It was a beautiful sunshiny day in British Columbia, Canada, and the last thing that I wanted to be doing was sitting in my office, in my uncomfortable chair, writing about productivity. I opened my laptop and noticed a couple dozen new emails in my primary inbox. Then I noticed several notifications on my various social media platforms. Almost without conscious thought, I started going through my email on auto-pilot. After the second email, I shook myself out of this semi-conscious state and sternly asked myself what I was doing. My brain responded that once I had cleaned out my inbox, I would feel ready to start writing. I further tried to convince myself that I couldn’t think clearly with all of these emails hanging over my head. I call this an obstacle thought.
All Obstacles Are In Our Heads
The second stage of the POWER Productivity Strategy is titled Obstacles. At this stage, you have awareness into how your thinking is shaping your experience, and sometimes, it can be really rather alarming to uncover all of the negative thinking that goes on in that brain of ours. It makes a lot of sense as to why we might feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or anxious some (most?) of the time, given all of the negative thoughts that our brains likes to offer us on a daily basis.
What has been revolutionary for me (no, I am not exaggerating, it really has been revolutionary) is the idea that I don’t have to BELIEVE all of the negative thoughts that my brain offers to me. I have solidly identified with my thinking my entire life, so the idea that sometimes my brain offers me thoughts that I can choose to not believe is not something that had occurred to me before. It feels a bit unsettling at first, like we are questioning our entire belief system. Because we kind of are. But it I consider that to be a good thing, especially if it ultimately serves me in the end.
Our brains (and specifically the survival part of our brains) are most interested in keeping us safe. The survival brain is very effective at this job and it takes great pride in it. As a result, it offers us all kinds of thoughts that are intended to keep us safe in the comfort zone, tucked away from the “dangers” of pursuing a dream.
Letting Go of Negative Thinking
Letting go of thoughts is easy in theory, but difficult in practice. If I have protective thoughts that aren’t serving me, it is not so easy to just get rid of those thoughts.
And our brain is very tricky. Like I said, it takes great pride in keeping us safe, and proving ourselves right, and will go to great lengths to make this so. Even if you are successful in getting rid of a negative thought, like “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good at this”, it will crop up in another way. And it can’t just be replaced with a new thought, like “I can do this” or “I am good at this”, especially if you don’t really BELIEVE this new thought. That’s why positive affirmations can fail. If you don’t believe this new thought, then your brain simply refuses to think it, or tacks on a disclaimer like, “I am good at this (but not really)”.
Why is this important? Even though our brains are very good at holding on to our limiting beliefs about ourselves and looking for all kinds of evidence to prove that we are right about it, there are ways to change our perspective to something that serves us. Or at least doesn’t make us feel like junk about ourselves.
The Secret to Living With Negative Thinking
An understanding that my brain is just trying to protect me is extremely helpful because we can then have some compassion for ourselves and why we might be judging ourselves so harshly in the first place. In fact, self-compassion is really the antidote for self-judgment. If you want to get better at self-compassion, the key is practice. Every time that you catch yourself thinking negatively about yourself, practice a compassionate thought.
Notice the negative thought, and say to yourself something like, “thank you brain, for trying to protect me, but I got this”.
Like any new habit, it will feel very clunky at first. And you won’t always catch yourself, and when you do, you might forget to show yourself compassion. Don’t use this as an excuse to beat up on yourself! Again, this is normal. Forming new neural pathways in the brain takes time and repetition. Ironically, catching yourself in the act of beating up on yourself (for not having self-compassion) is an excellent opportunity to practice self-compassion.
If you want more opportunities to practice identifying thoughts, join the conversation in our POWER Productivity Facebook group. If you would like to work one-on-one with a coach to help identify limiting thoughts, schedule your free private coaching session today.