It is common practice that when you have a thought in your mind you believe what you think. And while it makes sense why you would fall prey to this common habit, it may not be in your best interest to do so.
In order to avoid the unnecessary stress caused by your mind, you first need to understand how the mind works and what you can do to circumvent its lies or partial truths.
The Difference Between Circumstances and Thoughts
People frequently confuse the difference between what happens to them and their thoughts about those events. It is for this precise reason that they feel disempowered and stuck in negative feelings of anxiety, hurt, or frustration.
But like many things in life, this state of negative emotionality can be altered. You can learn to take back control of your mind.
Before you can make any changes to your thinking, you first need to identify the ways in which your mind is tricking you. Typically, there is a pattern to all of this. We call these patterns Thinking Traps.
Consider this situation. You take a few weeks off from work after having a baby, but all the while, you are worried sick about not being able to get back on track once you return to the office. You keep hearing this nagging thought in the back of your head that says, “I am behind.” This is followed by an incessant list of worries such as:
- What if I won’t be able to get caught up?
- What if I lose my job?
- How will I pay for this baby if I don’t have income?
- I’m going to lose my housing.
- I will end up having to beg people on the street for money.
As you can see, if this is your mind, it’s taken you down a nasty spiral. And as you’re thinking these thoughts, they seem so real. You feel the fear, the anxiety, the worry as if these things are actually happening to you right now. In other words, your brain has tricked you into believing that your worst nightmare is coming true.
One thing you have to know about your mind is that it doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what isn’t. Your thoughts become your reality. That’s not just a cliche. It’s how your brain actually works and you can let that be your downfall or you can use that to your advantage.
When you find yourself in a challenging situation, you might notice the barrage of negative and scary thoughts that encompass your mind. Some of these thoughts will sound very familiar because they are your go-to thoughts.
If, for instance, you are someone who tends to catastrophize, you will make a mountain out of a molehill. You’ll predict the worst case scenario and likely freeze (rather than fight or flee). What this translates into is ruminating on the same thoughts over and over again while feeling paralyzed with fear.
How can you untangle yourself from this thinking trap? You simply need to create some space between your circumstances and your thoughts about them.
In the example of the worker who takes time off after having a baby, you might notice that there is a lot of worry about an uncertain future. In fact, anytime you feel anxious it is likely because you have a negative point of view about an event that has not yet happened.
Once you realize what your brain is doing, you have an opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate the story you are telling yourself.
It may be true that you are backed up given the fact that you’re currently away from work for some time and that you may need time to recalibrate once you are back at the office. But how likely is it that just because you are behind on work that you will lose your job?
We said you need to create some distance between the events and your interpretation of them. One easy way to do that is simply fill in the following:
Event: What happened?
Thought: What do you think about what happened? What are you making it mean?
Can you see how these two things are separate?
While you may not have any control over your circumstances, you certainly can control your thoughts about them. You can be more intentional about what you allow your mind to focus on.
Your mind is programmed to focus on negative things in an attempt to protect you from harm. At any point in time, there may be some potential dangers around you, but at the same time there are also just as many wonderful things that you might be missing simply because you’re not focusing on them.
If you want to feel more satisfied with your life, you have to bring yourself back to the other half of the equation that overlooks the positives. When you can view both sides of the situation, you can make more informed decisions and feel more balanced.
Some questions to help you check in with yourself around your thoughts include:
- Is this thought accurate? (If you’re telling yourself something, is it based on a fact or is it simply a thought?). Some thoughts can’t be objective, in which case, try on question #2.
- Is this thought helpful? (One way you know it’s helpful is if you feel the way you want to feel).
- How likely is this to happen in this way? (If your thought is future-based, you can ask this).
For our purposes, the event is that you are on leave. The thoughts are either going to be catastrophic, which will bring up anxiety and self-doubt, or they can be more sobering.
The thoughts you choose have a direct correlation with how you feel about the situation.
The Difference between Thoughts and Feelings
Do you notice that you are moody and frustrated because you lack control over your future? You clearly don’t want to lose your job, but you don’t know what’s going to happen, so you keep thinking about it.
Whatever you think about creates your feelings. When you think that something bad will happen to you, such as you’ll lose your job, you feel anxious. When you tell yourself that you’re backed up, you feel overwhelmed.
If we know that our thoughts and feelings are linked, then we can flip the equation. Rather than think about the worst possible outcome and feel badly, you can think about what you want to see happen and feel more confident and optimistic.
Let’s take a look at what happens to that parent who is on leave. If instead of thinking about what you’re missing out on at work and how you’ll miss out on having a job at all, consider how you want things to go.
Perhaps you want to be able to come back part-time so you can slowly sink your teeth back into work and then gradually increase your time at the office. You can see yourself getting back on track, doing your daily tasks, working on your projects and goals, meeting with the team, and feeling integrated back into the workplace.
How does that feel instead?
What just happened to turn your feelings around? All it took was for you to consider how you want to feel (confident) and reverse engineer the story.
Here’s how you do it:
Step 1: How do you want to feel about your circumstance?
Step 2: What do you need to think about it in order to feel that way?
Step 3: Insert thought identified in Step 2. How do you feel? If it doesn’t work quite the way you wanted it to, consider some alternative thoughts until you find the one that fits best.
Why Managing Your Thoughts and Feelings Are Important
It is very rare that we take time to think about our thoughts. This process requires us to slow down, become introspective, and tap into our self-awareness and mindfulness skills. It may seem tedious but it works. In fact, the time you spend doing this work can end up saving you a ton more time. Here’s how:
- You end up spending less time ruminating about the same thoughts over and over again
- You can get to sleep sooner because you’re no longer spiraling
- You can focus on your work, get it done in less time and be on your way to your life outside the office
- Because you aren’t feeling so upset anymore, you can enjoy more of your time each day
- You are less reactive which translates into less cleanup work on the backend of your relationships or decision-making
In addition to being a time saver, managing yourself is a key factor in your success. It will help you in relationships where you might otherwise become easily triggered. The more you understand yourself, the more proactive you can become in how you navigate life.
Instead of feeling out of control, you refocus on the things over which you have control. You can do that at work by increasing your communication, getting outside more to ground yourself, and sticking closely to your goals.
Instead of letting the uncertainty get to you, you consider the worst case scenario and what you would do. Now that you have a plan for the worst-possible outcome, you can handle anything less, so rest easy.
What’s Leading Me to Act This Way?
One of the biggest reasons why it’s important to have self-management is because your feelings determine your actions. If you find yourself in a repetitive pattern of behavior, notice your emotional state when you engage in those patterns.
A great way to build some insight is to identify what precisely you do when you’re in each of these emotional states.
What do you do when you’re:
What are the behaviors you want to change?
Notice how you might have thinking patterns as well as behavioral patterns. This is no coincidence. Everything is tied together. When you change how you think, you can influence not only your behaviors (finally ending self-sabotage), but you can change the results you create.
Are you ready to take control of your life? It all starts in your mind.
Your mind can play tricks on us by telling us lies or partial truths. This is how it works:
Event: Something factual that happened
Thought: Our interpretation of what happened
Feeling: How we feel when we think about what happened
Behavior: What we do when we feel our feelings or sense the emotion in our body. Generally, when we’re anxious, we avoid things that feel scary.
In order to break the cycle of anxiety, you need to either change your thought or your behavior.
Changing your thinking is not only the more powerful of the two, it is easier to change.
To change the thought, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it accurate?
- Is it helpful? (One way you know if it is helpful is by how it makes you feel)
- Is it likely?
If you get a “no” to any of these questions, ask yourself:
- What thought would be more accurate/helpful/likely?
- When you substitute the new thought, how anxious do you feel now?
- What do you do instead of your old behavior?
It’s helpful to practice this model by writing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors down on paper.
Finally, you don’t have to do this alone. Grab yourself a FREE Breakthrough Session with me at www.bookachatwithsharon.com
If you’re burning out, download the Burnout Checklist to see which stage you are in and what you need to focus on to recover. Go to: www.drsharongrossman.com/burnoutchecklist