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Recalculating: You Don't Have to Believe Your Thoughts

04/25/2013 01:11 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2013

This post is excerpted from Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits and followed by an exclusive blog post from the author below

Once I was driving down a road on the outskirts of town when I noticed that two unfamiliar horses had gotten out of their pastures near a wooded area and were grazing in the wide yard of a house. So I pulled over and jumped out of the car, removing the belt from my jeans to use as a lead rope to catch the horses so they wouldn't run off.

If I caught one, I thought, probably the other would follow along. Then I would tell the people in the house that their horses had gotten out of their paddock. I was happy to be fulfilling my responsibility as part of the neighborhood watch in my town.

As I ran up to the horse and got ready to throw my belt around its neck, I suddenly saw antlers. I realized that it wasn't a horse at all but a moose!

My mind stopped, and, as my car's GPS says when I make a wrong turn, "recalculating."

The moose looked just as perplexed. They must have come out of the woods in search of greener pastures. Using bear tactics, I backed away slowly, thinking, "Nice moose," and hopped in my car.

'Recalculating' can be a helpful reminder in other situations besides trying to catch a moose - it can be catching yourself as you're about to get hooked, and reminding ourselves, "Don't go there!"

Copyright Tara Bennett-Goleman, excerpted from Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2013)

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You Don't have to Believe Your Thoughts

Recalculating can be useful even when you're not trying to catch a moose. One method in mind whispering is to challenge assumptions and habitual distorted thinking and patterns.

Challenging distorted patterns of thought is a cognitive therapy method. Mind whispering integrates this approach with Eastern and Western practices and perspectives, as well as principles from horse whispering (and a sense of humor, whenever possible).

Our self-defeating emotional habits distort reality. Mindful discernment helps us distinguish between how things seem -- the 'horse' -- and how they are -- the moose.

Mindful discernment encourages our minds to perceive things more accurately, so we can examine our distorted assumptions and over-reactions. Otherwise they can be like invisible puppeteers of the mind, working their strings backstage, dictating how we perceive and react.

Some years ago a client had been working on challenging the self-critical thoughts behind her perfectionism, an emotional habit that can change. She was plagued by her own harshly judgmental opinions of everything she did.

She had been trained as a classical pianist. As I reported it in my book Emotional Alchemy, one night as she was at a concert given by a famous musician, she had the thought, "he practiced six hours for this performance -- the same six hours I spend making a pot of soup for my houseguests."

Then she saw an automatic self-critical thought come into her mind: "What am I doing with my life, making soup when I should be practicing six hours like this person?"

But she challenged that thought: she imagined that the musician himself was thinking he should be like another even more famous musician who was playing at Carnegie Hall that very night -- and who needed just three hours practice.

And she thought that that musician at Carnegie Hall was probably thinking, "I hate this - I've got to get a life."