It’s time to get awareness around your thinking. This is the first of the 3 tools I introduced in last week’s post: Get Unstuck
Getting Awareness is Not Innate
I have three different suggestions to share with you about how you can get awareness around your thinking.
The whole point of getting awareness around your thinking is for you to notice your thoughts and identify them as such.
Some people may not been doing this work yet. Some people might not be familiar with this overall strategy of observing thoughts, or in other words: creating distance and space between what you’re thinking and who you are. I don’t think we learn this strategy innately. I think, in general, we just go through our lives, hearing, or listening to our thoughts and trusting them and believing them, and acting on them, without question, without distance and without separation.
And then we get confused about what’s going on with us because we’re not really sure which part of our brain is offering us the thought.
The Benefit of Distance
By noticing your thoughts and identifying that “hey, this is a thought” You get that distance. You have that objectivity. You can remove the threat that your brain might be offering you if the thought is coming from the threat center of your brain instead of from the logical, rational part of your brain.
Getting awareness around your thinking is the first tool of the three tools that I shared last week about how to get unstuck.
At this point, while using this first tool, I am not suggesting that you “do” anything yet. I’m not asking you to make any changes or make any decisions at this point. Really all I’m suggesting you do at this point is just to get awareness. Even just getting awareness can actually result in a change. It can actually give you a feeling of freedom or liberation or relief. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay because again this is just the very first tool.
3 Suggestions to Get Awareness
I have three suggestions of how you can get awareness around your thinking.
You might be able to guess what they are. I talk about two of them frequently. If you’ve been following me for a while or if you have coached with me, or spent any time with me, you have heard me talking about them.
The three suggestions are coaching, journaling and labeling.
Were you surprised by that last one?
Work With a Coach
Let’s get deeper into each one of these three suggestions. The first thing that I want to suggest to you as a way for you to get awareness around your thinking is to work with a coach.
One of the benefits of working with a coach is that you have that awareness time scheduled. That means that you will actually spend the time thinking about your thoughts and talking about your thoughts.
Sometimes, if we don’t schedule things we don’t do them. Instead of delaying and putting off and procrastinating or finding some other way to distract yourself from thinking about your thinking (which might be uncomfortable and unfamiliar), if you schedule some time with a coach you get the benefit of another person.
The benefit is having that other person whose only job is to show you your thinking. You get the accountability factor. You decide for yourself that “this 45 minutes or hour is a time that I am going to spend thinking and talking about my thoughts.” That’s a great benefit. Just the fact that you have dedicated time to get awareness is a benefit.
But wait! It gets even better because the coach is able to ask you questions while remaining neutral.
I believe in self coaching. I do self coaching with myself, frequently throughout the day, every day. It’s definitely a part of my current lifestyle and routine. Yet, I also continue to see the benefit of coaching with a second person. Why not just exclusively self coach? Because, yes, I am able to ask myself questions, but I am not always able to remain completely neutral when I am coaching myself.
I recently had an example of this benefit with a coaching client. She had thoughts about a situation that were creating a lot of stress and overwhelm for her. So she came to the coaching session and she started to describe what was going on and the more she described it, the more worked up she got. She was really getting into the story that she was explaining to me which in her mind was all very true, and very relevant and very urgent.
I’m not in her brain.I’m not in her situation so I heard the story and there was no threat to me.
I really could see it with an outsider’s perspective. I really could see that it didn’t have to be a big deal at all. So I was able to ask her questions, as if it wasn’t a big deal. I was able to ask her questions, as if this was a completely neutral situation.
Just by giving her that response instead of getting super excited and threatened and overwhelmed, along with her, just by asking her questions, believing this is solvable and also, maybe it was just fine as is, gave her a more open perspective.
Reading this suggestion and this example, would you consider coaching as a way to get awareness around your thinking?
If you don’t want to get coaching, maybe, coaching is not an option for you at this point. If you’re interested in another suggestion besides coaching, of course, I have another suggestion for you. It is another one of my favorite topics: journaling.
Just like in coaching or in self coaching as I was describing, journaling gives you the option and the space to ask yourself questions.
It gives you that distance. It can give you objectivity.
Having Thoughts Spelled Out
The benefit of journaling frequently or daily, or in any kind of a routine. Is that you have your thoughts written down in the same location (even if you do it digitally on a Word document or on a Notes app in your phone).
Having your thoughts spelled out in front of you means that you have the option to notice patterns. This has happened to me frequently when I journal. When I notice myself writing something, and I almost get a little bored of myself like a “really Bex, this, again? I’m still thinking about this or I’m still dealing with this?”
Just that act of having to write it down as I journal is a way to illuminate something that I have been thinking about or poring over or spinning on for a while. I can notice repetition, I can notice things that I can’t seem let go of and areas where I am stuck. Then I can question why I am not letting go.
When I Don’t See The Pattern
The opposite also happens sometimes. Maybe I don’t see the pattern at all. It’s possible that what I am writing about doesn’t feel repetitive to me in any way.
And so it’s very interesting sometimes when I flip back to a week ago or a month ago and I see, almost verbatim, some of the same thoughts that I wrote about today. Even though I didn’t recognize them. When I re read what I wrote before, my logical brain is able to see, “okay, this is me continuing to think these things, and I don’t necessarily need to think them.”
Reading the suggestion of journaling, would you consider writing as a way to get awareness around your thinking?
If so, or if not, I still have a third suggestion for you when it comes to getting awareness around your thinking.
I am calling it labeling.
When I think of a label, I think of a sticker that you print out and put on something. You are identifying something with that sticker.
So labelling a thought is a way to get awareness around it. You can call it what it is.
This third suggestion of labeling doesn’t require a second person. It doesn’t require a journal, or notebook or a digital workspace. You really can do this “mid-think.”
Notice a Thought and Label It
As you’re thinking a thought, you can also notice it. Get awareness around it and label it. A very basic way to do this is to think to yourself, “I am thinking…”
If you catch yourself telling yourself “I don’t have time,” instead of just saying, “I don’t have time.” You could add the label “I am thinking I don’t have time.”
Do you notice the difference there?
Using the label creates that distance and objectivity that I was mentioning earlier. Labeling something as a thought lets you see it as a thought, instead of mindlessly believing it is the actual 100% irrefutable truth that we might have just assumed prior to getting awareness around our thoughts.
I’ll give you an option that goes along with labeling that might help you get some practice doing this. Because it is a practice. We don’t necessarily insert labels as we’re thinking. One way that you could practice labeling is to practice on other people.
This is something you can do internally, silently to yourself about other people. The benefit of practicing on other people is that you have that distance that neutrality that I mentioned when I was telling you about coaching.
I’m not suggesting you practice by coaching other people, especially if they haven’t asked you to. But I am suggesting that when you think about what other people are thinking, you have that same neutrality.
As an example, imagine you’re in a grocery store and you see someone – a stranger – behaving in a way that stands out a little bit. Maybe they’re very agitated or maybe they’re not being loud at all. Maybe they’re being very quiet and timid. Just imagine that you notice their behavior. You pay attention to how they’re acting. The way that you could practice labeling is to notice what they say and what they do and you internally (in your mind) imagine what they might be thinking.
Imagining Other Peoples’ Thoughts
That’s interesting, right? If you notice someone being very timid, you could think to yourself, “I wonder what that person is thinking to make them behave that way?”
You might assume they’re thinking: “I don’t belong here, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m worried people will judge me.”
See how you noticed all possible thoughts? See how you have distance and objectivity from the other person and were able to guess what they might be thinking without being sure of the truth?
By practicing on other people where the stakes are very low you can get your mind into a routine or or habit of identifying thinking. Then you might be able to label your own thoughts.
Use the Habit On Yourself
When you notice, “oh, here I am getting worked up. I’m getting very agitated. I’m getting very excited.” You can wonder “why I’m doing this? What am I thinking?” Aha, and now you can label, “oh, I have the thought that something is unfair or something might be taken away from me. That thought is creating the feeling of agitation and leading to agitated actions.
Example of Getting Awareness
Let’s do an example together. Someone wants to quit something. Imagine a fictional person and let’s say that she wants to quit her job, but she feels stuck.
She wants to quit, but keeps looping around on if she should. Then she doesn’t want to. But she really does. So she thinks about it all the time, but she doesn’t do anything.
If this example doesn’t apply to you, just substitute the idea of quitting a job with something you are stuck on.
How could we use the tool getting awareness around thinking, using the suggestions that I gave, coaching, journaling or labeling, for someone who wants to quit her job?
This person wants to quit her job but feels stuck and feels unable to quit, even though she wants to.
If she decides to have a coaching session, she might describe to her coach the reason why she wants to quit the job. She might also share all the reasons why she feels like she can’t or she shouldn’t or not yet, or she’s not able to.
Questions from a Coach
The coach is completely neutral if she quits her job or stays there. The coach can ask further follow up questions and point things out to the client.
If one of the reasons the client gives for not quitting the job is thinking she won’t make as much money anywhere else, the coach can ask follow up questions like: “how do you know how much money can be made in other places? What research have you done about salaries? How much money do you want to make? Is money the deciding factor for where you will work?
All of these questions may sound so basic and obvious but it is possible that the client has not considered them thoughtfully and neutrally. There are a lot of different directions that coaching conversation could go.
Let’s say our fictional friend who is feeling stuck about quitting her job decides to journal about it.
She could write down all of her thoughts about quitting the job. Why she wants to quit the job. Why she can’t quit the job. What’s holding her back from quitting the job.What she’s afraid of when she thinks about quitting the job. What she thinks will happen.
By writing all the thoughts down she has them in front of her, in black and white. By being honest with herself when she’s writing in her journal, maybe she will notice that one of the reasons that she can’t quit the job is because she thinks that people will be upset if she quits, and also, that she’s afraid that her co workers who she really likes, will have to do more work if she ends up quitting.
Now She Has Awareness
Okay. Now she has awareness. She can label those two sentences as thoughts. She can say, “oh I am thinking that people will be upset.”
I have the thought that my departure will create more work for other people.”
Can I point out, we haven’t asked for any changes yet. We haven’t made any decisions at this point. All we’re doing with this one tool is getting awareness around thinking. That’s all we’re doing right now.
But even with just that awareness, can you see how our fictional friend who’s thinking of quitting her job but feels stuck, how now she can recognize why she’s stuck?
She doesn’t want people to be upset or have more work. And she’s thinking that will 100%, for sure happen if she quits. And, maybe it will happen. Who knows?!
The Relief of Awareness
Can you see how much more relief she would be experiencing – even if she still doesn’t know what to do or when she’s going to do it – just with the awareness, “oh, it’s not a threat.”
She could realize “I’m not completely sure that people will have more work to do, or that people will be upset if I quit. She might recognize that she doesn’t know for sure that she can’t make the same amount of money in a different job.
Just through coaching, journaling, and labeling, she can have awareness. That awareness can create relief for her even if she hasn’t yet made a choice or decided to take action, or decided to change her mind.
But at least with the awareness she has more information about making an intentional decision.
This is for a later tool that we’ll talk about in a few weeks, but she might decide to think: “Even if it means people will be disappointed, I’d rather quit this job than continue to work here.”
Since this was a generic example, I hope YOU inserted an area that’s more relevant to you to see how you could use coaching, or journaling and labeling in order to get awareness around your thinking.
Responding to Feedback
I also wanted to spend a little time today responding to some of the feedback that I got from last week’s post when I introduced the idea of getting unstuck.
I got one comment that the person who listened to the podcast episode said that she doesn’t use the word stuck when she thinks about herself, but she recognized. Oh, I definitely am feeling stuck right now, I am definitely not moving in a direction that I want to move in and I feel like I can’t.”
She let me know she would have never used that specific vocabulary to describe herself.She said she found it felt more apathetic. I can totally see that and relate to that. And maybe you can too.
Have you ever wanted to do or get or try something, but had resistance around it (or felt stuck) so much so that you just didn’t try anything, and maybe even talked yourself into not wanting after all.
Staying stuck does take less effort that getting unstuck so I can see how apathy would be attractive to our energy-conserving amygdalae.
I love this comment because it opened my thinking a little further and I was able to share it with you this week, in case like the other listener, you don’t really identify with the “stuck” description.
What other differences or similarities have you noticed as you listened last week and now again this week?
What questions do you have about getting awareness around your thinking?