Key 18. Be aware of your thoughts.

In the first key listed in this book you were asked to notice what you were feeling and label it.
‘I’m feeling grumpy.’               ‘I’m feeling joyful.’
The key said that if you want to avoid being led by your emotions, and avoid suffering an inner turmoil that you don’t know how to address, then become adept at identifying your emotions. Label them. Their intensity diminishes and it’s easier to address them.

This key: Do the same with your thoughts. Label them as well.
‘Ah, I’m being judgmental.’

‘That’s interesting, I’m having that thought again.’ 

‘I just insulted myself.’

 ‘I am being unnecessarily pessimistic.’


Particularly be aware of your negative ‘self-talk’:
’I’m stupid.’

‘I’m hopeless.’

‘I can’t do this.’

‘I hate this.’

‘I don’t need to do my exercises.’

‘I need a cigarette.’

‘I’m unattractive.’

then label it:
‘I just called myself stupid.’

‘I just called myself hopeless.’

‘I just told myself that I can’t do this.’

If you are having the same thought over and over, notice that too. Notice when you keep ending up in the same place.
‘I have been thinking a lot lately about how I look.’

‘Ah, I’m insulting myself again.’

‘I keep thinking about what she said to me this morning.’

‘I make a lot of jokes about the same subject.’



When we become adept at observing our thoughts we can question their validity, and open ourselves to seeing different points of view. We can even search for the deeper issues behind those thoughts, and address those issues. An added bonus: by being aware of our thoughts we can diminish their influence upon us.

When we aware of our emotions and our thoughts we come to trust ourselves and the decisions we make. We feel more grounded, and more capable of dealing with whatever happens. We become resilient.



In short, observe the thoughts you have, and label them. ‘Ah, I’m thinking about that.’



‘In our practice we see leaders stumble not because they have undesirable thoughts and feelings – that ’s inevitable – but because they got hooked by them, like fish caught on a line.
This happens in one of two ways. They buy into the thoughts, treating them like facts. Or, they try to rationalise them away. (“I shouldn’t have thoughts like this. I know I’m not a total failure.”) In either case they are paying too much attention to their internal chatter. 
Or, they try affirmations, or other self-management strategies, prioritised to-do lists, immersion in certain tasks. But when we ask how long the challenges have persisted, the answer might be 20 years. Clearly those techniques don’t work. 
 Attempting to minimise or ignore thoughts and emotions serves only to amplify them. The first step is to notice when you have been hooked by your thoughts and feelings.
 Label your thoughts and emotions. Labelling allows you to see your thoughts and feelings for what they are: transient sources of data that may or may not prove helpful.’

Susan David and Christina Congleton. Boss magazine, Australian Financial Review, Dec to Jan 2014.



Exercise.

Recall one of your common unwanted thoughts. It might be a judgment of someone, or an insult you regularly give yourself. Any regular thought that nags you.
 Then say to yourself something like:
‘Ah! I notice that I’m having that thought again. That’s interesting.’

‘Oh, I’m being judgmental.’

‘What I just said was negative.’

‘I’m being self-critical yet again. That’s the hundredth time today!’ Incorrect. You are being self-critical. Leave aside the commentary. Try just:
‘I’m being self-critical.’

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