Thoughts – The Cosmos within.

On the television show “Cosmos”, Neil deGrasse Tyson takes us on a fantastic journey into faraway realms outside of solar system. Here, at Psych-hacker, we explore realms deep in the inner world of our psyche. Let’s begin by examining our thoughts. What precisely are thoughts? Where do they come from and why do the create so much pain for us?

Thoughts often seem like a fluffy bunch of mind-candy or endless chatter that keeps us occupied inside while we experience what is going on outside. It’s like having a running commentary interpreting everything that you see and experience as you move through your life. This ongoing chatter is the voice of the inner interpreter. While some thoughts seem harmless, they are always shaping our reality and interpreting our experiences for us. So, let’s not search the “Cosmos” today, we have more important work to do within. Instead, we will tap into the secret world of your psyche where you live and create your life.

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Many of us are thinking a lot these days. We are overstimulated by the information age and we live in a state of chronic anxiety striving to keep up with an endless flow of information – much of it low quality and irrelevant to our lives. News stories from around the globe, sensationalized tragedies and heartbreaking news events that are both titillating and, too often, pointless. Thousands of voices scream at us all day long and, as if that were note enough, there is the savage sucking sound of social media and countless other intrusions.

What are you thinking? No really, what are you thinking? Most of the time we are providing ourselves with an endless stream of horrors that fit our belief that the world is out of control, people suck and it’s every man or woman for themselves. Stressful? Not much really. I lie of course! The endless dangers of the world at large are magnified and the risks amplified and exaggerated. A mind on fear can be more destructive than a mind on anything else.

Have you ever feared your own mind more than the world at large? Are you less concerned with what others say than having to listen to a nagging, pessimistic mind that will endlessly replay your failures? Can you relate to this? When this happens you have become a prisoner of your own mind as your life begins to follow a narrowly scripted path dictated by fearful and limiting thoughts such as:

“Please don’t fail!” because if you do then I will BE a failure.”

“Please don’t fail! Because then everyone will SEE that I am a failure.”

“Actually, I already believe I’m a failure, so please don’t SHOW it!”

With a fear of, and a focus on failure, as a starting point, how can you ever hope to WIN?

Thoughts are indeed things. Whether you believe they can instantly manifest as some new age gurus espouse, one thing is true: Your thoughts precede your actions and your actions create your reality. Many of our thoughts are directed in that we are either thinking about the future or replaying the past. Thoughts come to us like an endless parade of mental billboards. I like to use the metaphor of clouds, so let’s play with this a bit. Thoughts are like clouds in many ways.

Big puffy white clouds often dot sunny blue skies even on the most glorious days. They drift across the sky moving quickly into and out of view just as some thoughts move into and out of our awareness. These clouds do not alter the day in anyway as the casually drift by, we notice them, but there is no impact.

Other clouds hint at and threaten rain dampening our spirits. They may never bring rain, but the mere threat causes us to alter our plans and to keep an eye on the sky. They erase our serenity keeping attention focused on the possibility of rain.

Still, other clouds are ominous warnings of impending storms. These clouds cause you to seek shelter and to hide helplessly hoping that they pass soon and without too much damage. Some actually bring storms – big storms – and we shiver when we see them and begin to fret over what might be coming. The more sinisiter clouds loom big and dark and we run from them or get caught up in their path. Once they have exploded their pent up energy they pass by leaving damage in their path. We all know those sinister thoughts, the outbursts they cause, the damage they do, the odd way we feel better after we have unleashed our fury on others. What were you thinking just before those clouds began to build?

These clouds, and the storms they create, feel so real that we never stop to question them and we are swept up into them. You can question your thoughts because unlike clouds they are generated in YOUR mind and live only in YOUR head. True, they can feel uncontrollable, real, truthful, as they arise unbidden from some swampy primordial part of our subconscious. These thoughts are generated by the beliefs you hold both conscious and unconscious.

The more unconscious the thought, the more dangerous and powerful it is because we cannot see a clear line between the thoughts and the hidden beliefs that generated it. This is because our operating system was programmed when we were young children unaware and unable to question what we were experiencing. Survival demanded that we adjust to the environment presented or possibly die. This is the beauty of the subconscious – it thinks faster than we consciously can and responds faster too; This can also be the danger of it too. As children, we are not able to know if our interpretations and thoughts were real – we felt fear and that was enough! The more fear that accompanied the insertion of the programming, the more tightly held the belief can be because deep fear creates trauma for our nervous system.

In short, most of us are operating our lives with programming we obtained as children. As adults, we can now question our thinking and find those thoughts that are not serving us in any way. Questioning a thought’s validity and value is the first step to reducing its hold on you. Changing beliefs often seems like impossible work, so I invite you to begin by questioning your thoughts. Take a few of your troublesome thoughts and begin looking at them and questioning them. Thoughts are either effective in that they help you or ineffective if they do not. Spend a little time look at your thoughts – Effective or ineffective?

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Self-Talk – Why the Hidden Conversation in Your Head Matters

Self-talk matters. What we say to ourselves influences our view of the world, the actions we take and the actions we don’t take, the quality of our relationships, whether we are happy or not, successful or not and so much more. We observe events. We interpret events.

We filter those events and process them through lenses known as our beliefs. Many of those beliefs came from others i.e. society, family and friends and many others. They also come from misinterpretations of experiences and events that happened a long time ago. Many are not logical and when scrutinized in the cold light of day (outside of your head)they do not hold up to logical reasoning and yet we let them become our reality. One reason for this is that many of our beliefs and interpretations were formed when we were very young. Our bodies may change and grow old, but sometimes our beliefs remain set in stone if we leave them unexamined. Too often we do not examine them even when they create havoc in our lives.

To summarize one more time: We observe events. We interpret and process events through our filters or beliefs. This is especially important since it creates our reality. Reality is highly subjective since each of us has beliefs that influence our interpretation of what happens to us and what we say to ourselves. The language we speak to ourselves is the most important of all as it constructs and reflects our reality.

Here is an example: Joe’s wife Penny tells him she is tired of him always leaving the toilet seat up at night. Penny says that every time she uses the potty at night, her posterior drops onto the cold hard porcelain. Penny has asked Joe many times not to leave the seat up, but Joe forgets. Penny believes that this is because Joe is an insensitive jerk and doesn’t listen to her or care that it upsets her. Joe is annoyed that Penny keeps finding fault with everything he does and sees her nagging as an attempt to control him. He will not allow anyone to do that. Penny and Joe are not speaking except in terse angry sound bites.

Observable Fact: Joe sometimes leaves the toilet seat up at night. He knows it bothers Penny, but he has trouble remembering when he’s half a sleep. (Self-talk: Joe wonders how he supposed to remember when he is half asleep. He wishes Penny were not such a nag.)

Observable Fact: Penny gets upset when Joe forgets and she receives a nasty middle of the night potty surprise. (Self-talk: Penny tells herself that Joe doesn’t care about her. Otherwise, he would not forget this and subject her to such discomfort.)

Observable Fact: Penny complains to Joe. (Self-talk – Penny tells herself if Joe really cared, he would make this effort, but he is an insensitive jerk. After all the things he has done for him, she tells herself, why can’t he do this small thing?)

Observable Fact: Joe rebuffs Penny’s complaint with anger and a few choice words. (Self-Talk – Feeling under attack, Joe tells himself it’s no big deal and Penny should put it down herself if it matters to her. She is not the boss of him and is always nagging him.)

Penny and Joe are at odds not so much because of the toilet seat, but because of their interpretation of events (including past events) and the meaning they have added to them. There is no conversation that is productive, just arguing and distance because each believes they have the facts. They are engaging in mindreading, projection and exaggeration. They use extreme words like every and always and never.

For Joe and Penny, reason has gone out the window and both are responding through highly charged emotional filters. The event itself is small; the interpretation each has made is big and can lead to the unraveling of a relationship. The events matter far less than what each party tells their self about the event. Penny believes that Joe does not care about her and if that is the case, she thinks to herself, she should leave him because she deserves better. Joe believes that Penny doesn’t think he can do anything right and secretly feels that he cannot. He tells himself that Penny is a hopeless nag and he would be better off finding someone else. If they split up, their future is predictable: Rinse, Lather, Repeat.

If each leaves the relationship without looking at the underlying dynamics, they will most likely jettison one partner for another and repeat the same sad pattern. Why? It is because the other person is not the problem, although we often shift the blame away from ourselves to support what we believe. When each minor conflict is processed through emotional filters both parties can avoid looking at the role they are playing in this drama.

I work with clients one on one and we work at separating facts from emotional fiction and unhelpful beliefs. This is how real sustainable change takes place. Several coaching slots are available for this important work. If you are interested in changing your self-defeating patterns, please contact me at psych-hacker.com for more information.