I am guessing that we all agree that how we think about something impacts the experience we have with it. You wouldn’t still be here if you weren’t already pretty much on board with the idea that your brain is really powerful and can change your lived experience.
These examples aren’t here to make a case that one belief or thought is better or righter than another. It’s the opposite of that, actually. This is to draw your attention to how your thoughts create the experience you are having.
It was not the the news story, the dishes or the silly posts that made you experience your world as you did. Those things just exist. They’re neutral.
Instead, it was your thoughts about those things that created the experience that you had.
If you are familiar with the Cognitive Behavioral therapy modality or The Life Coach School’s “Model” you may very well know this already. But, when it’s your first time thinking through it, you might feel A LOT of emotion.
Lots of people get really upset at this idea. They feel that you are blaming the victim, or telling them that they had the “wrong” thought, or generally feel like they’re being handed a bunch of blame for every hard thing in their life.
My outrage took the shape of arguing (somewhat incessantly) the point that all of my thoughts were “rational” and “reasonable” and therefore, “right.”
Here’s how those conversations went with a CBT therapist of my acquaintance:
Me: “He said ‘you suck’ and I said ‘you hurt my feelings!’”
CBT Therapist: “He can’t hurt your feelings. Only you can hurt your feelings.”
Me: “What the hell does that mean? He said I suck!”
CBT Therapist: Yeah, but you could have chosen to see that as a good thing.
Me: “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT! When someone says ‘you suck,’ it’s RATIONAL to get angry and have hurt feelings! What do you want me to do instead, give him a hug and say “Thanks, I love you, too!” That’s not normal! And, anyway, it was his intention to upset me!”
CBT Therapist: “You can have any thought you like! You can be mad if it’s what you want to do. What I want you to know is that you aren’t mad because he made you mad, you’re mad because you designed your own thoughts to make yourself mad.”
Around and around we went: me arguing that I was right, when really, I was hurt.
Eventually, I landed in the middle, fully agreeing with myself and with her.
First, just for the record, my thoughts were rational and reasonable! No one would blame me for having the default reactions to what happened to me. If someone smiled at me I could like them. If someone yelled at me I could get angry. If someone turned me down, I could decide I don’t want to be friends with them anyway.
If I like the way my life is going, I can keep my thoughts, just as they are.
But, what is also true is that if I don’t want to give this rude person the power to upset me, I could choose a different thought and have a different experience.
We have now arrived at the CBT model
Welcome to The Situation
According to the cognitive behavioral model we live our lives inside “the situation.” The situation is neutral in the sense that it’s not in an of itself upsetting or gratifying or exciting, or… anything, really. It just is. The situation in our example would be that i was talking with a man who said the words “You suck.” to me.
Choose your Thoughts Wisely
Your mindmanager (more on her, soon) watches the situation unfolding and comments on it to herself. “That was rude,” she says. And, thusly, you have had a thought!
Cue the Amygdala!
When I’ve decided that someone has been rude to me, I do not take it well. I might feel hurt. Sometimes I feel betrayed. I almost always feel super annoyed. All of these “negative” feelings trigger hormones that activate the amygdala and launch me into emotionally appropriate behavior. Once I’m hurt, betrayed, or annoyed I’m going to act that way. In fact, trying to stop an emotion train when it’s already on its way out of the station is HARD.
It takes a herculean effort to walk back fury, annoyance, desperation, betrayal, and hurt in the nanosecond between the thought and the feeling. (It’s way, WAY easier to intervene during the thought.)
Feelings create behaviors
Once you are all up in your feelings, you are going to act accordingly. In our example, my thought “that was rude” led me to say “you hurt my feelings.” If i had thought “That’s weird that he would say that, I wonder what upsetting him” maybe I would have asked a question or let it go. Who knows.
AGAIN: None of this is about the right response. It’s just about observing that it was the thought that created the feeling that created the behavior.
Behaviors feed back into the situation and accumulate into results
The situation is also partially created by you. How you have behaved up until this moment colors the situation you find yourself in right now, and what you do in this moment will color the situation you live in tomorrow. This is how our behaviors over time accumulate into the results we create in our lives. While that’s worth knowing, it doesn’t in any way diminish your ability to respond differently tomorrow, however.
The CBT model is a powerful tool when it comes to managing your mindset, mindscape and mindmanager. All three of these pieces of the mind can be adjusted, optimized, and experimented upon with your thoughts… which in turn will change your feelings, behavior and results.
My posts for the past week boil down to one piece of critical advice: During the coronavirus crisis (and, actually, always) it’s very important for you to realize that you have CHOICE about what you think, what you feel, and how you act.
Not total choice, obviously, but a heck of a lot more choice than most of us are exercising.
And listen, I’ve heard every version of how that’s not true:
“Some people have depression and anxiety or worse, Amanda. They aren’t at choice about how they feel.” They have more choice than they know, and I want them to see if they can find some. Will their choices make them feel all better? NO. But I’m not going to let that stop me from encouraging them to do what they can to feel more at peace TODAY.
“Some people have lost their jobs and have no money and nobody is hiring right now, Amanda. What do you want them to do?’ I want them to know that even SUPER hard times don’t have to be the only thing happening in your life. Where can you find joy? What delights you? How can you get a little bit of that TODAY?
“Some people are sad, angry, and frustrated, Amanda! And what’s wrong with that? You shouldn’t shame people who are feeling entirely rational, albeit negative emotions.” I would NEVER shame anyone for feeling badly.
And I never said that exercising your choice about how you think, feel, and act during the coronavirus would mean that you will feel great all the time.
How bizarre would that be? Our world is in crisis, people we know are sick (and maybe we will be, too), and there are real worries about how we are going to recover from this economic free fall. Being present and intentional often means feeling sad and angry and frustrated. That’s totally fine.
AND! Being present and intentional can also mean feeling grateful. It can involve laughter. Sometimes it means that you restrict your exposure to the news so you can be present with your kid without that crushed feeling in your chest. Sometimes it means that you tell your husband that “If pajamas are on my body, NO ONE WILL SPEAK about the coronavirus!” All of those things are allowed.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
So, if that’s true and we have more choice than we realize, how do we go about exercising that choice? Or, said another way, how do we manage our minds so that we can live intentionally while feeling more peaceful?
At the center of that question, is another question: What is a mind?
There are actually a lot of answers to this question! In all the related fields (neuropsychology, personal development, meditation and hypnosis, etc.) every answer they come up with seems to be controversial! Which is kind of weird, when you think about how basic that question is.
Whenever that happens (which happens a lot in “the literature” around fundamental ideas), my go to strategy is to look at all the options and then come up with my own working definition and then see where it takes me. I’m always looking for the position that leads to the best advice about living an intentional and adventurous life.
Answers range from “your mind is your brain, obviously” to “your mind is your bridge to universal intelligence, obviously” and everything in between.
I like to think of the mind, most of all, as a workspace. This is where we go* to observe our world, navigate our emotions, make choices about our thoughts, and, well, exist.
In my theory (which I’ll someday give a name…) the workspace of the mind has three interwoven parts, each of which can be adjusted to support our ability to choose.
Mindset: These are the lenses that fall into place and color/frame the way we interpret what’s happening to us. Fundamentally, a mindset is a pattern of beliefs. Beliefs are ingrained thoughts. And thoughts are things we can choose. We’ll talk about how to be strategic about dismantling and strengthening our thoughts, beliefs, and mindsets so that you (and not the mindless status quo) can be the boss of what happens in your mind.
Mindscape: It’s helpful to think of your mindscape as the almost physical space occupied by your mind. Is your mind crammed so full of half processed trauma, disorganized memories and repetitive thoughts that you want to punch me in the face every time I tell you have a choice about what you think?
Or do you maintain your mindscape so there’s room for introspection, innovation, and creativity? We will discuss what kind of maintenance will help you make/keep your mindscape a place you want to spend time.
Mndmanager: If you’ve ever taken a cognitive development class, the mindmanager is a lot like the “central executive.” Or Joy, from inside out. Or Genius, from Herman’s head.Your mindmanager has shit to do, and only some of them involve your conscious brain. It’s for our mindmanger that we need to engage in self-care. And if you struggle to believe you are good enough, It’s your mindmanager who needs a bit of an identity upgrade.
When you understand the pieces of your mind, you are better able to intervene with intentional choice when things go a little crazy around you. And that’s our goal.
*PS- It’s totally wrong to say we “go” there. We ARE there. The fact that there is a “there” means that we “are.” Our mind IS our physical existence. Without our minds we are either nothingness or released back to universal intelligence/God or whatever it is that happens after death. But for this life, this crisis, this moment in time, our mind is where we are. Let’s take care of it, shall we?
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On Friday we discussed how to counteract the negativity and fear that threatens to consume us by tapping into the beauty around you. You may not remember, but beauty was part of a three-part list, along with hope and opportunity.
If you’ve had even one “emo” moment in your life, you’ve probably had this two-part thought:
“What is hope, anyway, and isn’t it entirely naïve to be hopeful?”
This usually comes up when you’ve experienced a moment of chaotic unpredictability [Like that time the entire world decided to work from home (including the kids!), except for the doctors and nurses who HAD to go to work (but without fundamental protective gear) because a highly contagious virus was on the loose.] At times like that, you begin to seriously worry that things “Won’t be OK.”
One of our sincerest hopes is that things “Will be OK.” Hope, generally, is the feeling that we can anticipate how things will go, and that if we do things right they will go “our way.” When things start to spiral out of control, we “lose all hope” and when things start to line up and follow the pattern we declare ourselves “cautiously optimistic.”
The beating heart of hope is predictability.
Most people oscillate between believing in order (and feeling hope) and believing in chaos (and feeling at the mercy of shifting tides). While some people land in a stubborn commitment to one or the other, insisting either that “everything happens for a reason” or that life is inherently chaotic so “we all better get what we came for (YOLO!),” I land somewhere else.
If the heart of hope is predictability and “the world” appears to be driven by chaos, then the question for me becomes: What CAN we count on to be predictable?
I’ve spent the last two decades in a concerted study on the question of what it means to be human and I’ve found a few things.
There are a few forces that run so strongly through humans that they replicate again and again, even as circumstances shift and veer around us.
Said another way: no matter what is going on with the world, humans be human.
One very strong piece of human nature is about navigating the tension between connection to others and personal expression. In fact, much of human history (including our day-to-day lives right now) can be understood as we navigating this tension as the world does its thing around us.
What this means is that when we are tapped into our greater selves* (which happens a lot in a crisis!), we will show up for each other and we will capture that experience for all of human history to come.
We are wired to help each other, to love each other, and to care for each other and so we will. We will feel empathy and love. We will want to entertain others so we can feel the relief of seeing them smile. Families will step up for each other, friends will chip in, and strangers will make other strangers face masks on their home sewing machine.
We are wired to express our unique perspective and so we will. Out of this will come voices that can correct the arc of history. Beautiful poems and songs and stories will emerge that make us stop and notice their truth. Facebook posts will surprise use with their absurdity and make us laugh out loud (an impulse so important that we had to shorten it for ease of use). Someone will find the words to make us breathless with anger, weep with relief, and sing with joy RIGHT NOW in the middle of the coronavirus.
This is our calling as humans, the first and only species to observe our own dance with emotion.
So, is it naïve to have hope? Of course not. Human beings are predictable- we will create order and safety for each other. We will watch what’s unfolding and we will raise the alarm and put out the call to do things better.
There will be love and empathy and connection, and there will be art, stories, jokes, and calls-to-arms; we will help each other and then we will tell each other our stories.
*PS- For my cynics, yes every one of us will have moments when we aren’t tapped into our greater selves. We will supermarket sweep the grocery store, buy all the N95 masks so we can be safe at the grocery store and price gouge hand sanitizer like a jerk on Amazon. And then we will go home and hug our kids, call our mothers and tell a funny joke. Hope is everywhere if you choose to see it.
The opposite* of fear is not a lack of fear. The opposite* of fear is presence in the present.
Are you present to the person you are with?
Are you present to the intentions that you set?
The goal you are pursuing?
Are you present to the opportunity of now?
Well, if you ARE present in the present then there is something you can DO.
There is a way to concretely impact “the situation.” You can start to write, or smile at the person in front of you, or take a break and read a novel, or hop on zoom with a potential client and deliver value however you can.
When you’re fully in the present, “the situation” you’re thinking about is yours to work on and it’s grounded in the real world.
If you are, instead, present to FEAR then you feel like you are wandering.
When you find yourself carried away by fear and absorbed by the tides of panic, your goal is to bring yourself back to presence in the present.
Finally, I want to set some clear expectations: there’s a very good chance (like 99.9%) that you WILL BE carried away by fear; I get carried away at least once a day.
It’s going to happen and then happen again.
Fear isn’t an artifact of this moment. As I said yesterday, there is nothing more ALIVE than feeling fear. We’ve been afraid since the day we were born and our last day on earth will be marked by fear as well. And that’s a good thing- fear is an important, life-saving part of life.
Every day, as many times as it happens, we can recognize where we are (wandering in the fields of fear), and then ground back down into the present through expressing love, pursuing an intention in a concrete way, and indulging in some self-care.
… If those feel a bit hard to access in the throes of the coronavirus press conference (note: stop watching those), then go primitive and forcibly push yourself back into your body. The fastest way out of the fields of fear is to experience your body in the now: do some jumping jacks, dance, run in place, shake it off, watch a Zumba video, do some yoga, walk the dog, try to do a single push up, see how long you can plank, ride your bike or “JUMP JUMP.”
… If that doesn’t feel accessible, SHUT YOUR SHIT DOWN. Meditation, hypnosis or a good old fashioned nap is in order, immediately.
… If that doesn’t feel accessible then you’ve probably pushed yourself a bit too far: take a hot shower, put on the sad movie, make some popcorn, have a good cry, and fall asleep in your middle of the day pajamas.
(PS- All of this applies to you mamas and poppas out there, no one needs to be better resourced than the parents, so take care of yourself).
But you have to choose it.
PS- *Opposite is not the right word… counterweight is better… or opposing force.
Yesterday we discussed how there is nothing more fundamentally “alive” than fear. In fact, it’s fear that keeps us alive despite the tigers, freezing cold, and food scarcity that have historically plagued our species. Perhaps this is why fear is so much more powerful than hope.
Psychologists estimate that it takes 10 compliments to counteract a single critical comment, 10 exposures to beautiful, hopeful images to neutralize the fear of seeing a scary picture. The rule of 10 dictates that fear will draw you in at 10x the power of hope, beauty, and opportunity. During times of overwhelming fear, this means that you need to PROACTIVELY reduce the number of exposures you have to the fear and intentionally jack up your exposure to hope, beauty and opportunity.
How can we do that? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Remove the news apps from your phone and time box your news exposure. You can get everything you need in 5 minutes once a day! I always follow what I call my “daily heart attack” with some intentional. I find doing something like this helpful. This is one I do with my kids sometimes when the state of their world seems to have them tied up in knots. For them, that usually means that they have to stop playing video games, but I feel the same sense of frozen panic reading the news. There are endless meditation, hypnosis and flow apps in the world. Try some out; you’re going to need a way to walk yourself back from the edge.
Figure out your strategy for social media and stick to it. My social media strategy is similar to my news strategy. Limit and time box. I went in right at the beginning of this mess and put my most panicked friends on mute. They need to be who they are but my love for them doesn’t obligate me to be exposed to their fears in real-time. I go on once a day and go through my list: I check the coach and therapist groups so that I can see what today’s panic is about so I’m keeping my finger on the pulse of my tribe. Then I check out a few groups that are consistent sources of joy and constructive energy, liking and commenting enough to keep people encouraged, and then I log off.
This doesn’t have to be your strategy!
You can choose to check it every hour on the hour. You can check it once a week. You can put up a header image that says “Sorry I’ll be at the beach during COVID-19” and not look back. It’s entirely up to you and what you want from your day.
More than anything, I just want you to make some choices and be intentional.
Replace news and social media WITH something. A vacuum can’t survive in the infinite universe, so you know it’s not going to work in your life! By this I mean, you have to replace a habit with a habit.
Otherwise, what will you do in the bathroom, in bed, while your kids are off getting the crayons, and when you just want to sit and veg out?
You need a plan for those moments, too. I suggest you make yourself a list of approved websites, a few youtube playlists filled with cat videos or Zumba videos, and download some feel-good books on your kindle. Now, instead of endlessly scrolling through the New York Times App, I read some of whatever feel-good novel I’m reading.
Yesterday I real “The Art of Inheriting Secrets” (free with Prime Reading!) and it was exactly the escapist feel-good novel I was looking for.
What’s your jam?
Should you read Dirk Gently? Abe Lincoln, Zombie Hunter? Or Great Expectations for the 100th time? Whatever works like candy for your brain, get it downloaded and in place!
Tomorrow we will dive deeper into how to counteract fear with the opposite of fear: presence in the present.
For now, I encourage you to be as intentional as possible with your ratio of fear to hope. Nothing matters more.
Yesterday I wrote to you with a new Coaching With Gloria video about how you get to choose whether you live in a competitive world or a collaborative world. But it’s not only your beliefs about the competitive/collaborative nature of the world that you get to choose and then create by the way you show up, but it’s also way more than that. Two other huge reality markers that you get to choose and create are fear v. presence and scarcity v. abundance.
There is nothing more fundamentally “alive” than fear. All sentient beings have fear, even the single-cell organism in the petri dish will pull away from sudden bright light. And, the more complicated the brain involved the sneakier fear becomes; by the time you get to human beings (Oh, ye of the prefrontal cortex, most complicated brain structure on the planet) fear can show up in literally any costume. Here are some of fear’s favorite characters:
But these are somewhat subtle compared to the way fear is showing up right now:
Given how disruptive fear’s more subtle pseudonyms are (like hurry, worry, and guilt), it’s 100% natural that we feel downright pursued by fear during this time. And if we lean into it, even a little, we can be overwhelmed by it and carried away. I log in to the New York Times App just to “check the pulse of the nation” and before I know it, I’m posting and commenting and researching and double-checking, off an on for HOURS, only later realizing that another day has passed and I haven’t made any progress on my book.
That’s one of MY stories of being drawn by the black hole magnetism of fear. It’s natural… and its important that I not beat myself up about it. It’s equally important that I recognize that behavior for what it is: a FEAR response.
It’s not always true that obsessively tracking the coronavirus is only a fear response- if I was a policymaker or a journalist that would be different, I’d need to know every detail that was available.
But I’m not.
I’m a professor, so it’s my job to know my university’s policies and supports, and then teach my students to the best of my ability online. It’s not my job to monitor exactly how many N95 masks are available on Amazon.
And I’m a coach for coaches and therapists, so while I will think deeply about how the coronavirus will change how people will decide to get the help they need.. there’s no need for me to engage in an intense online conversation about how much social distancing is enough social distancing. When I wake up and realize that I’m fully outside of my lane, I know that fear has carried me away.
Fear is sneaky: it feels rational and so easy to justify. You can live in fear and no one will judge you. Especially not me! But just know that fear will steal your joy, compromise your progress, and convince you that there was no other way.
But that is not true. You can manage yourself (your time, your mind, and your exposure) and experience far less fear than you do now.
That’s 100% true.
But you have to choose it.
And right now, as a tsunami of entirely justifiable fear sits ready to carry you away at any moment, is the time to start. Starting tomorrow and through Friday I’m going to share the three things I’ve learned about fear that help me minimize its impact and stay intentional:
Everyone who really knows me knows that I LOVE a good New Year Resolution. I’m always getting excited about potential and possibility, and a New Year seems like a great excuse to return to a thorny situation and see if a renewed effort can bring me some progress. This year is no different, except that the thorny problem to which I am returning is on a different wave-length. In prior years, I’ve returned to all the things I want to be different:
This year, though, I want to be happy with what is.
My business is enough. My parenting skills are enough. My impact is ENOUGH. What would be possible for me if I really believed those things? That’s what I’m going to find out this year.
New Year, Same Me*.
But with more compassion, more appreciation, more gratitude and a slower pace.
I’ve been asking myself: What would I do if I had nothing to prove? Here’s what I’ve come up with:
I can already see a difference. I’ve let go of BIG THINGS that were feeling heavy and out of integrity with who I am and what I want. I’ve decluttered 3 rooms in my house so far (9 BAGS OF TRASH!) and I’ve turned off the expectations around BIGGER, FASTER, MORE -MORE – MORE and spent much of the last few weeks playing Mario Kart with my 7 and 9 year old kids, talking my husband about Dirk Gently, and drawing in a new sketch book I bought myself.
I feel better- the autoimmune stuff seems to have calmed. My thoughts are less intense. My family is happy. I’m happy.
Can you feel it? 2020 is going to be a great year.
How about you? What are you looking to haven in 2020?
Forever and ever I’ve wanted to be an author. And forever and ever I thought that was impossible. See, I’ve got this eye thing from childhood seizures (long story, I’m fine now) that makes it really hard for my eyes to see typos (I also CANNOT find Waldo, but that’s a story for another day). And to me, that felt like an insurmountable problem!
It’s not like people didn’t like my writing… they would read my blogs, and told me they enjoyed my emails… but I assumed they liked it because I have a quirky sense of humor, not because it was GOOD or anything like that.
Or at least that’s what I told myself because:
What comes to mind when you read this: “VICTORY!”
Is it an image of a sweaty, smiling, totally fit person with all the right gear arriving at the top of a mountain, gazing in wonderment at the vista she’s earned?
Sometimes it’s like that. And isn’t it nice!
Sometimes, however, it’s something more like army crawling through an abandoned and collapsed coal mine, ravaged by intense claustrophobia, coming face to face with rats, and totally cut off from the light of day. When you finally emerge into the still dark cave before the opening into rainy day beyond, there’s no happy dance. You just put your head down and ask, “Can we be done now?”
It’s the victory of making it through burnout. It’s the victory of really being there for someone you love who has cancer. It’s the victory of coming out the other side of an autoimmune flare up. It’s the victory of launching a product that flops. It’s the real stuff of being a hero.
Be proud of these victories, too.
Starting a private pay practice is tough. The internet is an amazing tool, but it is also a virtual avalanche of conflicting information promising to make everything “easy” while actually just making you feel ashamed and confused.
If everything is so “easy,” then why does it feel so hard?
It’s not uncommon for the excitement of jumping into private practice to turn into total overwhelm and analysis paralysis.
I GET IT.
What you need in place of that information overload is someone who has done all that reading and taken all the courses, sifted through the nonsense, and come out the other side with a clear understanding—plus a track record of success.Continue reading