You don’t have to believe everything your mind says.
Those thoughts that come up and tell you how terrible you are? You don’t have to believe them.
That voice that says what you did was okay, but you can always do better? Take it with a grain of salt.
The constant, annoying, analytical thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind? They may not all be true. And even if they are, you can choose to attend to them or not.
Part of what prevents us from bouncing back well in life is the difficulty we have in separating ourselves from our minds. Because our experience is unique to each of us – no one else is hearing our thoughts – we tend to believe that what we say to ourselves must be true.
And why wouldn’t we think so? If I want to pick up a pen, my mind directs my hand to pick it up and my hand moves to the pen and grasps it. If I’m stuck with the problem of low fuel in my car, my mind jumps into action and quickly problem-solves, telling me I should stop at a gas station to refuel.
With the experience of our minds solving problems for us, it’s easy to think that our minds will always give us answers truthfully and helpfully, even if it hurts.
But . . . not so much.
What you don’t know about your mind CAN hurt you
The mind developed as a way to keep us safe – to solve problems. In the early days of humanity, life was extremely hard and people had to make quick decisions in order to stay alive.
“Should I run from that predator or fight it?”
“Should I swim across this lake or go around it?”
“Will this person hurt me or help me?”
Another important way the mind kept us safe was to recognize that there was safety in numbers so being in a community became very important. To be banned from the community meant a likely death, so the mind learned to ask, “Am I fitting in? Do I look right? Am I acting appropriately? Are my skills valuable to the group?” and so on.
Today, even though we don’t have saber-toothed tigers to avoid, the mind continues along these problem-solving lines. And it still recognizes that being part of a group is important.
However, the problem comes in when the mind – with good intentions – tells us things that aren’t true in order to solve a problem or make sure we’re fitting in.
Using the examples from above, the mind might tell you, “You’re really terrible. You’re never going to fit in unless you change.”
Or, “Sure, you’re okay, but if you don’t do better, you’re going to be in terrible danger.”
Or, “We’ll just keep going over and over every experience we have just in case there’s some important piece of this puzzle we’re missing.”
In reality, your mind is using old actions for something that really isn’t necessary any more. It doesn’t know that we’re safe and okay just like we are. Your mind is just doing its job: It’s protecting you and solving problems any way it can, including threatening, shaming, cajoling, or harassing you. (And a lot of other good, productive methods, so let’s not throw those minds away!)
3 ways to put your mind in its place
How do we get our minds to stop these behaviors?
It’s likely that we don’t. The mind is always going to continue its chatter, much like a talk radio station. But it’s up to you if that chatter is in the foreground or the background. Here are some ways to push your chattering-radio-station to the background when you need to:
1. Thank your mind. The next time you notice that your mind is chattering on about something that is negative or not helpful to you, just stop and say, “Thanks, mind! I appreciate you looking out for me, but I don’t really need that negative input right now.” With practice, this will help you gain a bit of separation from yourself and your thoughts so you can see that you are not your thoughts.
2. Become aware that some of the thoughts your mind produces may not be true. This is essential. We are so accustomed to believing what the mind says that it has us brainwashed! For example, my mind often tells me, “You’re not good enough. You’ll never be good enough. You need to do better.” When I buy into this, I find myself on a hamster wheel, running as fast as I can and never getting anywhere.
Why? Because once I reach what I thought was “good enough,” my mind keeps up the same patter: “Anyone could have done that. You’re still not good enough . . .” And off I go again on the wheel, looking for the next thing that will convince me I’m good enough.
I’ve learned to just shrug these thoughts off and say, “That’s just not true. I understand why you’re saying that, mind, but it’s not true, so let’s move on.”
3. Labeling thoughts as stories. Our minds create patterns of thoughts that can be seen as stories. Recognizing the stories our minds tell us is another way to get some distance from your own thought process and be more objective about it.
Sometimes when my mind is telling me I’m not good enough and could do better, I stop, take a breath, and say, “There’s that ‘Not Good Enough’ story again. Thanks, mind, but I don’t really want to hear that one right now.”
Our minds are wonderful things, they really are. But the aspects that aren’t true, helpful, or workable in our lives don’t really have to be attended to.
What will you choose to do when your mind isn’t being helpful? Let me know in the comments section.
Want more ways to make your life better? Download my FREE ebook, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.