We all do it, we all have it, and it can be one of the biggest blocks to getting us what we actually desire: Automatic Thinking. You know it when you catch it. It's like you're on zombie auto-pilot, responding and making unconscious decisions and actions without a single mindful moment of saying, "Hey - is this really what I want to be doing?" Or, if it's not in the moment, you may catch it afterwards with some variation of "Why oh why did I just do that? If I would have really thought about this, I would have done something completely different."
What's more, Automatic Thinking can get back us into some serious corners if we let it. How many people do you know that are in careers they don't love because they were told it would make them happy? Or a relationship they don't feel passionate about but stick with because it's what is expected?
It's everywhere and we all have wrestled with it to some degree. Frankly, it's one of the first places I start when working with new clients and over and over again creates some of the biggest breakthroughs in my practice.
Here's why we ALL do this:
— 1 —
It can be difficult to connect our conscious, mindful self with our unconscious,
Oftentimes, we are thinking of an upset or embarrassing moment from last week or what we have to do to just get through the day and get our To-Do list wrapped up, which is important when we have families and others that count on us. So what can we do to be present? First, slow down a little and focus on what you are doing right then at that moment. Even if you experience a single second of being present, you've done something crucial in that moment. Second, create moments in-between doing things. Take 10 seconds between one task and the next to simply be still, breathe, and look around (try it now!). This will give you some much-needed space to listen to what is happening around you and quiet the chatter in your head. Third, commit to creating meaningful connection with others throughout your day. When we're "busy," we can sometimes see people as hurdles to get what we want. Instead, consider seeing these moments as an opportunity to connect with who you are, and a space for others (who are often in a space of Automatic Thinking, themselves) to do the same - they may really appreciate it. Make eye contact, smile, and if a compliment arises in your mind, express it.
— 2 —
We are not the same person when we are experiencing large amounts of stress.
When we experience real stress, we oftentimes go into "Flight or Fight" mode, which disconnects us from our conscious mind (If you ever have thought after a disagreement, "Wow, I really wasn't myself just then", this is why). This disconnect can result in verbal or physical aggression, the unexpected use of force to ensure we get what we feel is "rightfully ours," and/or a feeling of resignation and that you are a victim to your circumstances. The solution to this is in creating a daily practice to check in with yourself. Having a quiet moment, taking five minutes to meditate, and creating conscious intentions throughout your day can have lasting effects. The Journal of Positive Psychology (link here) notes that doing so improves our emotional stability, with 74% of those studied saying that they would continue the practice in the future after the study was completed. By practicing this mindfulness, you'll have a greater chance during those stressful moments of connecting to your usual self instead of possibly injuring and re-injuring an already tense situation.
— 3 —
Our hidden "Ground Rules," which unconsciously govern how we think and behave, keep our options limited.
Sometimes these Ground Rules can be broad, as in "I can't burden others by asking for help" to something more specific like, "Being successful means getting a promotion/raise every year until I'm at xyz level in this specific field." Mostly, our rules aren't something we've ever consciously formulated, but instead they're a perfect example of the Automatic Thinking that was gifted to us by our culture, parents, family, friends, etc., and we interpreted as important to our social and physical survival. We run into problems with them, however, when we start resisting the feeling in our gut that some of these rules don't actually work for us. This can force us into unnatural situations in our lives when who we're being and what we're doing just isn't who we are (we become the "square peg" in the "round hole" of our lives), and can lead to depression and feelings of unworthiness and loss of purpose. So, how do we uncover these Ground Rules and move past them? Since this is one of the biggest, juiciest causes of Automatic Thinking, I went and created a free download for you to do just that. This PDF guide (with a bonus mini-podcast) will step you through what your personal Ground Rules are, and give you an opportunity to actually do something big and new with them. Sound good? Good! You can download it here (click here).
I personally am good friends with
all three of these.
My friends and family would be saying, "Really? You?!" And to that I say, touché!
So, here's the scoop on me: I'm a chronic "List Maker" who can be so hyper-focused on getting it done, that I forget what I even did that day. I also know a thing or two about stressful reactions, so creating a practice around connecting fully with people, even when it is uncomfortable, creates a space for me to pause and see situations from their perspective. And, if you're really curious, one of my biggest Ground Rules was that I having a 9-5 job was the hallmark of someone who had their shit together, and if you didn't have one, you didn't have it. Of course, that was not true, but it took me years to figure it out.
I tell you this hoping that this post fast-forwards that work even just a SMIDGE for you. And, remember to download the free worksheet I especially created around pushing through your hidden ground rules - it's one of the very first exercises I do with all of my clients. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD! Enjoy!