This article was published first in: Verlorene Gedanken, No. 5/2018
I decide what I think
It’s not exactly revolutionary news that our mindset plays an important role in our life. Whether it’s coaches working with professional athletes – winning starts in your mind, right? or handwritten postcards, fridge magnets or Instagram posts: we are constantly reminded to think positively and work on our mindset. It sounds pretty logical, too. I suspect though that if it was easy to live our lives accordingly, we’d probably all go through life with more happiness and ease. So, what makes it so difficult to translate what sounds pretty simple and makes so much sense into our everyday life? This is what my article is about and also how we can make it simplER (if not simple) at least.
“You are not your thoughts.”
It is quite a few years ago now that I came across this statement in a management training. To be honest, at first I couldn’t make any sense of it. I seemed to experience the exact opposite in my own life: I defined myself by what and how I thought. My thoughts about myself and the world made me who I was. Or so I thought.
When I eventually discovered the meaning behind the words, it felt as if a heavy veil had lifted and my whole perspective changed. What helped me to get to that revelation, amongst other things, were these two coaching sessions:
By Karen Schlaegel, Rosenheim - 2018 / 10 / 15
"When I eventually discovered the meaning behind the words 'You are not your thoughts', it felt as if a heavy veil had lifted and my whole perspective changed."
During my first session with a business coach we talked about communication and how people come across. I mentioned a colleague of mine and said something along the lines of: A always does XYZ to impress the boss. My coach smiled and asked: How do you know?
I still remember how I felt at that moment. I was angry. How I knew that? Well, anyone with a bit of common sense could see that! Her motives were so see-through. Having said, mixed in with my outrage at that very sensible question, was shame. Then even in my moment of rage, I could see that he had made a very valid point. As much as I try to convince myself otherwise, I couldn’t and still can’t read people’s minds.
His question has become a constant companion ever since. It reminds that I actually NEVER know what is going on in other people’s heads, no matter how well I (think I) know somebody. Without a doubt, my assumptions are sometimes also true, but I never know for sure. Even what people tell me is filtered after all.
During the coaching session, I realized that I assumed that I was largely invisible to people. It turned out that these beliefs originated in my childhood. Which even then was about a decade in the past but still – and despite lots of contrary experiences since – unconsciously impacted me.
"I was totally taken aback. Not only had I gone into the interview thinking I was under-qualified, more importantly though I did not view myself as somebody who'd impress a whole group of people in such a short amount of time."
I had the second Eureka moment during a coaching session a few months after the above conversation. I had just gotten a job offer. I had basically been headhunted and been presented with the ready-to-sign contract right at the end of the interview. I was totally taken aback. Not only had I gone into the interview thinking I was under-qualified, more importantly though I did not view myself as somebody who’d impress a whole group of people in such a short amount of time.
It would be much more effective and would have more lasting results, if we identified the roots of it all and updated our inner belief system.
What can help along the way:
Becoming aware of our thought patterns and beliefs
Which assumptions and beliefs form the foundation of your thought and behavioural patterns? A good indication to dig deeper is whenever we have a gut feeling, when something feels off. It’s not about dwelling on these feelings of discomfort but about analyzing them instead of trying to suppress them. What exactly is at the root of it? Needless to say that it helps to be absolutely honest with yourself. It can be uncomfortable or even painful having to admit to ourselves that we feel envy, jealousy, insecurity and self-doubt. It is of course also human! Once we have unearthed the belief, we often see that in broad daylight, that belief is simply not “true”, even if it keeps reappearing. That’s when the credo “I am not my thoughts” takes effect.
Once we have pinned down our beliefs, we can then ask us whether they are still useful or whether they are actually blocking us. What a relief that we no longer have to identify with all our thoughts! Now we can ask ourselves what we want instead. At this point, I often have people tell me that “I am just like that. I’ve always been like that. I cannot change.“ Well, you will have spotted the belief system behind those statements, I am sure! Change isn’t necessarily easy but it is possible. Not always instantly but with time and effort, we can most certainly change ourselves.
Aus der Rubrik: wie gehts leichter?
While it might not be simple, we can make this transformation a whole lot easier and more joyful for us by showing ourselves self-compassion. After all, our brain is used to thinking those old thoughts. Over the years, they have become well built highways. The new thoughts are like unknown and slightly rocky country lanes in comparison. The temptation to turn back onto the highway that we already know well and that is easy to drive on, can get the better of us. And that’s ok and no reason to give up all together. At every point of our life we get to make a choice. And with every time we choose to discard an old belief, it becomes easier to build a new one. Practice makes perfect! Nowadays, when I catch myself acting on one of my old, unhelpful and outdated beliefs, it usually makes me smile. Been there and done that before. But I also know a different way now. And what was initially completely unknown, is already a bit more familiar and less scary and more doable.
As Life Coach Karen supports people in becoming aware of the beliefs that dominate their thoughts and behaviors and helps with changing them. Her own path has been very varied so far. After her European Business studies, she started a career in Event Management, lived in the UK, France and Italy before moving to Bavaria. Her experience of leading teams as executive manager, her training in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and Positive Psychology as well as her own experiences working with coaches, are all part of her work with coaching clients.
She also loves writing. Recently her article ”8 things I learned from watching my Mum die“ got published on the internationally renowned Tiny Buddha website. For more information visit her website or follow her Instagram account.
“You are not your thoughts. “
Even when the described learning process sometimes feels exhausting and like hard work, I perceive it as a huge relief to even just know that I really can decide what I think and more importantly, which of my thoughts I want to believe! Those of you who know meditation, are probably familiar with the invitation to let your thoughts pass by like clouds. We might not be able to avoid thinking certain thoughts, but we always have the choice which thoughts to focus on and which we let pass by.
Have fun exploring your belief system and experimenting with new thought patterns!
Most of our beliefs are created during our childhood. At the time, when they come into being, they represent the best possible way to deal with a situation. They often serve a purpose, such as explaining why things are the way they are and they help us navigate and deal with the unpredictability and uncertainty of life. But what made sense and was helpful at one point, very often changes over time. The more skills and experiences we gain we simply have more options to choose from. As most of our beliefs live in our sub-conscious though, they often control our thoughts and behaviours without us being aware of them.
"We come to believe something as true (such as 'I am invisible.') and that influences how we think and act in the here and now."
We come to believe something as true (such as “I am invisible.”) and that influences how we think and act in the here and now. And because this belief has been with us for so long, we don’t even question it anymore. We might sometimes change our behaviour when we realize that our learned behaviour is no longer getting us good results.