Coach’s Corner: A Penny For Your Thoughts
A penny may seem like a small price to pay to know what’s on your mind. However, experts believe that each person has 50,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day. That can get quite pricey! 🙂
Our inner-voice, self-talk and mental health have received much attention these days. And rightly so. A lot of these thoughts can be negative. Also, our thoughts are not always based on reality or facts, because of many reasons including distortions, beliefs, assumptions, and biases.
In the field of neuroscience and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), the 3 elements of Thought, Emotion and Behaviour are connected and affect one another.
Similarly, in the Twelve Laws of Karma, the fourth law is the Law of Growth. This law states that “Wherever you go, there you will be.” This seems obvious. However, its deeper meaning is similar to CBT – that our thought affects our emotion and behaviour, and that our inner life controls our outer world.
I’m drawing from both scientific and spiritual teachings to make the point that there are important consequences to the thoughts in our heads. I am focusing on Thought because I believe it to be the most consequential, and deserves more attention because it is not visible.
Let’s use an example of how our thoughts affect us, and how unhealthy this might be for our personal and professional relationships:
I sent my colleague an email, and he has not responded to my email after 2 hours.
Unhealthy Thought: “He must be ignoring me.”
Impact on Emotion: confusion, anger.
Impact on Behaviour: I stop working. I avoid him. I also ignore his emails and requests.
Let’s reflect on what happened. My own expectation that emails should be responded to immediately is unrealistic. My interpretation and belief that his lack of response concludes (perhaps incorrectly) that he is ignoring me intentionally. Furthermore, my bias towards the urgency and importance of my question creates a false sense of self-importance (see my blog post on ego).
From this analysis, the flaws in my thought response are obvious. There are many other thoughts I could have had, a lot of them more positive, yielding more helpful outcomes for myself.
So, what can we do to control our thoughts, and avoid jumping into such unhealthy conclusions? There are many techniques, though I should note we can’t truly control our thoughts. “Managing” is perhaps a more appropriate word, because we go through the process of increasing our awareness of unhelpful thoughts and their effect on us, and consider alternative ways to challenge our old perspectives.
Some of my recommendations include:
- Journaling – Write down negative thoughts and beliefs, and replace them with positive ones. The key is keeping time frame short (today, this week) so that they can be memorable.
- Identifying your inner-critic and judge – Once you can recognize that your self-talk is coming from a negative and critical place, you can start to question and challenge this voice with an opposing opinion (perhaps my colleague is busy. I will ask someone else).
- Search for the light – this includes finding enlightenment from learning, surrounding ourselves with beautiful things, and engaging with optimistic people. Incorporating these aspects into our lives helps us gain empathy and appreciation.
The key is practice to form new thought patterns and habits. You don’t have to do this alone either – enlist a coach to help you identify negative thoughts and reframe them into more helpful ways of thinking.
Leaving you with my favourite quote that I memorize, remind myself with and share:
“To understand your current condition, look at what you’ve done in the past. To know your future, look at what you’re doing at this moment.” – Tibetan proverb
What else can you recommend to help others manage their negative self-talk?
Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner.
Hi Jason, I don't know how well this fits in with your model (which I totally agree with, by the way) but I'll share anyway...
For the last 40 years of her life, my mom was grateful for something. Every single day. Even in light of the suicide of my brother, she found reasons to be grateful - not immediately, of course - but even after that, she could find things to be grateful for. That he was her son in the first place, and she got to experience the joy of a new baby boy; that she experienced such love for him; that he had a loving wife at the end. You get the idea.
You could talk to her as her health was failing, and she'd be grateful for something. The birds outside. The deer that sometimes crossed her backyard. That even if her health was failing, she still made it to the gym that day (six days a week for at least 20 years) and darn, she was grateful for that.
I can't claim that every day is a sunshine day, but having listened to my mom for all those years, gratitude sticks with me. So when I am having a crappy day or just having an angry thought about that co-worker who doesn't reply to me every day, I *try* to stop, and find something (which may be related to the situation, or may not) to be grateful for. My mood is lifted, my anger will usually fade.
While I am still mourning the loss of my mother (and my brother, and others) when I feel the grief, I also remember to feel the gratitude. That I had such a wonderful and loving mom, who could share a life lesson to me.
Yours, in #gratitude,
Thank you Sue, for sharing this very pragmatic and effective technique of pausing - identifying a point of gratitude - and savouring it.
It is healthy to take the time to grieve and mourn, and it takes courage and strength to switch into a positive state of gratitude. This is the healthiest approach to take to honour those we've loved and lost.
I would have loved to meet your Mom. I consider myself fortunate, and I am grateful to have met you!
Hi Susan Keohan,
Thanks for sharing this. Also lost my brother and mother. Over 20 years ago. It hit me completely unprepaired at the age of 21. Took me some time to get back on track.
It's not so easy. On the one hand it's unhealthy to suppress emotions and on the other hand you need to break out of the downward spiral of negative emotions, in time. You'll get a depression otherwise.
Don't get me wrong. It's ok and necessary to mourn the loss of beloved ones. But: You don't help them by dooming yourself. That's not what they wanted.
How do we manage that? Perhaps it helps to understand what emotions are: Body chemistry. Hormones put in your blood by your glands. The glands 'fire' if triggered. This can be a well placed pointe of a joke that makes you laugh or a wrong word that makes you angry. This can range from a 'fingercup' resulting in a little dismay to a whole '(ice)bucket' which means Amygdala H!jack, which, in turn, puts you in a completely uncontrolled figth or flight situation.
Control is the word. Reflecting on this(my personal conclusion): Logic and pure negative emotions are antagonists. The moment I reflect scientifically on a situation, my emotion has a chance to fade.
So step one: reflect/analyse (based on undenyable facts).
Step two: empathy. If someone angered you, try to put yourself in the other's shoes. Try to understand the other's situation and motives. Perhaps you even find something funny. And if the other person is indeed a j€rk, find comfort in it that you can do better. Think your part and feel good. This is the difference between suppressing emotions and outsmart them. Even if you think it's kinda lying to yourself. It is not. Period(autosuggestion).
This helped me. Perhaps it helps some of you, as well.
Here is what fueled my theory on that: My wife works in senior care. She often meets people with mild to severe dementia. And how this state evolves over time. She said:'Even when people can't remember facts. They remember emotions.' (Proof enough for me, that emotions are in your blood)
Imagine you find yourself in a situation where you are completely angry, but have no idea why?
This sounds terrible. As long as your logic works you can do something. Be grateful for that as long as you can. If not, be grateful if you have people around you that help you.
Thank you for your thoughts. I have had a long time to grieve for my brother, but less time to grieve for my mom. I only bring these tender issues up because I do feel that I've been given (through my mother's grace) a way to find some positive feelings while I do grieve.
I've wandered quite a long way from Jason's topic on Thought, Emotion and Behaviour, but was hoping that my particular little nugget would help someone, as sharing these feelings can be difficult for many people. The thought of evoking some gratitude - even when there are things/people/events that cause you to have negative emotions and possibly negative behaviors - can help re-direct my focus to more positive feelings (and therefore, more positive outcomes).
Thanks again, Jason, for bringing this topic up!
I started with a day and night reflection Journal. And it really help me to focus more in positive thoughts.
Also when I saw the work from Masuro Emoto, about "The message from Water" relation between Water and thoughts. Make me more aware about my patterns and habits.
Dr. Emoto quotes: "Water is the mirror that has the ability to show us what we cannot see. Its is blueprint from our reality, which can change with a single, positive thought. All it takes is a faith, if you're open to it "
Water has memory. Depending of how you treat it, what kind of thoughts and emotions you generate, accordingly it behaves in your body.
Shine with positive, full of love. In order to do that, start with love yourself.
So reflecting, evoking gratitude, thank about challenging situations about what is the opportunity for learning about it , could be the key start to be able to thank yourself and bring more positive emotions to help you.
Thank you Jason, for this reflective article.
Hi Minerva Chavez ! Thanks for your comment!
I'm so glad you have a reflection journal. I've been keeping a journal in my Outlook Calendar as well, where at the end of each day, I write a word, sentence, or paragraph about what I learn or felt that day. It sometimes takes a few seconds, and I can always go back to review it.
I love the quote from Dr. Emoto on water.
In exchange, here's one from Bruce Lee:
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
While journaling your negative thoughts, it is also helpful to recognize and list the cognitive distortions these thoughts contain. It can be therapeutic to understand that your take on the situation is not only counter-productive but it is wrong by design.