We Are Not Our Thoughts

IMG_1869Most of us believe that what we think is who we are. This is supported in western culture. There are many sayings and affirmations that reinforce this idea. We often get stuck there. We believe our thoughts are one hundred percent true. Not only that, we believe we must act on them. What if that is not the case? How many times have you made the mistake of acting thoughts you believed were true only to find out that you made an erroneous assumption, or lacked all the information to make a sound judgment? What about emotions? How often have you acted on impulse, without thinking something through, without asking yourself, what is the evidence this is true? Is there another way to look at this? What if I wait for this thought or feeling to pass? Have your impulsive responses led to damaged relationships, an inability to connect with others, lost jobs, income, or opportunities ?

One of the tenets of psychology is that we have the power to change our thoughts and feelings. It is possible to distance ourselves from our thoughts, to feel less ruled by them. The first step occurs by increasing awareness of those thoughts and feelings and beginning to question their validity. This is challenging because we believe so strongly that our thoughts define us. This is not an easy exercise. Start by practicing a deliberate pause before speaking or taking action, especially in relationships, which I introduced in this blog entry on communication: Setting BoundariesBut what do we do when our internal dialogue is self-defeating? What about thoughts that I’m not good enough, that I can’t handle this, that I feel too anxious or sad, or angry, or want to die? Then what? What do we do with that?

One skill to develop is self-talk. We all talk to ourselves. Whether we want to admit it or not, we have conversations with ourselves. Start noticing how you speak to yourself. If you drop a glass on the floor, do you call yourself an idiot or do you say it’s just a glass, it was a mistake? This noticing will help you understand how you treat yourself, what you think of yourself, what you like about how you treat yourself, and what you want to change. You can use that same self-talk in new ways. You can learn to become your own coach. You can say to yourself I’m okay right now. I don’t like this feeling but I know it will pass. It has passed before. Pairing self-talk with other skills like distraction, especially if pleasurable, increases the chance that change can happen. Changing your environment, going for a walk, listening to music, calling someone can change your thoughts and feelings and provide relief. Even temporary relief can build emotional resilience. It takes practice and does not work all the time but it’s a start. Give me a call and we can talk about other changes you have the power to make if you are willing to take a look and consider the possibilities.