“I am so worthless. I suck at everything, especially my job, relationships, keeping my car clean and letting my nail polish dry before I leave the house.”
Does this feel familiar? Your mind spewing at you an endless litany of ways you fall short in life? What can you do when this is happening?
Descartes, famous philosopher, is known for his statement: “I think, therefore I am.” Regardless of Descartes original meaning, this famous quote highlights the underlying message in our society: we’ve been conditioned to believe that our thoughts make us who we are.
I would alter the quote to say:
“I think, therefore I am…probably distracted with all of my thoughts and missing out on the present moment.”
Our thoughts can be our greatest ally or our biggest enemy. Our thoughts create and shape our perception of reality. Given our upbringing, brain chemistry, disposition, worldview, and a endless variety of factors, the majority of our thoughts may be naturally predisposed towards negative thinking, positive thinking, or a mix of both. My belief is we may be naturally disposed to negative thinking (it’s how we survived as a species) and positive thinking takes effort. However, changing your thinking is just like a muscle; once you start to use it and strengthen it, it gets easier and more natural.
The first thing you have to do is pay attention to your thoughts (through journaling, meditation, etc.) and start to externalize them. Externalizing your thoughts means learning to view your thoughts or mind activity as something separate from you as a person/soul/essence. You have to start to see your thoughts as fiction, not fact.
Let’s go back to the statement at the beginning. How would you start to externalize those thoughts?
“My brain is telling me that I am worthless. My mind is making up a story that I suck at everything.”
This shift in wording separates you from the negative thoughts your brain/mind are having. You are not telling yourself these deprecating things, it’s your brain! You can use any phrase or name to describe your brain, such as: the mental spewing machine, shame monster, brain blob, gertrude, or S/He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Believed. Anything that can separate your mind’s content from you.
Once you have started to pay attention to your thoughts and view them as a separate entity from yourself, here are three tools to put your brain in its place.
Tool #1: Where’s The Evidence?
This is a great tool used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to look closer at negative thoughts and see if there is truth in the statement in order to bring more wisdom and balanced thinking.
For example, your brain/mind may say to you: “I can never seem to stay out of workplace drama. I’m always just in the center of it. No one likes me. I suck.”
Is this 100% true? I mean, is this go-in-front-of-a-grand-jury-and-raise-my-right-hand kind of true? Can you think of ONE time that you weren’t involved in some workplace drama? Can you think of one person in the entire world that enjoys you?
Once you have questioned the evidence and see where your thinking may be off, it’s important to update or recreate your thought with a more balanced and accurate statement. This next step is crucial.
Updated Thought: “I feel like I tend to be the focus on workplace drama. While I have been somewhat involved in workplace gossip in the past, this isn’t 100% true. There was one time Elena was the focus because of her relationship with her supervisor. It’s not true no one likes me because I have several friends and, actually, Paige just texted me to see if I have plans this weekend. ”
Your thoughts may feel true to you, but they may not be true. You can validate the emotion (it feels like you are the focus of workplace gossip, it feels like you don’t have friendships), and also recognize your thoughts are not accurate. (PsychHack: When our emotional state feels like it is our hard-core truth, this is called emotional reasoning.)
Tool #2: Wise Mind
Let’s start with my skillfully drawn diagram below to get a visual on this concept.
Logical Mind or Rational Mind is the cool, analytical, calculating voice in our head which focuses on facts, numbers, concrete details. Emotional Mind is the feisty, headstrong, easily triggered/angered/saddened voice driven by pure emotion. Each mind carries valuable information. They are our head and heart. We can’t move through the world without both of them. However, sometimes we can get stuck in one mind more than the other.
Wise Mind (a concept developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan) integrates the information from both the head (Logical Mind) and the heart (Emotional Mind) and produces a more grounded and balanced viewpoint or thought process. Some describe Wise Mind as ‘intuition’ or ‘deep knowing’.
Using Wise Mind: An Example
Situation: You are reprimanded at work for an honest mistake.
- Emotional Mind may say:
- That’s it! I quit! I’m tried of being unappreciated! I’m going to give my boss a piece of my mind! I don’t care what happens!
- Logical Mind may say:
- I need a job. I have bills to pay. I have to make this work. I have to follow the rules and the hierarchy of this business.
- Wise Mind may say:
- Wow, I’m really angry about this. I’m going to give myself some time to cool down and reflect before I talk my boss. I can always go home and think about things tonight and see if I can explain to my boss how it was an honest mistake.
- Perhaps this isn’t the best job for me, but I’m going to go home and talk to my partner and weight the options of looking for another job.
- I feel really misunderstood. I’m going to reach out to a friend for support as opposed to taking it out on my boss and possibly getting in deeper trouble.
Tool #3: Do One Thing
Sometimes the best way to put our brain in its place is not trying to out-think it, but to out DO it. Another good CBT standby is the tool of doing one thing–just one–that could help improve your mood or environment. You can’t just think your way out of things, there is a point where your actions (or behavior) can have a large impact on your mood and must be utilized, too.
For myself, my ‘Do One Thing’ is usually chore related. If I have a sink of dirty dishes, it will make or break my mood. Sometimes just taking out the trash makes me feel like a champion. But it doesn’t have to be cleaning. It can be taking a drive, going to the store, creating your grocery list for the week, taking your dog (or cat, rabbit, ferret) for a walk. Just ONE thing to give your mind a little umph of “Heck ya, I AM in control of my life. Take that, brain!”
Take Care of Yo’ Self!
Have you ever tried to use Wise Mind when you are really hungry? What about when you’re running on 4 hours of sleep? If you are not doing the basic things you need to keep yourself feeling well, you’re going to have a super hard time putting your brain in its place.
You know what I’m talking about. Eat regularly, get some sunshine, see friends and loved ones face to face, do things you enjoy, wash your hands, sleep without your phone under your pillow, and leave the office at a reasonable hour.
The better you take care of yourself, the less vulnerable you will be to the negative thoughts that can completely hijack your mindscape.
Remember, you may not be able to completely control all the endless, pointless jibber jabber going through your mind, but you can start to develop the skills needed to quiet the chatter and feel more in control of how you respond to your thoughts.
What is one thing you can do right now to improve your mood or surroundings?
We all need help putting our brain in its place. I can help! Call 720-772-7413 for a free 30 min consultation to see if we are a good fit. Learn more about me here.
Arianna Smith, MA, LPC