A post I wrote on strategies for a difficult workplace covered a technique for transforming unhelpful patterns of thinking (unhelpful meaning thinking patterns that add that extra baggage – the sort of baggage that’s good to let go of from time to time). I’m actually really talented at holding on to such baggage but I’m slowly learning to loosen my grip.
The strategy is pretty simple. Write down the type of thoughts that are always nagging for your attention or the one’s that bring up strong emotions. Then look at these thoughts objectively – maybe think about different perspectives or other options. At that point jot down an alternative response based on the reality of the situation and a healthier emotional response as the objective.
Not so simple, right? I figure the difficulty might come from being so entrenched in the situation that stepping back isn’t always so easy. An interesting idea I came across last week might prove useful.
Basically we could categorize our thinking patterns into unhealthy (the internal critic) or healthy (our ally). I usually dislike the idea of dissecting myself into multiple personalities (I am really one person) or breaking up thinking into simplistic categories but I can relate to sometimes being a bit too much the internal critic and so by default I guess it’s feasible to have an internal ally.
The internal critic is fairly self explanatory: it’s the pessimistic fear monger and the ally is kind of the polar opposite. The ally is like the good friend – always encouraging and not afraid to give you a dose of reality. So with that combination the ally always offers sound advice. The crux then is that we are the audience (of the two) and we can control who speaks the loudest (i.e. the internal critic, who isn’t that helpful or the ally – the one more encouraging and useful for smoother sailing).
Although the critic can also be fairly helpful.
I’m reminded of Eckhart Tolle who wrote the Power of Now. His internal critic forced him to say something to the effect of: “I can’t live with myself anymore”. He then realized that this just doesn’t make any sense. How could he be in one moment a person who’s thinking he can’t live with himself and the person’s who’s objectively coming up with that conclusion at the same time? At this point he realized the freedom of just being in the moment (as this is where we are right now all the time anyway).
So in an instant the person who he couldn’t live with (in the past – that doesn’t exist in the present anyway) and the person built up with expectations we hope to become (that does not exist either) is just dropped. The burden finally released.