Don’t believe everything that you think

Posted on December 6, 2010

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The other day I was stuck in typical late afternoon city traffic, stressing about how I would get everything done this month (because there’re just too many deadlines and not enough time to meet them). The longer I sat there, the worse things got. My thoughts went something like this:

Holiday shopping. New additions to my website. Those products for my clients. New Year’s cards. Our vacation to the west coast. A class proposal for February. My December newsletter. Gathering additional testimonials. How am I going to finish everything by Christmas?

I started to go down the path of negative thinking.

You know the path I’m talking about.

The path where you allow one stressful thought to lead to another stressful thought until you have snowballed yourself into a minefield of stress. (The holiday season is upon us so perhaps you are participating in stressful, negative thinking right now.)

As I was sitting there stressing about my ever-growing list of things to do, there in front of me appeared a sign from the universe, disguised as a bumper sticker. It read:

Don’t believe everything that you think.

And I started to laugh. Because it’s true.

Our thoughts are thoughts. They may help create our perception of reality and they may help create our feelings but they are  thoughts and we can choose to do with them what we will.

I am an active practitioner of a type of meditation called Vipassana. In Vipassana, we are taught to discipline our minds by 1) observing our thoughts and 2) not judging them. The purpose of Vipassana is to just allow our thoughts-and the feelings that accompany our thoughts-without judgment.

I’m telling you about Vipassana, because this month, we’re going to look at the 10 most common irrational thoughts proposed by Albert Ellis (the founder of Rational-Emotive Therapy.)

Ellis’s research and thought-dissolving strategies (which are very similar to The Work of Byron Katie) teach people how to challenge the irrationality of dysfunctional thoughts.¬†If these thoughts are causing you distress, argues Ellis, learn how to critically question their validity. And so this month, on this blog, we’ll be doing just that.

I want, however, to challenge you even further.

As you’re learning some new coaching tools to help you eradicate some of your irrational thoughts, try to be like a Vipassana meditator and also practice equanimity. This means, try to not judge yourself, your thoughts or your feelings.

If you find yourself getting angry about something, allow yourself to have the angry thoughts and feel angry. If you find yourself getting stressed and frustrated, let yourself have those feelings too.

Try out the new coaching tools I’ve created and see if you can dissolve some of that negative thinking when you notice it getting in your way. I’ve worked hard to take Ellis’s work (which is over 50 years old) and make it relevant and practical for present-day relationship problems. Don’t get me wrong here, I want you to use these tools.

But please be patient, compassionate and non-judgmental with yourself, too.

To believe that you should never have a negative thought or negative feeling, to believe that you should always be happy is, well, irrational. You should have all the thoughts and feelings you have, because you do.

This month, give yourself permission to surrender to the human condition. Challenge your irrational thoughts with the tools I provide you with here. But also, and perhaps more importantly, allow yourself to be who you are, with all of your thoughts and emotions, with as little judgment as possible.

I’ve found through my work with clients that most people don’t need thought-challenging tools as much as they need acceptance for who they are and for what they feel.

As I walk you through some of Ellis’s interesting irrational thought exercises, try your best to apply the coaching tools I’ve created to help you with your negative thinking. But also remember that the best gift you can give yourself this holiday season is the gift of self-acceptance.

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Posted in: Thought Work