We're going to start this challenge in a surprising way: by establishing that often, our thoughts are just not that important.
Trap #1: You believe that every thought deserves power
In this course, we'll explore some classic dysfunctional thought patterns — "cognitive distortions" if you want to geek out — that get in our way if we let them stick. But before we do that, it's crucial that we understand that our thoughts themselves never need to define us.
So, we're going to start this challenge in a surprising way: by establishing that often, our thoughts are just not that important.
Wait, what? I know. Hear me out. Sure, sometimes our thoughts can bring inspiration and learning, or help us identify our values, or remind us that we left our burrito in the office microwave. Or other times, they are simply random and benign, easy to brush off and not take too seriously.
Sometimes, though, our thoughts are downright inaccurate or irrational. And if you've ever suffered from anxiety, depression, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, you know that thoughts can be paralyzing, mood-killing, and all too easily lead to self-sabotage. And these are the thoughts we tend to believe without question and put too much stake in. Even worse, trying to ignore these thoughts can give them more power. You know what I mean: Try not to think of something (a hippopotamus in a pink bikini) and see how hard it can be (there she is!).
So, what do we do? Start with understanding that a dysfunctional or negative thought becomes a trap when we decide to treat it as important. Thoughts themselves are all okay. They don't have to say anything about you, or make you act on them. It's when we choose to let them stick that they can become traps.
Instead, we need to work toward viewing our negative thoughts as simple, fleeting occurrences. If you can learn to view your thoughts differently — to accept their presence but trust them to pass on their own, without keeping circling back to them or trying to stuff them away — then you are on the path to being free from their negative effects. This skill is the foundation of pretty much everything we'll go over in this course, so don't be afraid to refer back to this email when you need a reminder.
Practice the following mindfulness technique whenever you notice worries or anxious thoughts intruding, and for extra credit, every night before bedtime during this challenge.
Identify a bothersome thought that is irrational or untrue. ("I'm not smart enough to be in my job." "I'm a bad person because I got angry." "If I go to the doctor, they'll find something terribly wrong." "If I show who I really am, no one will like me.")
Label it and give it a name (Negative Voice, Background Noise, Mr. Liar, Gary, or whatever you like.)
Visualize the thought as something real and observable that will disappear in time (a leaf passing by on a stream, smoke dissipating, ice melting, or dirt circling down a drain.)
Watch the thought pass, and breathe slowly and deeply. Repeat.
Up next: How our body fits in to all of this.
In the meantime, if you have questions or news about your progress in this challenge, I host a live weekly anonymous chat online on Tuesdays at 1 PM EST here. Feel free to drop in! You can also find me on Facebook. —Dr. Andrea Bonior
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