Your mind is a garden. Your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds. -- Author Unknown
I'm a long-time believer in the power of our thoughts, and I tend to focus on the positive. But sometimes, those darn thoughts just spin out of control and go on their own little tangents, taking us along for the ride. This happened to me recently, but it served as a good reminder of just how powerful our thoughts are.
I was messing around online when an article that somebody posted caught my eye. There was a local headline about a fatal motorcycle crash. Eek. Bad news, for sure. Normally, I would avoid clicking on such an article, just because I prefer not to fill my conscious with the gruesome details of the unfortunate things going on in the world. However, I couldn't help but click this time. You see, my father sometimes rides a motorcycle and the crash happened within a few miles of his home. I felt a strong urge to read more. When I clicked on the article and started reading the details, my heart sank. While the identity of the motorcyclist was not released, the details of the crash had it taking place on a road, in a direction, and at a time that could have easily been my dad. I gulped. Very aware of my own body, I could suddenly feel my heart rate quicken and my breathing become more shallow as my chest tightened up. It was an uneasy, although not completely unfamiliar feeling. I started to feel a deep sadness and worry. I did not like it at all.
"Okay, wait a second," I said to myself. I had no idea how many motorcycles drive down that road on a given morning, but it had to be a lot. It was a very busy intersection, after all. Plus, I didn't even know for sure if my dad drove his bike that day, or if he even took that route. There was no real logic behind the sudden-panic feeling. I was being crazy and I knew it. In fact, I confirmed shortly thereafter that all was well with my father. Phew.
This example of the human mind at work is something we can all relate to. It's just how we're wired. From back in the caveman days, we were programmed with a "fight or flight" trigger, which used to have a very real purpose (you know, running away from dinosaurs and such). Though we have evolved quite a bit since then, our brains are still wired very similarly. The reaction I felt in my body was actually a defense mechanism. My brain was preparing me for danger. And, despite the incredibly low probability of that bad news actually pertaining to me, from a logical perspective, my brain treated it as if it was actually happening to me. In fact, the feeling was so real that it was indeed my reality for those few moments while the feelings took place. I had created my own illusion, just like each and everyone of us go around creating our own illusions on a daily basis. Our perception is our reality.
I tell this story to help others become more acutely aware of their own thoughts and just how incredibly powerful they are. Isn't it funny how our brains work? From worrying about something that hasn't even actually happened to reliving a moment in the past to making assumptions that what other people do or say has anything to do with us at all -- these are all ways that our mind likes to create illusions for us! And yes, we are ALL a little bit crazy like this at times.
The good news is that as powerful as our thoughts are, we can work to take control of them and harness that power for good. Here are a few pointers on how to do just that.
- What are you thinking? Notice whenever your mind starts reeling, and also take note of the physical changes in your body. Knowing really is half the battle. A mentor of mine, Angela Jia Kim of Savor the Success, says there are really only two types of thoughts: empowering ones and disempowering ones. Simplify it to that level and learn to ask yourself in any given moment, how is this thought serving me?
- Check yourself. Don't get me wrong, sometimes we really are in danger... But, usually not. Is there really a "dinosaur" chasing you? Is it really about you? Give yourself an ego-check. In addition to trying to protect us from (often imaginary) danger, our ego likes to make us feel really special and like everything is about us. But, upon a little logical reasoning, we can realize that whatever disempowering thoughts we are having are not actually about us or even real at all. With this awareness in hand, we can then work toward changing them.
- Just breathe. This simple nugget of wisdom can be applied to just about any uncomfortable situation. Breathe it out. Deep breathing actually has a physiological effect on our nervous system that sends out neurohormones to basically tell the stress hormones to chill. Visualize as you practice breathing. Inhale peace slowly and deeply through your nose into your diaphragm and exhale stress slowly and completely out through your mouth. Continue this until you feel calmness restore.
- Fill your consciousness with positive and uplifting ideas. Since thoughts are energy and they turn into our reality, why not feed your brain with some good stuff? From the articles you read to the people you hang out with, to the TV you watch (or not), you are setting the stage for what kind of thoughts will go into that beautiful little noggin of yours. Fuel your mind with knowledge that empowers you. Surround yourself with people who lift you up.
- Practice mindfulness. I can't recommend a mindfulness practice enough. It helps us become so much more aware of our thoughts and what's going on with our bodies. It keeps us connected with our core being and intuition. While meditation is definitely at the top of the list of becoming more mindful, there are many other ways you can practice. Yoga is another wonderful one. However, it can also be taking an introspective walk or doing your favorite in-the-flow activity, such as painting, sewing or playing an instrument. Regularly practicing these mindfulness enhancers will help you stay grounded and will keep those crazy thoughts at bay.
Learn to harness the power of your thoughts and enjoy the reward of unlimited peacefulness and joy!
For more by Dawn Gluskin, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.