Here I was-excited to be invited to participate in a big time selective corporate outing event. With executives flying in from various offices all over the country, I was intent on seizing the opportunity to make a good impression. I was determined to make the most out of the experience. Almost immediately, we were taken out to the field behind the meeting center. There stood a whole series of obstacle courses, trampolines, climbing poles etc.
My first challenge was to climb an incredibly tall pole (think four-story telephone pole). At the top of this pole, I had to hoist myself onto a narrow metal platform (8 inch x 12 inch, just enough room for my two feet) and throw my arms high in the air. Yes, there was a safety harness to break my fall but there was nothing to hold onto at the top of that pole.
I decided to rise to the challenge and volunteered to go first. The thoughts swirling in my head ranged from "Go for it-you've got this" to "You can't do this-you're out of your ever-loving mind." With safety harness secured and helmet adjusted, I started my ascent. Hand over hand, up, up, up I went. Before I knew it, I was on my final foothold and the platform was now just a few feet away. “Keep going,” I told myself. “I've got this.” I managed to get one hand on the platform now above me. But how was I supposed to get the rest of me up there, much less keep my balance and stand tall once I was there? My next thought, "don’t look down." Too late. And when I realized that I was up four stories in the air, I started shaking. And the negative thoughts came flooding in...”You're crazy!" "Stop this ridiculousness!" "Have you lost your mind?” “Get down NOW!”
Then I took a deep breath and made a decision. I decided to trust my body and to reject those negative, self-defeating thoughts. I understood that my brain was just doing its job--alerting my body to a potentially dangerous situation. But it was just one piece of the puzzle. I remembered that my body and intuition are equally important, trust-worthy and valid. And so I decided to appreciate but respectfully ignore my thoughts and let my body and intuition take over. With my group cheering me on, I did the clean and jerk motion to the top of the platform and spread my arms out to the heavens. Mission accomplished!
As I share with my clients, when we feel stuck and trapped in our lives and careers, negative thoughts swirl in our heads. These negative thoughts are a reaction to fear and lead to negative feelings – which often lead to negative actions.
But – as illustrated above--what if you discovered that you don't have to believe all of your thoughts? YOU have a choice. And, because thoughts lead to feelings and ultimately lead to actions, if you can choose and/or change your thoughts, you can choose and/or change your actions. It starts with making a choice about your relationship to your thoughts.
Experts estimate that the average person has between 20,000 - 80,000 thoughts per day, consciously and sub-consciously. With those staggering numbers, you can easily see that as a matter of course and survival, you simply can’t pay attention and believe them all. But problems arise when you attach to some of your thoughts and believe them to be true. You create narratives that fit these thoughts, and you attach desired outcomes to them. The thoughts then become even more concrete. They lead to feelings that in turn lead to actions that often times do not serve you well.
So, what’s the solution?
1. UNDERSTAND AND BELIEVE that you don’t have to attach to your thoughts. Your brain is a great tool -- one of your most important tools in your toolbox -- but not the only one! Your body and intuition are others equally important to your overall success.
2. ACTIVELY CHOOSE to create a healthy separation between yourself and the thoughts floating in your mind. How? A great way to do this is with a meditation/mindfulness practice. While there are many meditation/mindfulness techniques, a common starter technique is using the breath as an anchor and focus (two helpful free guided meditation apps are Calm and Take a Break). In this way, you treat your thoughts like clouds that are simply passing through your mind. You notice them, but you do not attach to them.
3. MAKE A CHOICE AND DECIDE which thoughts support you and help you to achieve your goals. With this new found space between you and your thoughts, you can now observe your thoughts and decide which ones serve you -- helping you move toward your goals -- and which ones don’t. Then make the choice to reinforce the thoughts that support the achievement of your goals -- and let the others go.