My Strange Reaction Helped me Understand the Power of Thoughts

Not all thoughts are true or helpful.

It can be very challenging to catch yourself in the moment of thinking, and realize your thoughts are not true or helpful. Why does it matter anyway? When we can step back enough to observe our thinking, it creates enough distance between us and our thoughts that we can better see that we are not our thoughts. While our thoughts might push us towards certain actions, in noticing our thoughts in the moment, it becomes easier to choose our actions based on values instead of reacting. Let me give you an example.

When looking for unhelpful thoughts, I didn’t have to go much further than my blog post last week.

I usually check things carefully before I share a blog. After I posted last week, it was sent out by email to lots of people along with being posted on LinkedIn and Facebook. While I can go back and edit what is on my website, I can’t change what is already out by email. After I hit post, I noticed something that literally made me feel sick. I felt like crawling under a rock. Now here’s the thing, when I tell you what it is, you might look at me as if I’m crazy. It felt HUGE in the moment, but retrospectively I see that it really wasn’t a big deal. Here’s what I was feeling sick about. The title looked like this <strong>Finding Serenity in Something I Always Knew</strong>, instead of like this Finding Serenity in Something I Always Knew. And yes, for a few minutes, I felt physically sick about it. My strange reaction helped me understand the power of my thinking and how much it influenced my response.

Most of our thoughts are not conscious. They’re operating somewhere just under the surface, impacting how we feel and urging us towards specific behavior. Mostly, we also feel like we are so intricately linked to our thoughts that we are our thoughts. It’s hard to separate ourselves from them. My odd reaction helped prompt me to look a little closer at what I was imagining this error on my post meant.

Becoming more conscious of what we’re thinking, especially if we are experiencing some degree of distress, is helpful. We get to see that while we’re having a thought, we are not that thought. We get to ask ourselves if the thought is true or simply a thought we’re having. We get to decide if we want to act the way the thought prompts us to act or choose a different way.

What thoughts were simmering just below the surface when I saw my blog error that caused much more distress than was necessary? (Before I tell you, I want you to know that in theory I know all these things. It is much harder to catch yourself in the act of thinking them in a specific situation than just to know them theoretically. I didn’t know I was thinking any of this until I slowed down and investigated my thoughts. All I knew was that something was wrong, and I felt sick about it.)

Curiosity can be helpful when investigating thoughts – our dog Phoenix being curious in the woods

Here’s the subconscious thinking that was causing much more distress for me than the situation warranted.

  • Something is either good or bad. One mistake made my post bad. I wrote about this kind of black and white thinking a couple of years ago.
  • People will discard this post – not take it seriously – because of this one error. You might know this kind of thinking as making a mountain out of a molehill.
  • I should know better. (My husband always says, “People should on themselves too much”). This is about having rigid rules for the way the world should work. Those of us who struggle with perfectionism often have a lot of “shoulds” in our heads.
  • People will not take me seriously as a professional. Here I was overestimating the negative impact of this error and also predicting how I thought others would react.

All of these thoughts, although not conscious, were creating a lot of distress about something that was really quite small. I wanted to delete the post and take a good, long break before blogging again. That was the urge – to metaphorically hide under a rock. What seeing these unhelpful thoughts did, was help me realize that things were not as bad as I thought. As it turns out, I got lots of likes on this post on LinkedIn – some evidence for me that my thoughts were not only unhelpful, but also not true.

This situation prompted me to go looking for other unhelpful thoughts this past week. I used “feeling stressed” as a flag to help me notice when to slow down to figure out my thoughts. Try it.

Here are some things I noticed.

  • Noticing my thoughts made me feel much less stressed out.
  • A lot of stress is generated by thoughts that are untrue or unhelpful.
  • Noticing my thoughts made me feel more of a sense of choice about my actions.

Coaching

If you want help figuring out where your thoughts might be tripping you up, coaching can help. Connect with me to find out more about coaching.

Sue Das, CPCC, ACC, CPQC, B Soc Sc (SW)

2 thoughts on “My Strange Reaction Helped me Understand the Power of Thoughts

  1. My dear Sue, Seeing the text that sent you into a spin, so to speak, I would have thought that the computer had inserted the bits that you were upset about and that the reader would automatically know that!! But I know you are a perfectionist and that would worry you. Please know that all of your blogees (if that’s a good word for readers) love you dearly and read every word you write because it resonates with them. 🤗Much love sal xx

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Sal. These reactions are not conscious ones but come from years of mind habits. It’s only through making them conscious that one can break them. I hope you are well.

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