It is pretty rare in nature for seeds to be just lightly scattered on the ground and yet yield a bountiful crop – not being turned into the soil, watered, tended, etc. In order to ensure the seeds take root and grow, someone has to take the time to properly plant them and care for them. That’s how it works in nature. But when we are talking about our thoughts as seeds, the exact opposite seems to be true.
A thought can be ever so gently lofted out there, by your own inner voice, by someone you know, or by a complete stranger, and within seconds that thought can take hold so strongly that it stays with you for days, weeks, even years. As that thought takes hold we begin to weave a story that explains it…justifies it…makes it true. And by the time we are done weaving our story, we have somehow managed to incorporate components that have absolutely nothing to do with the original thought.
An example – You present a project to you boss that you have been working on for weeks. You are proud of your work and excited to finally share it. After your presentation your boss simply says it was fine and then proceeds to leave for another meeting. Immediately your mind goes to work on this one word thought/response…and here’s what that ensuing inner dialogue might look like: “Fine?!? I worked for weeks on this project. I gave up my free time. I gave up sleep. I gave up time with my family and friends. My boss has no idea what she is talking about. She’s an idiot! My project was awesome! She has no idea what she has here. She is lucky to have someone like me working here. I could work anywhere! But I don’t…I work here. And she said my project was fine. Not good…not well done…just fine. She didn’t say she liked it…she never even said it was a good idea. How could I have wasted so much time on this project? How could I have messed this up so badly. How do I even still have a job? I know nothing. She should fire me. I’m a failure.” And what’s worse is that the next project you are given, you have doubts from the very beginning that you can do a good job and, intentionally or not, you end up putting in less time on the new project and/or your focus suffers when you work on the project. And so consequentially that next project is not as good as the first one you did and the feedback is, once again, less than favorable…launching you into yet another tailspin/inner dialogue. You may also begin to interact with or treat your boss differently because of this inner dialogue, which could lead to other issues as well. Can you see how this can become a cyclical mess?
It may seem a bit farfetched, but that’s just because it is a fictitious example. If you reflect back to a time when you actually experienced this, remembering in detail the inner dialogue that was playing, you would recognize the same spiraling pattern. And, going back to the example, notice how much was created as a part of the story that was never truly articulated as fact during actual conversation. That one word, fine, set things into motion within the mind that quickly spun out of control. So many of us do this on a regular basis over all sorts of things, both big and small. Somehow we manage to allow a comment, that we interpret to be negative in some way, to take over our logical, thinking minds and the next thing you know we have come to conclusions such as we are a failure, we are worthless, we are ugly, we are fat, we are stupid, we are pathetic, etc. It is how we seem to be wired, and the only way to avoid this vicious, unproductive, unhelpful cycle is to consciously guard against it.
It is so incredibly easy for such seeds of doubt to be planted in our minds. We have to work extra hard to ensure we don’t do things to aid in the process. Stopping our minds from going off on some random tangent as it attempts to write the story that it feels best fits the thought in question is so important. Not always easy to do, but important to do nonetheless. But how do we prevent one seemingly innocent thought from becoming a black hole of negativity?
- Breathe – This is always good advice regardless of the situation as it makes us slow down, and gives us time to collect our thoughts, and put things into better perspective.
- What if it is true? – Ask yourself, what if it is true? What if, using the previous example, the project was just “fine”? Does it really mean you are a failure and should be fired? What is the worst thing that can really happen? Keep it in perspective.
- What if the origin of the thought was based on something else entirely? – What if something else was going on in your boss’s world that day? What if the boss had a horrible fight with her husband or child before coming to work that day and she just wasn’t fully present for your presentation? What if her “fine” comment was not indicative of her actual response to your work?
- Ask – While not an easy option, sometimes just asking for more detail, more feedback, or more specifics can remove so much of the crazy story our minds want to weave. By asking you might find out that fine is a word your boss uses to mean she really likes it, or that her morning got off to a bad start and her head is just not in the game yet today. Instead of making up the story, try to find out what the story really is.
Keeping our minds from running away with thoughts is no easy task, but it can be done with patience and practice. In the meantime, don’t let the seeds of doubt gain permanent roots in your mind. Keep your perspective, calmly and logically process all possible scenarios, and don’t jump to conclusions. When possible, seek clarification by asking questions or having conversations. Don’t let your mind dictate a story to you that isn’t true for you…don’t let those seeds of doubt take root in you mind.