Have you ever walked out your door, noticed the rain and wind that awaits you and within a nano-second thought this:
“Oh great. Rain. Again. Why did I even bother with my hair? I’m going to be a mess, I’ll never make it to that meeting on time, the traffic is going to be horrible, my boss is going to be pissed, I could lose that deal! My shoes are going to be soaked. This is going to be a horrible day; I can tell already.”
The flow of thought that streams through our minds is endless. Whether we are awake or asleep our minds are active and telling stories, connecting dots, making sense of ourselves and our world. But they’re just thoughts. They are not necessarily true, and they do not fully define who we are. We are not our thoughts. We have thoughts.
Picture your thoughts as a cascading waterfall. You would not stand directly under a powerful waterfall because you would be pelted and feel obliterated by the pressure. Yet, we can sometimes end up doing just that, particularly if the thoughts are negative in tone. They feel familiar. We can ruminate, berate, and subject ourselves to a barrage of all kinds of punishing thoughts. This constant stream of commentary can drive negative moods and tension in the body.
A Mindfulness approach invites us to stand outside the waterfall of our thoughts and observe them, bringing kind awareness to the content without judgement. This act of slight separation allows us to witness our thoughts instead of getting lost in them and swept away. We still experience the mist, observe the intensity, and can choose how to approach what we see and experience.
We have a natural bias for negative thoughts. They serve to protect us. Neuropsychologist and meditation teacher, Rick Hanson, refers to this with the phrase, ‘Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.’ Our mindfulness practices can help us focus more on the thoughts that skillfully serve us, savor the positive experiences, and support our nervous system to provide a more healing state.
4 Approaches to a Healthier Relationship with Our Self-talk
- First, acknowledge where you are doing well in your life. Balance the inclination for negativity by giving yourself some credit for the areas where you see well-being and success. You could start with the fact that you got out of bed. For many people that is huge. Be intentional and know that it is not self-indulgent to notice your successes, large and small.
- Stay with those positive thoughts. Allow more supportive and positive thoughts to be stickier and stay with them a little longer than you might normally. It’s easy to dismissive but, stay with the positive thought experience. As a practice over time, you will rewire your brain in the process. Pretty cool.
- When noticing more negative thoughts or perceived failures, don’t dismiss or exaggerate them. We all have moments of doubt, negativity, failures, or what I call “the Dark Blue Velvet Funk”. Try not to make too much or too little of this. Continued berating or catastrophizing won’t help you. Neither will ignoring it. Don’t resist your awareness but also don’t slip into overwhelm. Sit with the awareness of your thoughts, feelings, sensations. Maybe allow a set time to visit with them. Befriend your experience. Say, ‘Thank you’ knowing your brain is trying to protect you,and ‘I got this’ for relief and confidence. Then give yourself a lift off.
- Speak words of encouragement to yourself. Be your own best friend. How would your best friend speak to you? Words of self-encouragement might sound like this:
- I think I’m going to be okay. But, if not, I’ll get support.
- This will pass.
- Take a breath and let’s look at this differently.
- What’s really bothering me? I’m going to look at that.
- I’m proud of myself for_________. That was tough.
- This is a difficult situation. I am doing a good job of making the best of it.
- I can see that I really care about _______.
- What would make me feel more refreshed? I’ll go do that.
- That was a great accomplishment. I’m going to celebrate!
- I love myself.
With practice, we can open that door on a rainy day and just say, ‘Okay, another rainy day. I’ll get my umbrella!”
You are not your body
You HAVE a body
You are not your thoughts
You HAVE thoughts
You are not your story
You HAVE a story
Reflection: How do I refer to myself when I’m in my own mind? Can I be more attentive to the narrative going on in my head? What adjustments might be helpful?
Lisa Wellington is a Certified Mindfulness Teacher who writes about integrative practices that downshift stress, increase insight, and jumpstart joy.
She is best known for her work with law enforcement professionals as well as those challenged by housing instability and addiction. Trained in the Fine Arts at Washington State University, she specializes in group training that engages participants’ inherent creativity.
If she is not under a stack of books about psychology and spirituality, she can be found at a Puget Sound beach or nearby trail, always searching for the absurd, which is her superpower.