Who Are You Listening To?

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I saw this in a post the other day and felt strongly about how well it represented my life. There is so much meaning in this simple graphic.

I am a critical thinker. I think critically about pretty much everything. And then I overthink it. And overthink it some more. It is a vicious cycle for me that I repeat over and over again for just about any topic, situation, or relationship.

I’ve always seen the quotes about “listen to your heart” but have never been able to do it. My heart didn’t analyze well enough. My heart didn’t ruminate over every possible scenario and every possible outcome. My heart is all about the feels and that just isn’t what a strong person listens to. There was no way in hell I was going to listen to my heart when my brain is what has kept me safe all these years.

Except, it really hasn’t. That safe feeling I have been thinking that I feel, that isn’t truly safety. That’s control. Control does not equal safety.

My brain would have me believe that any situation where I don’t already know everything needed, is a situation that I need to leave. Take for instance my new job. I work with a startup and my position, my actions directly correlate to the amount of revenue that we bring in each quarter. I mean, in much larger companies, it’s been the same way, but now this is a small company and if revenue isn’t met, then it directly relates to what I have or have not accomplished.

I do not like the financial side of being a project manager. I never have and never will. I have somehow been really good at having limited responsibility for project financials and I’ve been absolutely okay with that. Until now. Now I am directly responsible for meeting revenue goals.

When I realized this during my third or fourth week in, I had a panic attack. How the fuck am I going to make this happen? I don’t want to manage budgets. I don’t know how to make revenue numbers. Why me? Isn’t there somebody else? What if I don’t meet the goal the first quarter that I’m here? Will I be fired? I really like this company and don’t want to look for another job. Panic, panic, panic. I held it in well in front of my boss.

Just as fast as the realization came, so did the realization that I am not alone in this. I am not the only person who is responsible for this number. Yes, it might seem that way, but it isn’t. My boss, the SVP of Operations, and other management and/or executives are right there with me. We are all working together. I might feel like it is all riding on my shoulders and that can be crippling, but it isn’t true.

You see, my brain focused on one critical detail. It didn’t want to see all the other details in the situation. My brain was stuck in a panic state and didn’t want to listen to my heart. My heart knew and still knows that I am not alone in this. In fact, my heart has all the touchy feelies. My boss believes in me more than I think I’ve ever known a previous boss has. He frequently compliments my work and it has only been a few weeks. I ask for constructive feedback and he gives it, but not in a manner to tell me that I suck.

If I were to only listen to my brain, I might be finding another job. I would be stuck believing that I wasn’t good enough and that I will crash and burn. If I were to listen to my brain, I would take the pile of emails that I haven’t been able to read yet or even address and believe that I’m already a failure. If I were to listen to my brain, I would think that I have failed and should be fired.

But instead, I need to and desire to listen to my heart. I have learned in my heart of hearts and somewhere in my subconscious, that none of this means that I’m a failure. It means that I’m in a challenging position that I can grow in. I am not being held back and I am not going to be fired. I have been given an opportunity to shine and grow. My heart knows it and my heart has a lot of work to keep my brain in check.

I traditionally have listened to my brain and have horribly silenced my heart. I’ve only recently started allowing my heart to have a bigger voice. I’m not perfect at it, but I don’t want to be. I want to continue growing, continue being challenged, and show myself that I can do hard things.

Today, today I am listening to my heart. Each day I am checking in with my heart every time my brain makes a decision or assumption. My heart’s voice is getting bigger and stronger. We are growing together.

Your Thoughts Will Run or Ruin Your Life

Once you can see your thought you can start to change them.

 

I have lived within my thoughts all of my life. My thoughts ran and at some points, ruined my life. We have been programmed without even knowing it and that programming turns into our thoughts, both unconscious and conscious. These thoughts are what contributes to how we act, our anxiety, our depression, and what we pursue.

Kara Loewentheil teaches about thought work and how to differentiate your conscious from unconscious thoughts while being able to release their hold on us. From her, I have learned how to take a step back and really review the thoughts that are hurting me.

Kara recommends taking time each day to simply write, with or without intention. When you write out the thoughts that are stuck in your head, you get to see them on paper where you can review and analyze them. When the thoughts are stuck in your head, analysis isn’t as easy. The process of getting our thoughts onto paper and analyzing them gives us a degree of separation. When we are observing our thoughts purely in our mind, there is no separation.  When we put them onto paper, we are able to separate our thoughts from ourselves.

Kara said, ” Your brain doesn’t know how to stop thinking something. You have to give it something else to think instead.”

By putting our thoughts on paper and then analyzing them, we are able to give our brain a different perspective to think about. We are able to use the analytical part of our brain on the thought rather than just the emotional part. The ability to analyze our thoughts isn’t something that comes easily. This is a practice we must adopt.

After I listened to a training and a few podcasts from Kara, I implemented a half-ass version of her recommendations. Even with doing my half-assed version, I have been able to process my thoughts better and analyze why I’m so pissed off or hurt about situations. I have been able to identify that some situations that I’m ruminating over are really not about me at all. I was able to realize that the lay-off I went through had nothing to do with me. Nothing. It wasn’t a reflection on my efforts in my role at all. I’ve been able to look back and see thoughts that were negative and harming me and where they were coming from.

To be honest, I haven’t done my thought work daily and that’s okay. I do sit down to work on my thoughts any time I have an overwhelming or negative thought. I make sure that if I am hurt or pissed off about something, I do at least my half-assed version. Why? Because if I don’t, those thoughts will run my day or my life and may even ruin a good thing.

I’m not perfect in my thought work and I still have a lot of work to do. What I can tell you is that this practice is worth it and just might change your life or release some of that anxiety you are feeling.

Here are a couple of Kara’s recommended steps and questions to use.

Steps:
1. Set a daily time on your calendar for 5 minutes (Yup, all she recommends to start with is 5 minutes!!)
2. Just write until the 5-minute timer goes off.

Questions to use:
1. When did the thought occur?
2. What was happening?
3. What is the exact thought I’m having right now about this?

Kara recommends getting concrete and specific. I recommend adding another question to ask: Is this thought coming from a place of fear? If so, what is the underlying fear?

When doing thought work, you will start to get really familiar with what your negative thoughts are and where they are coming from. This will give you specific areas that you can work on through your personal growth journey. By doing this thought work, you will be able to realize what thoughts are holding you back from releasing the anxiety you are experiencing.

One last question to ask yourself, “What would it feel like to show up and feel absolutely confident about yourself?”

**You can find out more about Kara Loewenthiel’s teachings on thought work at her website or on her podcast.  I listen to her podcast through Google Podcasts.

I’m An Overthinker

Overthinking is what I do best. I can and will overthink for just about anything. It is truly a problem. Are you an overthinker?

Overthinking affects our lives more than we probably would like to admit. We zero in and focus on a specific topic and think about all the possibilities. Usually, the possibilities that we think about are negative. Whether you are ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, overthinking does not benefit your life.

In fact, if you are anything like me, overthinking actually does more harm than good to your life. For me, ruminating on the past usually turns into worrying about the future. I take a thought that I’m overthinking full circle over and over again and it usually happens over multiple days, weeks, or longer.

I tend to start with ruminating on a situation that I didn’t like how I behaved. I think about how shitty I was, how embarrassing I made the situation, or how I offended or hurt someone. I go on and on until I fast forward to the future and create a whole new situation with the same people where I encounter something similar and have to re-write my behavior. I usually try to think the situation into an existence where I stand up for myself and the other person or people are put in their place. This comes from the victim mentality that I was raised with.

Lately, I’ve been able to catch myself in this process. I stop myself from going down this rabbit hole creating drama in my mind that doesn’t actually exist. It’s not easy to do, but it is so worth it. The overthinking that I do to get me to this point tells me that the other person in the situation is bullying me or that I’m a fucked up person. It wears me down without me even being in the other person’s presence.

Not only do I ruminate and worry about the future, but I also worry about the little things. Will I look absolutely stupid in this outfit, am I over/underdressed? What happens if I’m late? What happens if we break something on the truck? What if we don’t have enough money? What if they judge me for this? Don’t be too loud, we don’t want to offend anyone. Don’t have sex here, this is Sally’s house and that is disrespectful. Don’t make the food according to your dietary preferences, you don’t want to offend everyone else who is eating. Don’t quit drinking alcohol, you won’t have anything in common with Sally and won’t have anything to bond over anymore. I could go on and on with thoughts that have crossed my mind. I am always overthinking everything.

How do I course correct my overthinking train of thought? I stop dead in my tracks and twist the thought. If Sally was staying in my house, how would I feel about her and her husband having sex if nobody actually heard or knew it was happening? How would I feel if Sally was late to the BBQ by two minutes? How would I feel if Sally told me that they couldn’t go to the event because it wasn’t in their budget?

Let me tell you how I would respond. I would say have fun and have sex if nobody knows about it. Two minutes is nothing, glad you are here safely. I totally get budgets and I think is awesome you are sticking to yours.

I would respond completely different to other people than I do to myself when I get trapped in an overthinking episode. While I’m not even close to perfect in eliminating my overthinking, I can proudly say that by flipping the situation, I am a recovering overthinker. I have stopped so many horrible overthinking trains of thought from spiraling so far out of control that I’m afraid to be in Sally’s presence. I have improved how I behave and show up for not only myself but the people I overthink about.

Overthinking doesn’t always have to control our lives. We can take back control. We just have to work for it. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

How can you flip your overthinking train of thought?

Ruminator

Ruminate: to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly.

Have you ever heard of this term before? I hadn’t until a year or so ago while listening to personal development. I can’t remember exactly which book or podcast I first heard it on, but it stuck with me.

A ruminator is someone who dwells on things that have happened in the past. It could have been just a few minutes ago, or years prior. What is typical, is that the ruminator repeats a situation over and over in their head, trying to figure out how they could have done something different or said something to change the course of the situation.

A ruminator continues to live in the past while also trying to move forward in the present.

For as long as I can remember, I have always ruminated. I dwell on situations to figure out how I could have done something differently. It doesn’t matter if nothing apparent went wrong, I still ruminate. I feel like there is something different I can always do so I am a better person, I don’t offend someone, I stand up for myself, etc.

I don’t know why I do it. It doesn’t help me in future situations. It doesn’t fix anything.

But since I learned of this term and habit, I have been able to identify when I do it. I can notice when I’m going down a rabbit hole in my past trying to fix something. I can tell myself that I’m ruminating again and to focus my mind on something else.

I can.

But, it isn’t as easy as being able to.

For some people, like me, ruminating doesn’t stop at the thoughts of what could be changed. It goes into a whole change of mood and outlook. Once I go down that rabbit hole, I can change an entire day. It could have been a great day with amazing things happening, and then BAM! that thought hits and there I go.

I’d like to tell you that I have been able to completely reverse my ruminating, but I haven’t. From experience, I can tell you that this habit is not an easy one to break. But, I have improved. I do it less often. I catch myself quicker. And I have come up with a way to pull myself out of the thought train and move on.

When I am ruminating and I finally catch myself, it’s like I flip a switch. You know that point when you feel like you finally understand something? Yeah, it’s like that. Once I realize what I’m doing and can get new thoughts going, I tell myself “so that happened” and then distract myself with new thoughts and dreams (something to look forward to) or by doing a task. I learned this from one of the coaches I follow, I believe Andrea Owen.

This method won’t work for everybody, and I don’t have other options to share, but learning to identify when you are ruminating will make a world of difference. Living by trying to fix things from the past will not change the future. Only living in the present and working on what is happening each moment will change the future.

I don’t want to say that you should never look back, because sometimes a quick look back to learn from a mistake or situation is just that, a learning experience. The problem is when a look back turns into a long gaze back turns into replaying something over and over again.

You aren’t going there. You can’t go there.

Learn from experiences and move on. Don’t dwell on what you cannot change.