Successful Change 2/3 – How You Think

escaping-the-maze

“Argghhh! Everyone can see that mistake in the third paragraph. I’m such an idiot!”

That so called friend is using me. I can’t believe I’ve messed it up again. What’s wrong with me? I just can’t get it right.”

We all live in the story we tell ourselves about what’s going on and what means.  And sometimes it can blind you to other possibilities.  Like the mouse in the picture,  you can carry on looking for cheese in a maze.  Or when you find a new way of thinking, you can step out of the maze entirely.

There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so”
Shakespeare

Benjamin Zander tells the story of two sales executives from a shoe company being sent to the rainforest in the 1880s to see if there was any room to grow the business there. The first came back disconsolate. “It’s hopeless” he said. “They don’t wear shoes.” The second came back exultant “Great news!” he said “They all need shoes!

The facts are neutral. What we feel is the story we tell ourselves about those facts. If a friend has been taking advantage of you, is that your fault for not sticking up for yourself? Or theirs for not being more considerate? Or someone else’s for putting you in that situation?

If you have made a mistake or fallen short, is that awful and humiliating? Or endearing and humanising? (Think of how much audiences enjoy it when something unexpected happens and a performer is thrown off balance on stage. They love it because it is a moment of real connection deeper than the pre-prepared “show.”)

When you are at your best, you can think flexibly and creatively. You can choose the best response out of many.

How Emotions Mess Up Your Thinking

Strong emotion makes you stupid. Right when you need your resources the most, you have least access to them. How annoying is that?

When someone is feeling sad or depressed, all they can remember are sad and depressing things. When someone is feeling angry, all they can remember are examples of how everyone else has done them wrong. And so on.

It is like wearing a pair of coloured glasses. If you wear yellow glasses, all the world looks yellow. But it’s not the world that is yellow. It’s your glasses. That is a big difference.

It is easy to see in other people. That’s why we can often see they need to calm down. Because we know that when they are calmer, they will be able to think more clearly.

But when you suggest to an emotional person that they calm down, you usually get exactly the opposite reaction! Because to them at that time it all seems completely real. Later on they may calm down and feel apologetic or embarrassed but at the time they will defend it to their utmost.

Strong emotions create a kind of filter that means that we see the world in distorted, black and white way that fits with that feeling.

Emotional Hijacking

There is a biological reason for this. Your brain isn’t all the same. There are different layers that have built up over millennia of evolution. Human brains have all our fancy thinking and reasoning brains in our neo-cortex. But our brain is in layers. That neo-cortex is not instead of simple lizard and mammal structures. It is a layer on top of them.

The lizard (fight or flight) and mammal (emotions and habits) parts of our brains are deeper down and in an emergency, they can override the thinking part.

Under emotional stress, thinking becomes simple, inflexible and black and white.

And it keeps you stuck in old habits even when you know you need to change.

healthy-changeIt’s a cycle of how you feel driving what you tell yourself driving what you do.  Healthy change means loosening up each of those so you are having more positive feelings, creating more flexible positive thoughts, and taking more constructive actions.

To loosen these up you need to first recognise them and see that they are thoughts. They are the glasses you are looking through, not how the world actually is. They are the story you are telling yourself, while the world is blindly going on its way.

This doesn’t mean it is healthy to have no thoughts or discrimination about what you think. But if you find yourself stuck in similar problems again and again, you probably have thinking habits that are keeping you stuck. You need to become more mentally flexible.

Exercise – Mental YogaMental Yoga

When we have the same thoughts over and over again, it’s like a bad postural habit. It slowly becomes engrained and can begin to cause problems.

To loosen them up, you need to do some mental yoga – stretching your thinking instead of your muscles.

What thoughts are reinforcing what you do? What do you assume you have to do? What do you assume other people are thinking? For example:

<h3″>Codependency and People Pleasing

  • “If I just do this, they’ll finally appreciate me”
  • “I have to keep helping to make up for who I am”
  • “People only care about me because of what I do for them”
  • “Nobody wants me here”
  • “If I put up with this for a bit longer, things will finally come right”

Perfectionism

  • “Everyone will be looking for me to make a mistake”
  • “They’ll criticise anything I do wrong”
  • I have to get this right or else everything is ruined”

But what are yours?

1. Write three down in the left column of the box below

2. Now – and you don’t have to believe it, it’s just an exercise – what would be the opposites of those three thoughts? Write them down here.

3. And – again you don’t have to believe it, it’s just an exercise – what would be two pieces of evidence to support each of those opposite thoughts? Don’t worry about whether you are persuaded or not. It’s about mental stretching, training your brain to see more perspectives rather than jumping to conclusions. As you keep on doing this, you will become less vulnerable blocked and negative thinking that keeps you stuck.

Example Thought

If I keep putting up with this for long enough, eventually things will be OK

Opposite of Example Thought

I need to do something to confront this behaviour now.

Evidence for Opposite Thought

1 Last time I put up with something for too long, it just made things worse in the long run.

2 When I tried confronting that situation with Janice, it went better than I thought.

3 My friends keep telling me to do something about it.

Thought #1

________________________

________________________

Opposite of Thought #1

_______________________

_______________________

Evidence for Opposite Thought

1 ________________________

2 ________________________

3 ________________________

Thought #2

________________________

________________________

Opposite of Thought #2

_______________________

_______________________

Evidence for Opposite Thought

1 ________________________

2 ________________________

3 ________________________

Thought #3

________________________

________________________

Opposite of Thought #3

_______________________

_______________________

Evidence for Opposite Thought

1 ________________________

2 ________________________

3 ________________________

To your more agile thinking.

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