My thoughts can be vicious little f*ckers.
I mean, supposedly I’m the writer here. But if I could farm out the scenarios my thoughts come up with and sell them to Warner Bros, I’d be sitting in a bathtub full of ethically-mined diamonds.
“You’re going to fail at that!”
“Do you have any idea how ridiculous you’ll look?”
“Why are you even bothering?”
Almost every scenario is worst-case. And the thing about thoughts, if we believe them, is that we react to them. EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE NOT ACTUALLY HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.
When we take a leap of faith like starting a business, or taking our business to the next level, these thoughts tend to get louder.
So what can we do about this?
Let’s say you wake up and have 744 things to get done by the end of today. Or you have a big meeting tomorrow – one you’ve convinced yourself will be a gigantic failure and set you back 18 steps. Or you’re launching a product or service, and you have absolutely no idea how it’s going to be received.
Or all of the above.
1. Get out a pen and paper (this has proven to be better for our minds and thought processes than typing on a keyboard) and write out what’s happening.
And when I say what’s happening, I mean what you actually know for 100% sure to be true.
“I have 3 calls to make today, I have to submit that blog post, and I have to take the dog to the vet at 4 o’clock.”
“I have no idea how the meeting tomorrow will turn out.”
“I have no idea how the launch will go.”
Next, write out what you’re telling yourself about what’s happening – and about what’s going to happen next. You might find yourself saying something like,
“There’s no way I have the time to do it all without screwing up.”
“She’s going to brush me off and I’m going to have to start from the beginning and OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO GO BROKE AND FALL FLAT ON MY FACE.”
Write more. Write about what the voices in your head are telling you about yourself, write the imaginary conversations you’re having. Give it all a voice.
“I’m not where I should be at this stage.”
“I can’t handle not succeeding at this.”
“What is my mom going to say?”
2. Then, still writing, answer this question:
How much of this do I know to be true?
And I don’t mean relatively true. Not like “well my mom never has anything nice to say about anything so she’s for sure going to give me shit because…” No. Absolutely true, in this moment. (Byron Katie is the boss of this question. I recommend reading and listening to her if this is an issue you ever come up against.)
You’ll find that, of the story you’ve written, very little of it is actually based on fact.
At this point in the game, it’s very important not to start beating up on yourself. You might go straight into:
“I can’t believe I’m telling myself this story again!”
“I can’t believe how insane my mind is!”
“I NEED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS RIGHT NOW.”
If you find yourself in this arena, exit immediately…
… and come back to the present moment, with the kindness of an unconditionally loving coach or mentor.
You can write about that, too.
“I’m doing my best / You’re doing your best” (sometimes it helps to talk to yourself in the second person)
“May I be kind to myself.”
“May I feel at peace.”
3. WTF is the present moment, anyway?
This is another place where we tend to get lost. Yes, the present is the sun shining through the windows, the feeling of your bum on the floor, the sound of the wind in the trees.
It’s also the emotion that’s sticking with you right now, no matter what that emotion is. If you’re feeling anxiety or grief or anger about your stories, even if those stories aren’t true, the emotion is real and is with you.
This is where meditation comes in. I may be biased – I meditate every day and teach meditation – but that’s because I believe in it so strongly and couldn’t live without it. Some questions you might ask yourself to stay present:
“What emotion am I feeling right now?”
“Where am I feeling this emotion in my body?”
“What does it feel like? Painful? Cold? Like being hit? Like buzzing?”
“Can I let it be in the room with me?”
…which brings us to:
4. This isn’t going to last forever.
When we’re trying to be with difficult emotions, a big fear often arises that “I’m going to feel this way forever”. And so we start to resist. And, ironically, the more we resist the emotion, the longer it sticks around.
That’s when I fall into the trap of “IF I JUST BE WITH THIS EMOTION REALLY REALLY SUPER WELL IT WILL LEAVE. Why hasn’t it left? Goddammit, how am I still feeling anxious?”
… which, in and of itself, is also resistance.
It takes a lot of practice (and for me, a lot of patience), but eventually you’ll start to find a way to let the emotions be there.
And, to quote Nayyirah Waheed, “the fear of feeling is a feeling”. If you find yourself resisting the emotion, then allow the feeling of resistance to be there too, and stay present with it in your body, as well.
And again: be ever so kind, gentle and patient with yourself about this.
Because here’s the thing: even if you think you’re not meditating, you are.
You might be meditating on your perceived flaws. Or the things you think you have to do better or more of to be happy. Or all your worst-case scenarios and how much you’re going to fail and how badly you suck.
And focusing on these things, day in and day out, is not doing you any favours. But it is making them more ingrained, and the more ingrained they become, the more we believe them. So….
5. Give your mind something else to do. (All while allowing those emotions to chill in the room next to you.)
In other words, write another story: one that will support you, rather than harm you. One that will bring you peace, rather than pit you at war against yourself (or someone else).
It’s not necessary to get elaborate about the new story. Keep it simple.
Are you telling yourself how you’re not going to get everything done today?
Here’s a new story: “I can.”
Are you believing in a worst-case scenario?
How about: “I am strong enough to handle anything that comes my way”?
Are you still struggling with the fact that you have so many negative thoughts?
One of my fallbacks is, “I’m doing the absolute best that I can.”
Measuring yourself against the 700 people you follow on Instagram?
How about, “I am enough”? Or “I’m beautiful”?
I know – shocking! Telling ourselves we don’t need to change? That we’re beautiful? That we are perfect just the way we are? WTF, Natalie?
I hear you. The new stories will feel strange and uncomfortable and probably like total fakery at first That’s normal. Speak to that, too. If it feels impossible to believe that you’re doing the best you can, could you believe you’re doing the best you can right in this moment, simply at telling yourself that you are?
If it seems insane to contemplate “I can”, focus it on the now. “I can… tell myself ‘I can’, right in this moment.” And the next moment, and the next.
One moment at a time.
The insane thing about it feeling outrageous to be kind to yourself is that it’s no more outrageous than comparing ourselves to people we don’t know and panicking about situations that aren’t happening and berating ourselves for not living up to unattainable goals.
In fact, it is arguably far less outrageous.
So keep at it. Do your best at doing your best. Repeat whatever feels right to you over and over for a few minutes. Feel your body’s reaction to it. And speak to that reaction, too:
“I love you.”
“You are forgiven.”
“You are enough.”
Because – I promise you this – you are.
Chief Executive Copywriter / Other Token Canadian
Natalie is Flauk’s storyteller and punctuation nerd. She’s also an author, podcaster, and award-winning scriptwriter.