The unexamined life is not worth living.
One of the first skills that I teach the doctors I work with is the meta-skill of thinking about their thinking.
Sounds fancy, I know.
But it’s really simple. And hugely powerful.
You see, our brains are random thought generators. I’m not sure how they figured this out, but they say we have on average 60,000 thoughts per day. Some of these thoughts flit through our brains instantly, and we don’t even have much awareness of them. But some thoughts stick around, and we think them over and over until they become beliefs. And these beliefs inform every aspect of our lives.
But I’m going to tell you one of the secrets of the universe.
Are you ready?
Once we learn how to recognize our thoughts, and we start to see what our thinking creates for us, we can learn how to start choosing our thoughts on purpose in order to create a different life.
That’s right, all the thoughts that define our life are optional. They’re all up for grabs. We get to pick and choose to think whatever we want. We can discard old thinking that doesn’t serve us, and choose better thoughts.
So how do we start?
The first step is to begin to become aware of what we are thinking. The way that we do this is by putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, or voice to recording) and unloading the voice in our head. We call this a Thought Download.
Now, if you’ve never journaled before, this is going to feel awkward. You’re going to feel as though you’re not doing it right. You won’t know what to write. Nothing is going wrong, all of that is normal. This is a skill you have to develop.
I recommend starting small: aim for 3- 5 minutes per day to start. Experiment with different approaches until you find something that works for you. Try doing your download at different times of the day until you land on something that you can do consistently. Maybe you want to do “stream of consciousness” downloads. Personally, I like to do focused thought downloads where I write down all my thoughts on a particular problem that I’m working on.
Here are some thought-finding prompts that you can use to get started:
- What went well today? Why?
- What didn’t go well today? Why?
- What are my top three feelings?
- What do I want to work on?
- What do I need help with?
Once we start downloading our thoughts, that’s when the magic happens. We can begin to connect the dots between what we are thinking and how it manifests in our life. We can get curious about whether our thoughts are true. We can question whether we want to continue thinking the same way. We can start to envision a different way of thinking.
Here’s an example. I used to believe that working out meant going to the gym and doing cardio and weights. But that was a big and time-consuming thing. The result of this thinking was that I aspired to work out, but I rarely had the time.
Once I could see that thinking this way didn’t serve me, I chose to change my thoughts. I redefined working out to include any form of activity that got my body moving. Shoveling snow, going up and down the stairs while doing the laundry, walking around the block, and parking far away from the door at the mall became valid forms of exercise. Now working out is something that happens in some form every day, even when I don’t go to the gym.
So go buy a notebook at the dollar store, and start generating some thought awareness! Drop me a line and let me know what you discover.