This one thing is probably the biggest truth bomb I drop on clients when we begin coaching, and I’m going to just dive in and share it with you:
We, as humans, get to choose our thoughts.
About anything. Seriously.
Now, don’t hit the back button on me! Before you think that I’m discussing some fluffy, woo-woo stuff like ‘just think happy thoughts and they will manifest in your life’ and head back to your Facebook feed, trust me, I’m not. Just hang with me, girlfriend.
I’ve written previously about how we are led to believe all our lives that thoughts just happen to us; that they are simply a natural part of our personalities, our upbringing, our culture, or our education. Positive or negative, we believe we can’t help the way we think.
And while part of that is true, here’s where the truth bomb comes in. We humans have been gifted with a prefrontal cortex, the more advanced part of our brains. The evolved area that sets us apart from other living things.
The prefrontal cortex is what we use to plan, analyze, problem solve, and set goals, among other things. This is because it also gives us the ability to think abstractly. It allows us to separate ourselves from ourselves in the here and now, and to think about ourselves almost like an outside observer.
This means that we can think about our thoughts. 🤯 We can analyze them, determining their value in our lives, almost in an existential kind of way. We can also decide if the thoughts we default to are ones that are serving us.
And then we can decide to change them. We can visualize a state of being that is more desirable, identify the thoughts that can drive the actions to get us there, and then deliberately think those thoughts.
But being able to truly identify thoughts that currently aren’t serving us, and subsequently identifying and adopting ones that do, takes practice. It doesn’t happen automatically once you understand it conceptually. You have to apply it, and practice it on a regular basis to develop that skill, until eventually it becomes a more natural thought pattern.
As you become even more skilled, you develop the capability to select thoughts that serve you in the moment your thoughts happen. Sometimes in some of the most challenging interactions and experiences in our lives.
I’ll give you an example of how this practice played out recently in my life.
Earlier this month I hosted a family get-together at my house. I don’t typically do that, because my family is pretty big as it is, and keeps growing as more babies come along. My house isn’t really big enough to seat all 15 of the invitees comfortably.
Plus, I make no bones about the fact that I don’t really enjoy cooking. I consider myself something of an un-Martha Stewart. Having the entire party catered isn’t financially feasible, so that meant I had committed myself to a considerable amount of work preparing the food and cleaning the house.
Once I committed to hosting the party and sent the invites to everyone, my brain started to freak out, calculating the hours of time and the energy it would take to get the house and the food ready for the party.
A real “WTF was I thinking?” kind of freak out.
But the invitation was out there, and rescinding it at that point meant disappointing most of my closest family members. Not something I was aiming for.
So, I decide to change how I thought about the work involved. I wanted to really enjoy their presence in my home. I wanted them all to enjoy being here together. And, I wanted them to enjoy the food as well.
That means adopting new thoughts about all of the shopping, cleaning, and cooking that needed to get done. Which took a lot of work on my part.
I decided to think that none of my family members are coming to my house to assure that everything is perfectly dusted, polished and vacuumed. Whether or not those things get done is irrelevant. They only care about being together and celebrating.
I decided to think that I’m honored that they’re willing to come to my house. And that it meant I didn’t have to drive anywhere in order to enjoy my family’s company. I just had to walk into my living room.
I decided to remember that I was fortunate to have such a big immediate family – so many people to love and be loved by.
I decided to picture them filling their plates with all of the food that I prepared, not really caring whether it was gourmet.
And I decide to think that the aftermath of a living room carpet littered with crumbs, a sink and countertop filled with dishes, and my sore feet were evidence of a happy time we had together as a family.
In the end, hard work or not, I enjoyed every minute of it. And I’m so glad I volunteered to be the host.
We can’t begin to change the effects of negative thoughts until we start learning to become aware of them, decide what alternative thoughts we can choose to have in their place that serve us better in those situations, and practice them on a daily basis.
I encourage you to give choosing new thoughts a try. Even just one thought today.
Find a negative thought you had about anything in your life. Something you saw in the news, a show you watched, or your loud neighbor. Something a colleague said to you in a meeting last week.
Maybe even try identifying negative thoughts you have about yourself: your hair, your waistline, your relationship status. Sometimes we have an ongoing, underlying stream of negative thoughts about ourselves that we don’t even realize is there, it’s just so prevalent. And it’s SO damaging.
Once you identify the negative thoughts, identify alternative ones that will serve you and get you to a place in your day, or in your life, where you want to be emotionally. Write them down, and read them every day. Put them in your note-taking app on your phone, if that helps.
Then practice thinking those thoughts regularly. When practiced regularly, you’ll begin to realize the beneficial effect they will have on your life; the more desirable results generated by them.
Eventually you develop the skill to think thoughts that are serving you in real-time, as they happen.
And that, for sure, is a better place to live from.
If you feel like you could benefit from taking this work deeper, consider having your own coach to help you. You can even give coaching a ‘test drive’ with a free 30-minute consultation with me. Click here to sign up for a time that works for you.