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Your Mind, The Heckler

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

– William James


Your mind is one of your most powerful tools. It helps you plan, think, and achieve your goals. However, the mind can also be one of your greatest bullies. It may tell you what you can’t do, how you’re always doing something wrong, and that you’re never good enough. It’s like this heckler in the stands you can’t ignore. Well, maybe the solution to this isn’t to ignore your mind but to change your relationship with the thoughts your mind throws at you. Often times unhelpful thoughts are most damaging when you take them too literally, when we put them up on pedestals and treat them as if they are mandates or dictums. What if thoughts really aren’t as lofty or serious as we might make them? Your thoughts are composed of language and so essentially they are words on paper. Look at this thought for example:


I can’t do this.”


When you look at this thought on your screen, what do you literally see? It’s a bunch of words. If we break down a word, what is that composed of? Letters. If we break-down letters, what are they made up of? Sounds, like “ah, vuh, buh, eee, and zee.” Also, letters are basically a collection of lines and curves. Think of the letter “t” for example. How do you draw a letter “t”? Make 2 lines that cross. That’s it! So at the end of the day, our thoughts are basically just a bunch of lines and curves put together in arbitrary ways.


Think about that for a second… "thoughts are basically just a bunch of lines and curves put together in arbitrary ways."


We’re allowing ourselves to get heckled and bullied by nothing more than a bunch of lines and curves. What does that tell you about your thoughts and the perceived power they may have over you? Perhaps, our thoughts don't need to be as omnipotent as we make them out to be? Thoughts get their power by the meaning we attach to them. So if we can learn to attach meaning to thoughts (or words), we can also learn to change that meaning.


So when you notice yourself having unhelpful thoughts that are interfering, remember what they truly are at their core… lines and curves… and work on treating them with less seriousness, and even treating them with a good dose of silliness! Here’s one way to do that. Imagine an unhelpful thought that resonates with you, as if the thought was written out on a piece of paper. Now, you may have defaulted to viewing the thought written out in black ink. Try changing the font color of your thought to blue… green… tangerine… hot pink… or rainbow colors. Now, try changing the actual font of the thought… imagine it in Times New Roman… now Comic Sans… now imagine the thought is in a font you would see in a children’s fairy tale book… now a comic book… now a cartoon show.


I can’t do this.

I can’t do this.

I can’t do this.

I can't do this.

I can't do this.

After doing this, take a moment now to see how you are relating to your original thought. Does the thought still have the same effect on you as before? You may find that simply changing the font or the color of your thought can help you remember that your thoughts are just words (lines and curves). Also, this brief exercise may remind you that just as you have the ability to view your thoughts with terror and doom, you can also cultivate an ability to view them as non-intimidating, lighthearted, and silly.


Strive to treat your thoughts flexibly rather than literally, and once you have loosened your grip on them, practice letting them go like a bubble or a passing car, especially if they are not helping you.


“Use your mind, don’t let your mind use you.” - Unknown


Note: This exercise was inspired and adapted from Dr. Russ Harris.


Train, Live, Rest, and Prevail.

- Dr. Yu



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