by Kathy Zering
What were you thinking?!
I remember that question being posed in a negative, judgmental or even joking way a lot in my childhood. Initially it was on TV show I watched where the main character did something to cause a big problem, like put a whole container of detergent into the washing machine and comes back a little while later to find a floor full of soap bubbles with more pouring out of the machine. And then her friend asks “what were you thinking?”
These days, I ask myself that question with a much different intention behind it. Not judging, or joking, but more from a curious place.
What was I thinking that led me to this problem, this poor result, or this frustrated feeling? It’s a great question to ask yourself, especially when working through challenging times.
For example, this morning as I stepped out of the shower I coughed and immediately winced in pain, as the muscle from my shoulder to my neck went into a painful spasm. The kind where you can’t turn your neck to see behind you without screaming in pain. This area had bothered me in the past, but not to this extreme.
As soon as it happened, as I worried about how this was going to disrupt my plans for today, I asked myself “what were you thinking” right before the cough. I’m moving to a new home in a few weeks, and was looking at the cabinet and thinking about all the things that have to get packed, and getting a bit stressed about it. Then the cough, then the pain: I interpreted it to be my body’s way of telling me to stop worrying about the future move, stay present and focused on today.
How our minds work
You see, our minds work in a particular way. It’s estimated that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day which averages to 49 thoughts per minute, according to the Lab of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California.
Thoughts are your natural response to a situation or circumstance. As the human body encounters sensory data (what it sees, hears, etc.), your brain naturally attempts to make sense of this sensory data and the mind turns these signals into thoughts.
In other words, we experience something and immediately our brain attaches a thought to it. You walk into a room and think “hmm, it’s cold in here”.
There are so many thoughts throughout the day that we can’t pay attention to them all, but it’s important that you start because our thoughts create our emotions or feelings. It happens so quickly that sometimes we think the emotion caused the thought, but the thoughts come first. Sticking with the earlier cold room example, after thinking “hmm, it’s cold in here”, you start to feel uncomfortable and a little disappointed. You don’t like being cold.
Next comes how we behave, or act, based on this emotion or feeling. Again, you’re in a cold room, feeling uncomfortable, and now you go find a blanket or jacket to put on, and turn the heat up.
And that action you took gives your desired result: you begin to feel warmer, and happy that you’re no longer cold.
What you think directly influences how you feel and how you behave.
Negative self-talk and limiting beliefs
This same process can work in an unhelpful way too. If you’re struggling in a particular area of your life, it could be your thoughts that are keeping you in that struggle.
Sometimes you may not even be consciously aware of these thoughts. When I work with coaching clients, it’s very easy for me to hear these types of repetitive, unhelpful thoughts come up as my client is speaking.
It could be something as simple saying the words “should” or “try” a lot. “I should start meditating every day then I’ll feel better”, or “I’ve been so drained lately, I’ll try to get to bed early this week”.
How do you feel after saying those sentences? Confident, enthusiastic, eager to feel better? Not so much.
Compare that with “I will start mediating” or “I am going to get to bed early this week” – big difference in not only tone and energy behind the words you choose, but the feelings they elicit (confident, enthusiastic, eager, positive) and the results you’ll get.
Using weak words that don’t produce the emotions and feelings you’re seeking is setting yourself up to fail and come up short of your desired results.
Limiting beliefs are repetitive thoughts you’ve had that have become truth for you; they’re part of your belief system, and now they’re limiting you in some way.
For example, you could have a limiting belief from something you heard in childhood from a parent, like “all rich people are corrupt and evil”.
So now, when you achieve some financial success, earn more money and start to build some wealth, you spend it very quickly or lose it through a bad investment. You seem to have a pattern of struggling with building and sustaining wealth, and that can be traced back to this limiting belief.
Money, and your relationship with it, is a key issue for many people and many times we have these limiting beliefs keeping us stuck.
Another one is relationships. Maybe you’ve had the experience of getting really close to someone and then they disappoint you or they leave you.
Now you may have a thought that runs through your mind “I better not get to close to him, he’s just going to leave me anyway and I don’t want to get hurt.” And then you find yourself unable to have the close relationships you want to experience.
Here are other examples of limiting beliefs. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
- “I’m not good enough.”
- “I never have any luck.”
- “I have to work really hard to be successful.“
- “Work can’t be fun.”
- “I’m too old” or “I’m too young.“
- “I’m not good at ____________. “
- “I can’t afford that.”
Harness the power of your thoughts: become aware
The first step in harnessing the power of your thoughts is to become aware of what they are.
If you work with a coach, you can ask her to pay attention to any limiting or negative beliefs or repetitive language you use. Sometimes we don’t hear ourselves until someone points it out to us, and that awareness alone can begin to elicit change.
Like in my muscle spasm story above, you can become more aware by asking yourself “what were you thinking?” right when a problem, issue or negative feeling arises.
Pay attention to your feelings and emotions and how they may showing up in your body before you act. Does your chest or jaw get tight when you perceive someone is treating you unfairly? Does your stomach hurt when you worry about an upcoming work deadline?
Harness the power of your thoughts: challenge and change your thoughts
Once aware of your thoughts and of the signals your body gives you, those emotions and feelings, you’re in a position to challenge and change these thoughts for better results.
For example, if you consider yourself too scared to step outside of your comfort zone, force yourself to do something that feels a little uncomfortable. Or, if you think you’re not good enough or don’t deserve to have success, do something that helps you to feel worthy.
Additionally, recondition your mind with thoughts and beliefs that are empowering, that serve you, and that get you closer to what you really want in your life.
Let’s say you’ve decided to stop eating sugar for health reasons. It’s not so bad after you get through the first few days of withdrawals. But after a few weeks of feeling full of energy and proud of sticking to no sugar, you don’t feel well, maybe you’re catching a cold, and a thought goes through your head as you spot what used to be your favorite cookies in the grocery store, “if I eat this cookie I’ll feel better”.
Logically you know this isn’t true, but the thought and urge are strong. Maybe your Mom would give you a cookie if you hurt yourself as a child, to make you feel better. But it doesn’t really matter what happened in the past, just stay in the present.
You now have a choice to make, and it’s always about what you choose to believe and then what you choose to do. You’re responsible and in charge.
You can change that thought to “if I eat this cookie, I’ll feel even worse” or “if I have some nice hot tea with lemon I’ll feel better and recover more quickly” or for more emotion, “sugar is poison to my body, I’d rather nurture my body and start feeling better another way”. Think about how you’ll feel too: bringing strong emotions and feelings into these thoughts will empower you.
Harness the power of your thoughts & recondition your mind
Your mind is very powerful. If you’re like most people, you probably spend very little time reflecting on the way you think.
But negative thoughts that you don’t challenge and change can have damaging effects to your wellbeing and prevent you from ever achieving your full potential in life.
It all comes down to being aware of your thoughts, deciding what you’re going to choose to believe about those thoughts (is it serving me or not?), and changing any limiting thoughts and beliefs to ones that benefit you.
Making the conscious decision to harness the power of your thoughts and recondition your mind with empowering thoughts and beliefs is key to your success.
Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash
by Kathy Zering
Feeling a bit out of control these days, like most working professionals? Whether it’s work or personal stuff, the fast pace and demanding times we live in now can make life seem overwhelming.
Taking back control with simple, consistent steps can get you feeling better quickly: calmer, less stressed and more empowered.
The key is doing something each day for lasting results. Keep reading to learn how to use these strategies for your highest benefit.
The strategies are about getting organized using a two pronged approach: organized from the inside out, and organized from the outside in. Address the issue from both directions and you’ll get to where you want to be going (your goals) even faster.
Getting organized from the inside out
Getting organized from the inside out is about organizing your thoughts, beliefs, and ideas in your mind.
Experts estimate that the mind thinks between 50,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s an average of 2,100 – 3,300 thoughts per hour. That’s a remarkable number of thoughts.
Many of these are subconscious and repetitive thoughts: they’ve become efficient over time and run automatically. These are the thoughts that benefit us and lead to actions like walking, breathing, typing, driving a car, opening a door, etc. We don’t need to concern ourselves with these thoughts; they serve us well.
The thoughts we want to organize are the ones that don’t serve us. If you’ve ever meditated or even tried to study or focus on a work task, that’s when you become aware of the many irrelevant thoughts trying to get your attention.
They may be habitual and seem harmless, but a little deeper digging can bring these thoughts to the surface, to your conscious mind where you are now aware of them.
Once you’re aware of them, then you can ask some questions and determine if they are leading to poor results or sabotaging you from achieving your goals.
These thoughts may be creating feelings and beliefs, like fear, that are not supporting the dreams you have for your life.
Then we have new thoughts that we are aware of in the moment, like opinions or judgements about what’s happening now, or in the past or future.
These may be helpful, like thoughts about how to prepare for an upcoming staff meeting you’re leading, what you still need to do to prepare, when to schedule those tasks, and what the agenda will be.
Or you may have new thoughts that don’t serve you. It could be a negative thought that’s detrimental to your continued growth and development in life.
How to organize the mental noise and constant chatter
There are so many tools to help organize your mind and thoughts. What’s most important is to find a tool that works for you and stick with it.
Try one of my suggestions here, daily for at least 21 days straight. If you’re beginning to notice some positive shifts, keep it going.
A daily Thought Release each morning can really put things into perspective. Take about 5 minutes or more to write down your thoughts. Every single thought that crosses your mind: just observe the thought and write it down and move on to the next one. Its stream of consciousness writing, you’ll be writing the whole time. Some people call it a brain download, brain dump, thought download or even Morning Pages as described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way.
I like to call it a Thought Release process because I picture the thought being released from my mind as I write them in my journal. Most are unnecessary and don’t serve me, and are just clogging up the mind.
Another thing to try is reviewing these daily Thought Release thoughts and replace any repetitive negative thought with a better, more positive one.
Awareness of these thoughts is the first step, and then asking questions about it is step two. Is this thought even true (especially if a judgement)? Is it serving you? Is it helping you in some way? Do you really need or want it? Is it time to let it go and release it? Can you replace it with a better, more positive thought?
Lastly, meditation is a practice I encourage all of my clients to adopt. Meditation teaches you how to be still, to become more focused, and to lessen the stream of thoughts running through your mind.
It brings calmness, a sense of inner peace and more happiness to all aspects of your life, when practiced consistently. Read more about meditation and morning routines here.
Getting organized from the outside in
Getting organized from the outside in is organizing your external surroundings – your space. It involves organizing your home, your office or desk, and even your car.
This helps you live intentionally and have a physical space where every single thing in that space serves you. It has a purpose.
I’m an organized person. I don’t leave things laying around, and I don’t have closets or a garage full of things I’ve never used. I know many people who never use their garage to park their car because it is stuffed full of things they’ve never used or maybe used once, years ago. There’s so much stuff the car won’t fit.
Despite how organized I felt I was, last year I made an intentional commitment to organize myself even more. I went through the process I’m about to share here, and came up with 15 bags of things to donate – 15! And that’s not including items that were either thrown out or sold.
By going through this exercise, I knew I’d get benefits from it, but didn’t realize just how great I would feel.
You see, it’s not simply the removal of the physical items. It is the energy of those items, of that clutter and disorganization, and what it represents. Removing it impacts on your emotional and mental wellbeing too.
People say they feel lighter, obviously more organized and less stressed. They know what they have in their house or office or car, and can easily find it.
It’s easier to get ready in the morning when the closet it organized and you can see all the potential outfits you’d like to wear that day. The clutter is gone too, taking up space. All the duplicate pens, pencils, paperclips and rubber bands from desk drawers that are unnecessary – how many does a person need? I knew someone who had 8 pairs of scissors and 4 boxes of tacks – in one desk.
The kitchen is another area that could have a lot of items you never use. Tupperware and other plastic containers that are looking a little over used or that may have been used once 3 years ago, extra utensils that can be donated, and even pots, pans, serving bowls and platters that you don’t currently and never will use.
When people declutter and get organized, they feel more at peace when in these rooms, seeing everything in its place and even empty space in drawers and closets.
Benefits of getting organized
The empty space in shelves, drawers and closets is symbolic of making room for new opportunities to present themselves. That idea alone can provide the motivation you might need as you sift through all the shoes in your closet and hesitate giving up that new-ish pair of boots you paid so much money for, that hurt your feet every time you wore them (not serving you).
Another benefit of organizing your space is the sense of contribution you get. Knowing that you’ve only kept what is still useful to you, and that other people can now enjoy the items you donated.
That sense of contribution and sharing is very uplifting and makes donating these items an easier task, especially for things you may have an emotional connection to or that remind you of a cherished memory. For example, I had a whole boxful of stuffed animals that my mother collected that I received after my Mom passed away years ago. They were sitting in that box, unused, in great shape for years until last year. I decided to keep a couple of them and the rest were donated. Hopefully some children can enjoy and play with them now.
Now it’s your turn to take action
Now it’s your turn. I challenge you to take back some control in your life by getting organized. From the inside out, commit to the following:
- Daily thought release every morning as described above. Set a timer for 5 minutes or more and get those thoughts out. And if your mind races at night, thinking about work or worrying about everything, try the thought release exercise before bed too.
- If you notice you’re having a lot of negative thoughts during this daily thought release that don’t serve you, take some time to replace them with positive ones. For example, if you have a lot of thoughts about all the things at work that stress you out, write about how your work is serving and helping other people. Or if you keep thinking about a coworker’s negative comments to you, write one positive thing about that person.
- If you don’t already have a morning routine that addresses organizing your mind and thoughts, learn more in my blog called Connect to Success Every Day for Best Results where you can also get access to my Connect to Success Morning Routine Tool to use every day.
From the outside in, commit to the following:
- Block out one hour on your calendar for this weekend and select one part of your house, or car, or office/desk to organize. It’s best to take everything out of the closet or drawer or area, then look at each item and ask yourself some questions: when is the last time I used this, or wore this? If not within the past year, let it go. Does it make me happy? Does it serve me? Would someone else enjoy this more? Is it outdated (clothing, etc.)?
- Set a goal to organize one area every week. And then pay attention to the changes that follow.
Look for larger shifts that can occur after getting more organized.
For me, I felt like being more social. It included getting out more, meeting new people, taking day trips, and networking more with other business owners. It opened up space and energy for these new things.
Organizing the mind also opens up space and energy for you to be more aware of your thoughts, beliefs, and emotions too. You can discern which ones are or aren’t helpful, and then organize them and release the unhelpful ones.
Getting organized is a very powerful tool that increases your emotional intelligence and supports personal growth, and provides a sense of fulfillment and peace in the long term.
I’d love to hear about the progress you’ve made and the positive shifts you’re experiencing as a result of getting organized. Let me know in the comments.
Photo by Douglas Sheppard on Unsplash