamster wheel of worry or drama or obsessing over things? Sonia Choquette, author of “Trust Your Vibes” suggests getting back into the present by literally naming everything you see around you. For example, if I’m walking down the street and my brain is going a million miles an hour because of the latest work drama I say to myself, “Ok, get back to the present. There’s a branch in the road, there’s some gum on that sign, there’s a woman with a fabulous coat, there’s a person who hasn’t looked up from their phone while walking….” It’s like playing I-spy with yourself to get you back to the here and now. Great news, it works. You are redirecting/distracting your inner toddler.
Sometimes the best way to discover you are on the hamster wheel in your mind, is the way your body feels. Is it tightening up? Have you forgotten to breathe? Are you clenching your teeth? Then ask yourself, what was I just thinking about? Does this serve me? Nope. Then move yourself back into the present.
Now sometimes you truly do need to work through stuff. I’m all about that. But pay attention to the difference between working through things and distracting yourself. I can’t tell you what is the difference for you. But for me, if something has been resolved and I am still ruminating about it perhaps its time for some redirection. And sometime this may require the help of a professional (therapist not hit man) to get you back on track.
Lastly, I want you to explore this idea: what if your thoughts were your biggest cheerleader? Can you imagine this? Simply asking yourself if your thoughts are being supportive/kind can sometimes be enough to bring your awareness back and prevent you from circling the black hole of self-doubt and loathing. If as you read this you find yourself completely resistant to this idea, I encourage you to explore WHY. Does it make you feel fake? Does it make you feel like it’s sugar coating your REAL problems? I get it. I’m here to say I highly doubt that paying better attention to your thoughts will mean that from now on you will remain oblivious to the areas of your life that could use some improvement. In fact, looking at your thoughts may help you appreciate how far you’ve come despite have a constant naysayer in your head. And if this means that you will spend a fraction of time less being negative towards yourself, why not try it?
*Rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it to someone you care for deeply, don’t say it yourself.
I’m excited for our journey towards inner kindness.
Take care of YOU.