It’s a Tuesday evening. I love to spend my Tuesday evenings in Amsterdam, in a club where they organize amazing barefoot dancing events. Since I come there quite often, I know a lot of the people. Lovely human beings, warm hearted, open and curious.
Halfway the evening I see a friend leaving. I was dancing and he passed me by very closely, following his friend. Until that moment I felt great. But suddenly my thoughts go wild. “Why is he leaving without saying anything? He must not like me anymore! What did I do, was I unkind in some way?” My vibe changes. I had been feeling beautiful, open, warm and happy. But in a few seconds I felt insecure, small, sad and confused. What happened?
Your thoughts are the most powerful influence possible on how you feel and on how people perceive you. More than events happening in your life your thoughts determine how you feel. It’s not the articles in the newspaper or the messages on the evening news. Nope. It’s your thoughts. And the problem is: your thoughts are lying to you.
Events are neutral
The things that happen in your life have no charge. They happen without being good or bad. Paying tax is not a bad thing. It’s simply a number on a piece of paper or on a computer screen. A person leaving a room is not a bad thing. It doesn’t tell you how to feel. Having red numbers on your savings account? It has no charge. It’s another number with a little line in front. Does that little line made of pixels force you to feel bad? It never can, it has no power. It’s the thoughts you have about the event that cause you to experience certain emotions. Especially taking things personally in a negative way cause you to feel hurt or fearful.
You are not your thoughts
Very often we are confused. We seem to believe we are the thoughts we have. We say ‘I am angry’, ‘I am sad’, ‘I am insecure’. But it’s not true. You are a human being that experiences a state of being that we call anger, sadness or insecurity. By identifying ourselves with an emotion, we feed the emotion and it takes over. It can even cause things like rages or panic attacks that are so strong that no part of the reasoning mind is within reach.
All thoughts have a reason
No matter how wild your thoughts go, they are there for a reason. Even when they tell you that you are not worth a penny, ugly, stupid or whatever makes you feel nasty, there’s a reason why they come up. As far as I’ve experienced, my thoughts always originate from the past where something created a limiting belief in me. My father might have had a bad day and I believed I was the cause for it, what created a belief that it’s my fault when somebody is angry. My teacher might have been very strict, making me believe I can’t do anything right. No matter how great the people around us are, kids seem to take everything personal to their disadvantage.
The thoughts that come up in the now stem from long ago. Most often they have nothing to do with the current situation. You might judge yourself for having these untrue thoughts; you can also see them as a great opportunity for learning about old beliefs you can let go of now.
How to tell your thoughts are lying?
How do you know your thoughts are lying? When are they guiding you and when are they sabotaging you? Any moment your thoughts go crazy like a whirlwind trapped in your skull and making you feel bad, you can take this as a sign they are not true.
Whenever we are in a situation that is not completely comfortable, we tend to stop breathing. Sure we breathe (otherwise we would drop dead to the ground), but our breath is shallow, high up in our chest. A high breath stimulates our fight-or-flight mechanism. We used to live on planes where we hunted others but also were hunted. We were the predator as well as prey. For that reason we needed to take care of our lives. An emotion like fear was a life saver. Something that threatened us activated this mechanism that got us ready for action right away: run away for that mountain lion or attack that thief.
Our lives are not so life threatening anymore, but the fight-or-flight mechanism is still present and very ready to save us from real and imaginary danger. We activate it constantly by the stories in our head that tell us about the danger of being looked at, stand out, lose money or speaking up. Adrenaline and other hormones flow through our veins and our bodies experience stress.
The very simple cure for switching the fight-or-flight response off is simple and always at hand: Take. A. Deep. Breath.
Put one or both hands on your belly. Stand, sit or lay in a comfortable position, fill your lungs from bottom (where your hands are, really see your hands moving outward) to the top. Hold your breath for a second and let it out (all of it!) with sound. Oooooooh or aaaah or hhhhhhhhh until no more air comes out. Patiently wait until your body starts the next inhalation. This happens when your belly muscles contract a little. Don’t hold your breath, let your body decide the rhythm. Repeat as often as you like but at least until you feel more relaxed and your thoughts calm down.
You can give this little exercise an extra dimension by consciously feeling your feet (or bottom) touching the floor/chair/etc. This will ground you, bringing your awareness back into your body, out of your mind.
2. Step back
When it feels like you’re in the middle of a raging storm, take a step backwards. Just like in animated movies you can pretend you are watching towards a cloud of dust where hands and feet stick out. Or close your eyes and take a mental step backwards.
Another method that I borrowed from Jeff Foster is to see yourself as a room. Emotions go in and out, but the room itself never changes. Be that room.
Simply choose a method for you that helps you to let go of the identification with whatever thoughts go wild in your mind. Let the thoughts rage and simply observe them without judging them, without resisting them and without hoping they will leave (which is simply another form of resistance). Grab a cup of tea, sit down and let it happen. If you cry, cry. If you shout, go ahead and shout. Put on some loud music and sing and scream along. Hit a pillow if you feel like it. If you want to curl up under a blanket, please do so.
The reason to let the thoughts rage first, is that being in an emotional state is not a good base to do anything or to try to understand deep processes. The raw emotions make a stable connection with your core more difficult (remember that text messages, letters or words you’ve shared and regretted deeply later on?). So let it all rage, let your thoughts go wild from that grounded base you’ve created by breathing. After the first emotional peak you will be more reasonable and capable to communicate.
Here’s another personal story that happened on that same night on the dance floor and afterwards.
Some days ago I realized that although I can feel attracted to both men and women, I feel much more insecure with women than with men. My thoughts make me believe that a woman can’t possibly like me in a sensual way. Interesting! I decided that I wanted to explore this phenomenon in myself.
As I was dancing without focusing on the crowd surrounding me, suddenly a woman came towards me for an intense hug. I knew her a bit from some previous meetings. She’s a gorgeous woman, smart and sweet. Our hug turned into a very long hug with a lot of energy moving in many directions. I loved the touch we shared, but it also made me feel insecure. My thoughts told me that she must see me as a mother, not as an equal woman. Not to speak of sensual. She must simply be looking for a motherly cuddle. It paralyzed me, being able to hold her but disabling me to move my hands or to explore what else was going on. A common thing for me to happen with other women. Usually I would take the safe way and create distance both physically and emotionally. For some reason I felt safe in this embrace with this woman on this crowded dance floor to intervene my thoughts and behavior. Could I take a mental (in this case definitely not a physical) step backwards and observe as objectively as I could what happened, to understand the situation?
There was this beautiful woman who felt so sensual in my arms. She was holding me for minutes already. Her hands stroking my back, her face pressed against my shoulder. Maybe she really liked holding me? I started to relax and to feel what I wanted to do. Stroke her shoulders and back, smelling her hair. We both explored more and more of each other in such a gentle way, until our lips met and we were kissing each other on that dance floor in that soft, warm, sensual way only two women can.
A beautiful way to learn to understand which of your thoughts are not true, is by verifying them. Sounds pretty scary? I agree that it takes courage. Whenever you feel courageous enough with a person you trust, it can be very healing to share your thought patterns involving them with them. Ask them their side of the story. How did they really perceive you? What did they feel? If that is too much, you can use a more indirect approach of checking whether it is really true what is happening in your mind.
I started this article with a story of a friend leaving the dance floor without saying goodbye. I immediately felt sad and thoughts telling me he must not like me anymore came up. I didn’t feel like sharing my thought patterns with him as I had the feeling he had something on his mind. But I found another way of verifying my thoughts:
As he was putting on his shoes, I realized I didn’t want him to leave without saying anything. I took a deep breath and observed my thoughts. Voices in my head tried to convince me he probably didn’t want to talk to me for whatever reason. I decided not to believe my thoughts. Could I simply walk over to him to give him a goodbye-hug? I decided it was worth feeling nervous about. I walked over with no expectations but the wish to say goodbye. As soon as he saw me walking over he opened his arms with a smile. “Thank you for coming to me for a hug! It’s nice to see you before I go. I have to leave now but we’ll be in touch soon!”
There they went, my thoughts about unworthiness. Not only did I understand that my own thought patterns were not true (‘He doesn’t want to say goodbye to me because he doesn’t like me’), but we shared a happy moment together, both glad we created the opportunity for a goodnight-hug.
The importance of letting go of negative thoughts
Later that evening I had a chance to talk quietly with the woman I hugged so intensely with. I told her exactly what happened in my mind, which thoughts came by. And apparently she read my mind in that moment completely. She felt how I thought – how I believed she must see me as a mother. But she didn’t and she could let herself not be influenced by my thoughts. But this is a very conscious woman.
Most people will unconsciously pick up the thoughts you have about yourself. If you think you’re not worth looking at, they will probably not look at you. If you think you are not a good business partner, they will probably think so too.
Verifying your thoughts is a very powerful tool to understand which thoughts are lying to you. People can tell you that you are beautiful, worthy or sexy, but as long as someone else says it you won’t easily integrate it in your system. Just like a child, you have to find out for yourself to deeply believe. New thought patterns are not so easy to integrate, but it’s possible. By repeating the steps described in this article it will become easier and easier to see through your thought patterns and understand them. You will be able to identify the underlying negative beliefs. The more often you can verify they are not true, the easier it will become to let them go and see how beautiful you really are.
Which thoughts do you have that are lying to you?