A Thought Is A Thought

Immutable Laws Of Living Series

A thought is a thought.  Just a thought.  Not reality.  Just a thought.  YOU choose what to do with it.Pretty much all day, you are thinking.  That is built into our design.  We think, ponder, consider, worry over, dream about, and pretty much run everything through our thoughts.

That isn’t really a problem.  Except when we forget we are thinking.

When we forget we are thinking, we confuse those thoughts with reality.  And we start responding to reality from the basis of our thoughts — which are always at least a little faulty.

When we forget we are thinking, we assume that what pops in our head is reality and must be pondered.  So, we think and think, stirring thoughts into anxiety.  Then, we assume that, too, is true.

You can’t stop the thinking.  You can recognize a thought is a thought.

Listen below and let me know what you think!

Immutable Laws Of Living Series:
Life Isn’t Fair
Life Has Challenges
Life Isn’t About Happiness

Your Mind & Thriving: Thriveology Podcast Episode 3

If your brain is the hardware, what is the software?  Your mind.  And your mind does one thing:  it creates thoughts.  Some thoughts are helpful and some are useless.  That is just what a mind does.

And that is not a problem. . . unless you forget this.

You can thrive MORE with just a little more understanding of your mind and your thoughts.  Discover how to deal with those pesky thoughts and how to use your emotions as a barometer to your thriving.

Your thoughts. . . are they helping you to thrive or are they keeping you stuck?

Rule 8: Ask “What’s The BEST That Can Happen?”

In the last rule, I proposed that the question “what’s the worst that could happen?” can be a useful “reality check” when fear grabs and limits you.  This rule goes from the opposite end.

My wife brought this question to my attention, and even if I tease her (when my son said he was nervous about a basketball game, my wife asked this question, “what’s the best that could happen?”, I suggested that my 12 year old son could be spotted by an NBA scout and called up!), she is right.

Too often, we get caught in the fear and dread.  And while asking “what’s the worst that can happen?” helps us stay in reality, it can also keep us on the down side of a situation.

What about the upside, the opportunity?  The question “what’s the best that can happen?” brings the upside into perspective.  It provides an openness to possibility.bungy-jump

For example, you are thinking of that bungee jump.  Your fear grips you, and you find yourself unable to step up to the edge and take a leap.  So, you ask, “what’s the worst that could happen?”  The outfitters have only stellar reviews, the cord is in good shape, the harness is secure.  Given the safety record, it is safe to say the worst would be a little soreness tomorrow from the swing.

Still, you find yourself rooted in place, unable to command your feet to move.  Now ask “what’s the best that could happen?”  And you find you might just prove to yourself that you can tackle your fear of heights.  You can get a huge adrenaline rush.  You get a t-shirt.  You get to jump off a bridge with no injury!  Now, we are into possibilities.

In the previous rule, we talked about speaking in public, given how high this fear ranks.  So, let’s take a look at that one.  You have already established the worst that could happen, and you know you will not die giving the talk.

Now, what is the best that could happen?  Perhaps you could make a difference for the organization?  Maybe someone will see you give the talk, be impressed by your willingness, and give you even more opportunities.  Or at a minimum, the best would be you face your fear, do the talk, and walk away more confident.

So use this question to balance the fear.  It helps us to both test our reality (risk assessment in Rule 7), and think about opportunity.

Rule 5: We All Have Some Basic Fears

We share fear with every living creature. The difference is that we are able to add emotion and thought to the feelings. Sure, some animals are capable of emotions –anger in particular. But as far as we know, no other animal reflects on their fears.

Because we are thinking creatures, we take a fear and weave it into a story about ourselves. And this leads us to some basic fears. These fears rotate around the following:
1) Not having enough.
2) Not being good enough.
3) Not being loved enough.

Not Having Enough

One of our most basic fears is that of not having enough. Unfortunately, this is a fear that afflicts almost everyone, regardless of how much he or she actually has. In fact, some of those suffering the strongest pull of this fear are those with plenty. In fact, this fear is very creative. We often believe it is only about money. It is not. It is having enough of anything: friends, time, toys, health, you name it!

This fear drives in us a need to find more and more. For some, this is the root cause of tendencies to hoard. We look at people in the news whose homes are stacked from floor to ceiling with junk, trash, magazines, whatever. But we fail to notice our own ways of hoarding –hiding money in accounts or under beds, having friends that we never contact and don’t really have anything in common with, gadgets that don’t meet our needs yet lure us to buy them. We hoard rolls of tissue paper, as if there will never be more, or at least more on sale! We move to bigger and bigger homes to hold more and more of our stuff.

We are predisposed to want to hold onto things. In fact, just look at the design of our bodies. The vast majority find it very easy to gain weight, to have our fat cells accumulate the extra calories. But we find our bodies very resistant to letting the weight go. Even at a cellular level, we end up hoarding!

Our bodies have lived through times of feast and times of famine. Those able to efficiently hold onto those extra calories got to pass on their genes. Bodies quickly burning through the available supply perished.

But it is our fear of not having enough that leaves us scrambling through daily life, so close to our work that we miss the destruction of this drive. Few people arrive at the end of their lives with regret for time they took in leisure. But many bemoan the lost time spent in work propelled by fear.

Many would argue that perhaps it is this very fear that has led us to great successes. And in many ways, they would be correct. It is another bit of irony that humans are much better at running away from something than running toward something. In other words, we are often more motivated by fear than by a goal.

It is also unfortunate, then, that this fear extracts a heavy toll on the individual. In some sense, it is society that profits from the motivation of fear, but at the expense of the individual. Look at it in a corporate sense. The bottom line of a corporation is often directly related to the degree of effort exerted by the individuals in that corporation. If fear is nipping at the heels of these individuals, more effort is exerted. This effort pays off for the company, but rarely for the individual. The reward for extra effort and extra time spent at work? Often, it is more responsibility, more stress, and more time required.

The individual is not benefitting in the same way the corporation does. In fact, the cost can be rather heavy. Our bodies are designed to live with stress for short periods of time –not for entire careers! In the short term, stress creates a readiness in the body for that flight/fight response. But in the long term, our bodies begin to break down when exposed to a constant level of stress. High blood pressure, diabetes, even cancer all have been attributed as outcomes to stress.

As is often the case, sometimes a fear has a basis in reality. Perhaps there really is a shortage, that there really isn’t enough. But sometimes a fear is irrational. It is not a reflection of reality. We come to believe there is not enough, but that exists only within the paradigm we weave within our mind.

Not Being Good Enough

Our second basic fear is not being good enough.

This fear is one of comparison, competition. We tend to judge ourselves against another standard. This standard is often a comparison between what we “know” about ourselves and what we “believe” about the other. In other words, we end up comparing all the negative stuff we think true about ourselves to the positive image others portray to us (and we portray to them). We end up seeing “the yuck” of our own lives, but fail to see it in the other.

When this is the case, there is no way for us to measure up. I know my internal world, but not that of the person I use for comparison. So all my faults end up being placed against only the strengths of the other.

Our fear of not being good enough, in evolutionary terms, is the reality of the survival of the fittest. If I am not good enough, I will not get the resources I need (or mate I need) to continue my (and my genes’) survival.

Here’s the problem: all living organisms are in this struggle. But day to day, moment to moment, only humans seem capable of making themselves miserable over this. It is merely a long-term question for other organisms. We humans, on the other hand, constantly underestimate our individual selves (while overestimating ourselves as a species).

Not Being Loved Enough

We humans really are “pack animals.”  We need connection.  We seek community.  Studies show that when people do not experience enough affection and love as infants and children, their long-term development is negatively impacted.  In other words, when we don’t get enough love, we suffer.  That need never goes away.

In fact, one of the highest ranking determinants of life satisfaction is having loving relationships.  That may not be a spouse or partner, but we all have the need to feel a sense of belonging.  Friends and family may fulfill that role, or it may be a spouse or partner.  Notice how we build communities with clubs, churches, social organizations, informal gatherings, even lunch groups at work.

So this fear of not being loved enough strikes deeply within us.  It is a fear that this basic need to be a part of a group, to feel accepted and loved, will not happen.  This is the fear that has us worried about our relationships, our love life, what people think of us, and influences how we interact with people.  The stronger this fear, the harder we work to not be rejected.  Sometimes this ends up being a very needy approach to relationships.  Sometimes this ends up being an act of not needing anyone.  If you know people who reject others before they are rejected, that person is as much caught up in this fear as someone who will do anything to maintain a relationship.

The Basic Fears Just Are

In other words, we all have those basic fears.  Most of us have one of these fears that is more potent than the others. If you take these three categories, begin to look at those thoughts that break you into a cold sweat or wake you up in the middle of the night.  Which category does that fear fall into?

Just being able to name the category is not going to end the fear.  It really is like anything else, though.  Once we expose it to daylight, it often loses its power.  Once we realize what is filling our sails, we may not be able to stop the wind, but we can learn to steer with it.  The fear may always be your basic fear, but knowing that allows you to avoid being run by it.

Rule 2: Recognize a Thought is a Thought

The second rule ties directly into the first rule.  In fact, it is probably step 1 in watching our mind.  What is going on in our mind?  Thoughts.  What trips us up?  Thoughts.

The problem is not the thoughts.  The problem is that we don’t recognize they are just thoughts.  Thoughts are merely constructs of our mind.  And it is not that a thought is right or wrong, good or bad.  I would prefer to ask the question of whether it is helpful or unhelpful.

First, let’s challenge the Right/Wrong illusion.  Our thoughts are our interpretation of reality.  They are not reality.  As has been said by others, the map is not the road.  The map is a representation of the road.   A specific type of map leaves off details.  Another map is based on those same details.  The details are information, and we either process or ignore information every second (millisecond) of every day.

We get caught up in believing that we “see things for what they are,” but we don’t.  Wayne Dyer titled a book “you will see it when you believe it.”  That is the truth.  Our thoughts are woven by our beliefs, not by reality.  How often have you been completely convinced that you were right about something, only to get some more details that helped you see you were wrong?

Again, thoughts only have the possibility of being partial reflections of reality.

How about Good/Bad Thoughts?  Well, we all have thoughts we are not proud of.  That, again, is the nature of the mind, and probably a good reason to not want to read someone else’s mind!  It would be one loud, ugly, noisy place!  Thoughts are just thoughts.

And that is the realization here.  We can get caught up in a thought so much that we continue to find ourselves pulled away from experiencing life.  We become spectators through our thoughts.  And when we forget it is a thought, we start acting in ways that represent a thought.

Let’s take a quick example.  Let’s say I walk into my boss’s office for a meeting.  I see him reading my report with an expression I view as critical or angry.  I think “he didn’t like my work.”  This leads to thinking “what if he fires me?  What then?  How will I explain it to my wife?  How will we cover the bills?”  Within a few seconds, I have woven a story about how worthless my work is, then how worthless I am, then the fact that I am soon to be homeless.

Too bad I didn’t notice that my boss forgot his reading glasses today, and going over some spreadsheets has already given him a headache, so he is doing all he can to concentrate on the excellent report he is reading!  Too bad!

Too bad, because I begin to talk with him from my assumption that he doesn’t like my work. I begin to excuse my poor writing, my lack of ideas, my lack of creativity.  Then my boss pauses and looks up at me.  He is still thinking about my great idea, but can’t process it because I just told him it was terrible.  His thoughts start rolling.  Then, we are both caught in our own thoughts, no longer relating to each other.

Now rewind it.  What if I had walked into his office, saw the same expression, and had the first thought.  But when I noticed my stomach knotting up, I asked myself what I was thinking about, realized I was writing a story in my mind, and chose to realize a thought is just a thought?  I wait for him to tell me what he is thinking.  I wait for reality to continue.

That story ends very differently.  And the difference is merely because I recognized that a thought is just a thought.  It may be correct, but it may not be.  Either way, it is still just a thought.