4 weeks ago

Finding You – You Are What You Think

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Business and life coach Fiona O’Connor continues her series …

One of my favourite quotes of all time is from Mahatma Ghandi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

These words are so DEEPLY true. Our thoughts: what we think and how we think, create who we are and how we are in the world. Our thoughts over time become habits of mind, creating our actions. Our actions over time become habits of being. What we DO demonstrates what we care about, our values. In acting out, demonstrating our values, we create our lives, we make our destiny. 

The more we think something and do something, the more our brain will help us to think and do it again, and again, and again. We become what we think. In the Talmud, a similar concept is put more succinctly “we see the world not as it is but as we are”.

Last week I stated that our brains LOVE the familiar, and that many of us tend to focus on the negative, the black dot, rather than all the richness of our lives. Why do we do that? It’s a survival technique. We still have caveman brains, wired to protect us from imminent death. Negative thoughts are ‘stickier’ than positive thoughts to protect us. If you, a cavewoman, left your cave and were distracted by happy thoughts, admiring the blue sky, the lovely flowers and the birds singing, then you might not see the sabre-tooth tiger, and you would get killed. Your brain is like a heat-seeking missile, constantly on the lookout for trouble and problems, in order to keep you alive. And if there are no problems, it will find them for you!

Apparently, the average person has 50,000-80,000 thoughts a day and guess what? If you don’t control your thoughts, your thoughts will control you. Your exercise last week was to break the habit of mindless negative thinking and to shift your perspective onto the positive in your life. To get you off the motorways within your mind and get you to move onto the less-travelled country roads where you can admire the scenery. But the brain likes the familiar and all road signs lead back to motorway. Practice is key to success.

For me coaching is about bringing more spaciousness into ourselves. With more space inside ourselves we can become conscious of the noise, we can start to hear some of the negative thoughts, in order to say no to them, we can create space for conscious thought rather than mindless thought, we can take back control of our minds.

To help you focus on what you need to weed out of your mind, here are some specifics to look out for:

Filtering out the good to focus on the bad: Before something has even happened, you start thinking of all the problems and the issues rather than giving equal space to the good and the bad. Catch yourself doing this and ask yourself “how could I be wrong?” and find three alternate positives.

Remembering bad things that happened to you or that you did: The memory replays in your mind, over and over again (sometimes for years) and you always end up feeling bad about yourself or angry at someone else. Catch yourself doing this and then replay the memory in black and white rather than colour, make the picture hazy and distant and block out the sound. A silent black and white movie with bad quality picture will have a lot less impact!

Should: Do you hear yourself using the term SHOULD / OUGHT TO / HAVE TO about yourself or someone else? This suggests a fixed perspective on your part. The amazing Byron Katie does The work – a lifetime of working with people to get them to rethink should and change their lives. She asks four simple questions

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
  3. How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

Overgeneralising: Catch yourself saying you /I/they/he/she ALWAYS or NEVER? – Really? Very little is always or never, self-check, take a breath and now make a more reasonable statement. Feel the anger subside.

All or nothing thinking: Also known as black or white thinking. Do you find yourself attaching extreme reactions to extreme requirements? Very little in life is black and white, you need to start painting with some grey and while you’re at it, go crazy and throw in a few other colours and see what crazy creative outcome happens.

Catastrophic thinking: Do you find yourself assuming the absolute worst will happen? If you cough, do you have Covid-19? If you have a headache do you immediately worry that it’s a brain tumour? We’ve all been there – your brain is working hard to stop you from dying, but it isn’t a doctor. Take a breath, then another, then consider all the other things it might be that are not so catastrophic. Notice how your body relaxes as the thoughts change.

Your homework this week is to notice with curiosity – without judgement – what thinking habits you have developed. You need to weed the garden to give the beautiful plants space and light to grow.

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