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Jul 18, 2022

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Why You Are Not Your Thoughts


You are not your thoughts.  I’m sure you’ve heard that before. 


Sounds great right?  


But what does it really mean?


It’s another of those things that becomes ‘buzzy’ to the point that people ignore it.


This one is REALLY not to be ignored.


When you really, truly grasp this concept some pretty huge things happen. 


That nasty little voice that’s been talking to you your whole life starts to get strangely quiet.


You’re less judgy of yourself.


You’re less judgy of others. 


You’re able to respond instead of react.


You understand yourself at a deep level.


You understand your behaviour.


You find self compassion and confidence. 


It will reduce your stress, especially overwhelm and anxiety.


So I thought it might be worth digging into with you today.


So what does ‘you are not your thoughts’ really mean then? 


First we need to understand that our thoughts lead to our feelings, our feelings drive our behaviour and then our actions create our results.


So it’s easy to see how easily we believe our thoughts.  Because we create self fulfilling prophecies all the time through this very loop. When we do that we take it as proof and evidence that the original thought was indeed correct. 


So if we think something negative about ourselves, that will create feelings and emotions.  Perhaps apathy, disgust, frustration, shame. 


Then THIS is the place that we’re taking action from. 


So if you’re coming from a place where all this negative stuff is true about yourself, what might you do?


Perhaps not take an opportunity that’s right in front of you or go after that thing you really want, because what would be the point anyway, right?


Then what happens?


The results are, you don’t get the thing!


And of course that then proves the original thought ‘right’ and ‘true’.


Then rinse and repeat over decades and take it on as your identity.


We apparently have approximately 60,000 thoughts per day, most of which are negative in some way.  And repetitive. 


So we’re just constantly playing these loops and accepting them as truth about who we are.


But, here’s the thing…You do not have to believe your thoughts.


You can also argue back to your thoughts and your ego. But only once you observe them and realise that YOU are the one observing them.


Your thoughts drive your behaviour.  Your brain and your nervous system always want to keep you alive. So, what if I told you that not only do your thoughts create the emotions that drive your behaviour by sending the signals to your body to release certain neuro chemicals. But that also, your nervous system will create your thoughts. You often FEEL things before you think them.


Think about it (see what I did there!), if the aim of the game is to keep you safe and keep you simply repeating behaviours you’ve already rehearsed and repeated as safe then why would it not send thoughts like ‘who do you think you are to do this?’ or ‘You’re not good enough’.  Because what actions would those kinds of thoughts lead to? 


You not doing the thing, right??  


Getting you back into the rehearsed and repeated familiar. 


Which is exactly what will keep you alive according to your brain and nervous system.


It’s not about good, bad, right or wrong for you.  There isn’t a moral compass outside of keeping you alive. 


When you can recognise what they are there for. Your own safety.  However missguided.  It can help you zoom out from those thoughts and not get consumed by them.  Realise it’s just a habitual thought. 


You might even eventually be able to find them funny in their ridiculousness.


But in the same way that we allow our negative thoughts to take over our lives, think about the power to do that with the positive ones?


Not denying the negative and toxic positivity-ing yourself. But allowing you to actually question and decide which ones you take on for yourself. 


You are not your thoughts.  You are the person listening to your thoughts. What if you gave yourself that little extra degree of separation?This is something that practicing mindfulness really helps us to do.


A really helpful exercise to help create this separation of you from your thoughts is stream of consciousness journaling. 


You can do this morning, evening, or both, or even just when you need to ‘get out of your head’ for a minute. Grab your journal and write down each thought as it comes up. It will look bizarre. Something like ‘I want a cup of tea. Oooh my leg itches. I wonder who first decided to milk a cow. I can’t see, where are my glasses. I have to speak to X person today. What shall I have for lunch?’ you get the idea. 


You’ll have a lot of gobbledegook but you also might find some nuggets in there that could be a clue as to why you might be feeling a certain way.  You can also then see it for what it is and then combat against it with conscious, rational thinking, getting you out of auto pilot. 


Another exercise is to ask yourself, what could be the highest positive intention of this thought?  Again, it’s getting you to start to deal in truth and reality.  Is it an unconscious protection mechanism?  What happens if you believe or obey the thought and what happens if you don’t?


It’s always your version of reality. Not reality itself.  This is why self awareness is so, so key to making any changes in life.  


So much of this is learning to be more conscious. When you’re more conscious you’re using your prefrontal cortex.  The CEO of your brain.  This is where conscious, rational thinking, choice and decision making live and this is where you get to challenge and change your thoughts. It’s about getting off of autopilot.  Then you consciously repeat the thoughts and rehearse the beliefs you do want and wire them into autopilot. 


This is why Notice is the first step in my NICER framework for lasting change. You have to notice the thoughts instead of BEING the thoughts or being consumed by them. 


This is how I totally changed my life. Conscious intention. Noticing my thoughts instead of BEING my thoughts.  Rinse and repeat.


Practicing being present and in the now. Most of our thoughts tend to be about the past or the future, right?  So what if they were just about where you are right in this moment. Can you see how that could make a difference?


Thoughts are not you, they are something you experience.  They are also symptoms or clues for something else that can be changed to serve you better. 


You are not your thoughts.  You are the observer of your thoughts. You are also more in control of them than you believe.