“When you are distressed by an external thing, it’s not the thing itself that troubles you, but only your judgment of it. And you can wipe this out at a moment’s notice.” – Marcus Aurelius
I love this reminder that the way we experience our life is based on what we think about the things that happen and the circumstances that surround us.
It’s never the ‘external thing’ that creates our experience.
It’s not the friend, child, sister, husband, the guy in the store, the driver behind you or even your mother. It’s not the party, the luncheon or the meeting. It’s not the conversation or the email, the comment on social media or the text. It’s not even the past, the present or the future.
It’s what we think about these things that matters.
These are all neutral circumstances/events until we assign a meaning to them with a thought.
If you think a positive thought about the party (Yay, this will be fun!), you’ll have positive feelings (excitement) which will lead to positive actions (getting dressed up and attending with a big smile on your face).
If we think a negative thought about the party (Ughh...there will be so many people I don’t know there, who will I even talk to?), we’ll have negative feelings (anxiety, dread) which leads to negative actions (standing in the corner alone, drinking too much to overcome anxiety…).
Hint! If you’re not sure what your thoughts are, check in with your feelings.
If you are calm, happy and focused, your thoughts are likely positive. If you’re nervous, anxious and stressed, it’s negative thoughts causing those emotions.
Remember, thoughts are just sentences in your head.
We have thousands of them run through our brain every day.
Many of these sentences are on repeat in our brains. We’ve thought them for so long and believed them so fully that they become the background static; ever-present.
But just because you think them often or have a strong attachment to them, doesn’t make them true.
Oh but our brains love to make it more complicated; catastrophize, overthink and assign false meaning wherever possible.
What if instead, we were able to catch ourselves before we went all the way down Catastrophe Road and challenged those obsessive/negative/anxious thoughts.
It’s in this way that you take control of your brain to create a purposeful and intentional way forward.
YOUR SUPERPOWER IN A SENTENCE
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular style of talk therapy (psychotherapy) based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings and actions are all connected. Specifically, our thoughts determine our feelings and our behaviors.
In CBT, unhelpful thoughts are systematically identified, challenged and replaced with more objective, supportive thoughts.
A technique commonly used in CBT is to reframe negative thoughts using the following sentence:
Just because________ doesn’t mean______.
So simple and so effective.
Just because I think it, doesn’t mean it’s true…..
You won’t believe what you are making your thoughts mean about you/your family/your future/your relationships/your business/your body/your worthiness/your life.
The next time you are faced with a troubling or confusing situation, try this 3 Step Process to identify and reframe your thoughts.
ICR: Identify, Challenge & Reframe
Step 1: Identify your thoughts
How can we identify our thoughts? Write them out and study them! We always come back to this. Get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper.
You might think to yourself, “Is this really necessary? Can’t I just think about it in my head?”
You MUST write them down. You cannot do this work in your head. You need the mental space from your own thoughts and a different perspective in order to really see your thoughts clearly. Only then can you work to understand them and eventually reframe them.
Think about when a friend tells you a story and it’s so obvious what’s really going on, but she can’t see it because she’s too wrapped up in it. She’s too close to it. But from your outside vantage point, it’s crystal clear.
That’s what happens when we get our thoughts out of our head and onto paper. We see it from a different angle. We’re not so close to it anymore. It makes all the difference.
So, get your pen and write everything you are really thinking about your in-laws week-long stay, or about that cryptic email your boss sent late last night, or the comment from the guy in the supermarket.
Step 2: Challenge your thoughts
Review what you wrote.
Take a good look and circle any thoughts that feel especially problematic or questionable. Are they really true? Would everyone in the world agree with the statement?
What are you making them mean?
Event: My boss sent an email that she wants to speak with me about the project I just completed.
Making it mean/Thought: My boss is unhappy with my work. She’s angry with the way I handled that situation. I have to start all over. This is going to create so much work for me. I’m going to miss my daughter’s game because I’ll have to work late. I’ll be on pins and needles until I talk to her. I won’t be able to sleep tonight worrying about what this crazy email means….
Challenge even (especially!) those thoughts that feel like there is no other possible way to think about the situation.
"If she sent me this email, she's furious with me."
If you asked a trusted friend their opinion on the situation, what do you think they might say? Do you think she would say “You’re right, you better start looking for a new job right away…”?
Or would she maybe say something like “I understand that this is bothering you, it's so frustrating. She often sends emails like this that get you upset, and it ends up being nothing. Try to get a good night’s sleep and deal with it in the morning with a fresh set of eyes”. See if that helps you see the situation from a different perspective.
Notice what shifts.
Step 3: Reframe the troubling thoughts with the following (Read: Your Superpower in a Sentence!)
Here is your opportunity to reframe your thoughts.
You are in control.
You choose what to think ON PURPOSE.
How amazing is that!?
You get to decide the course of your life.
When you recognize that and begin to practice intentional living regularly, you become unstoppable.
Just because__________, doesn’t mean _________.
From the example above,
Just because my boss sent me an email, doesn’t mean I’m fired/in trouble/she’s unhappy.
How often do our worst fears come to fruition?
But we’re expert at dreaming them up and then acting as if they were true/already happening. Then we live from that place of fear, uncertainty and doubt.