3 WAYS TO UPGRADE YOUR THINKING
ABOUT THE EPISODE
How many of your thoughts really help you feel good, get more done, and be at your best? Learn 3 ways to upgrade your thinking to boost your quality of life.
Our mind is such a busy place. The trick is to channel that busyness into something that really works for us.
Hey Everyone, it’s Dr. Karen Kendrick, and Welcome to Mastery Now.
You know, if you’ve been a student of psychology or neuroscience or personal growth, you may have been thinking about your thinking. Do you know that the average person has over 6,000 thoughts a day?
That was a study by Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, awhile back. But I’ve also heard other estimates of upwards of 60,000 thoughts a day. That was another study that was done by Dr. Fred Luskin at Stanford University.
So, either way you cut it, anywhere between 6,000 and 60,000, that’s a lot of thinking. And we think about so many different things. We think about our feelings, we think about ourselves. We think about other people. How our relationships are doing. Different situations we might be in. Or circumstances that might be going on. We think about or react to different incoming news. And on and on and on. We even think about what we’re thinking.
So the question becomes, how many of these thoughts are useful? You know, how many of them really help us? Do they make us feel better? Do they energize us? Do they help us solve problems? Do they help us make better decisions? Or how many of them are just making us miserable or disempowered or increasing our sense of helplessness or hopelessness? Or maybe just even putting us in a bad, unproductive mood?
Now we know that our thoughts are influenced by a lot of different factors. They are influenced by how we’re feeling physically. They’re influenced by how we’re feeling emotionally. They’re influenced by incoming information or by events that happen or different environmental stimuli that might be around us and a number of other different things.
And then vice versa, our thinking impacts how we feel, how we choose, how we act. What our levels of motivation are, and what outcomes and results that we get. So we know that thinking is a critical part of our success and our happiness in life. And so we’re going to need some good thinking strategies if we’re going to really feel at our best and get what we want.
So in this episode, I want to cover with you three ways to upgrade your thinking. But before we do that, before we dive in and I give you some specific strategies, I do want to mention the different types of thoughts that we have. You can kind of classify it in three buckets.
The first bucket or first category of thoughts are reactive thoughts. We’re reacting to some sort of stimulus that has happened, whether it’s a cold breeze or an airplane flying overhead that wehear, or a friend talking to us and making a comment, or some song we hear on the radio. Those are all reactive thoughts that we have in response to those different stimuli.
So that’s one type of thought, and we have a lot of those every single day because we’re products of our environment, right? There are things going on all around us. We’re interacting with our environment and with other people. And so we have natural reactions that are sort of unfiltered, that just kind of come in, that are in response to something.
The second category of thoughts are what I call random thoughts. So the first type are reactive thoughts. This is random thoughts. That means they’re sort of unprompted. So in other words, they come into our consciousness at any time without necessarily a stimulus. So think about that. Things pop into our head all the time, right? Like you’re sitting at your desk and you say to yourself, “Hey, I feel like taking a walk, or “I wonder what my daughter is doing right now?” So those are examples of random thoughts.
The third category, then, is intentional thoughts. These are where we are purposefully engaging our brain. We’re generating a “to do” list. We’re researching and planning a vacation. We’re writing a blog article or deciding how we feel about some political topic. Those are intentional thoughts.
Now we have all of these different types of thoughts every single day. And the question is how many of them are more intentional where you’re purposefully engaging your brain versus how many of them are just more reactive to what’s going on around us, or how many of them are random.
Now, random and reactive thoughts aren’t necessarily bad, and I’m not saying you can even prevent them from happening anyway. But we do want to think about the balance of how much of our thinking is just reactive versus random versus intentional.
So let’s now dive in and talk about these three ways that you can upgrade your thinking. So the first way to upgrade your thinking is just to decide what gets your attention and focus. In other words, develop a better filter for what’s coming in, what you allow in, and what you choose to ignore or minimize how much time you’re spending on thinking about that.
So it really is what you’re thinking about and what you’re not thinking about. And so the point is that you really want to focus more on what I call high energy or high value types of thoughts or types of thinking.
So, for example, these are things like gratitude and appreciation, or steps that you need to complete some goal that you’re after. Or maybe they’re faith based or spiritual thoughts. Or maybe they’re certain training points or educational pieces of information you’re learning in order to do your job better. Or maybe they’re are tips about productivity. Or maybe their thoughts about how to please your spouse or significant other. All those in my mind are high energy, high value thoughts that you want to allow in to take up space in your real estate, so to speak, of your brain.
Now the flip side of this, of course, are low energy, low value thoughts that really are just more of a distraction, or they just lower your mood or create more conflict, or they’re just disempowering. So examples of this, as you might expect, are things like complaining or finger pointing or shaming yourself or some other person or gossip.
Now these also could include doubts and fears as well. But I know that sometimes these are harder to shut these out completely without doing something to maybe counteract them. So we’ll talk about that a little bit later.
But right now I’m just talking about what gets your attention and focus or what do you choose to slough off, so to speak, and not allow it to take up space in your head. Doesn’t mean you don’t hear the thought or you don’t register the thought in your brain. Like somebody complaining or like hearing yourself complain. But it just means that you’re going to tune it out quicker or turn it off quicker and you’re going to refocus your time and your energy on these higher value thoughts and these higher energy thoughts.
So let’s talk about how could you actually do that? So the point is that you really want to get more proactive with assessing what you’re thinking about and the impact of these thoughts on your energy, your state of mind, your sense of well-being and happiness, how much confidence it’s making you feel, and how much control it’s making you feel.
So this filter that I’m talking about developing and refining in terms of how you’re filtering in thoughts that are coming in, is just to ask some good questions. So that’s things like, “Is this worth my time?” “Does this deserve my attention?” “Is this thinking serving me or making me feel better?” “And is it increasing my knowledge overall?”
So if the answer to those questions are “No”, or “Not really”, or “Gee, it makes me feel worse” or “It’s not helpful”, then it’s time to push it out. Or get rid of it. Or drop it or whatever. Now again, that may be easier said than done. But the point with this strategy number one, is just to first of all just start being aware of what’s coming in. Develop that filter. Decide what gets your attention and focus.
Now I should say that one thing that helps with this development of a better filter is sometimes I think when you are a little bit more focused on your goals or very purpose driven, or you know what you really value or what’s important in life, or what your principles are, sometimes it’s easier to stay on those higher energy thoughts or those higher value thoughts because again, more of your life and more of your time is focused on things that you think are important to you and that you are working on.
I’m not saying that there aren’t many successful people that spend time down on these lower energy types of thoughts. It happens. But my point is it’s just a proportion. It’s how much of that time do you want to spend on those things? So I just highly recommend that, again, the more you are in this purposeful kind of lifestyle, in some ways, the easier it is to develop a better filter.
Now, something else I want to say about when you find yourself in the lower energy or lower value thoughts, is that it doesn’t really do yourself a whole lot of good to spend time when you start to sense that they’re there, and again you become aware of them, is to really spend a lot of time shaming yourself for having the thought. Even though you probably know better, maybe it’s just a little slap on the wrist you give yourself or something. But the reality is, that isn’t really serving you that well either.
So especially if you have doubts or fears and you’re giving yourself some negative feelings about, “Gee, I shouldn’t be afraid of this” or “I shouldn’t have these doubts.” The reality is those feelings or those thoughts are there. The question is just what do you do with them?
And so the best approach that I’ve found with this is really just to use some replacement thoughts rather than just trying to shut them out completely, because most likely they’re going to keep bubbling back up because you haven’t really dealt with them. So we’re going to talk a little bit later about that. But for now, just know that there are some strategies you can use that are more proactive and better when you’re having these lower energy, lower value thoughts.
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Now the second strategy to upgrading your thinking is to get comfortable with processing your thoughts. Now, of course, we all have the immediate processing of thoughts that happen when we hear a piece of news or some feedback that’s given to us or maybe some conversation that we’re in or maybe just something happens to us. We have an initial understanding or reaction to that. And so that’s what I call immediate processing.
But the other type of processing is something that typically happens over time. It’s longer-term. And so this may include some of our deeper emotions and reactions to something that we’re not really aware of right away.
Think of the grieving process. If you lose a family member, there’s always that immediate reaction when you hear the news. And then maybe over the next couple of days or weeks, you’re starting to really think about it a little bit deeper. But it may be that the grieving process happens over months or even years to fully understand and process all the emotions and all the information and absorb it and understand how we feel about it.
But “processing”, what I’m talking about here is not only understanding it. I’m talking about allowing some of these deeper emotions to kind of bubble up and get expressed. So that they eventually dissipate. Because otherwise, if you have something that’s sort of unprocessed for a long period of time, it does tend to take up energy.
And it gets harder as you go along, if there’s emotions that are sort of untapped into or unexpressed, it does get harder over time to deny those feelings and keep them hidden, because at some point the subconscious and your body really want to make them come out. It’s really sort of a form of release. Think about how much better you feel after you allow yourself to cry when someone dies, rather than keeping it all stuffed in for weeks or months and just keeping a straight face. There’s always that sense of release or relief as it happens.
So that’s really what I’m talking about with getting comfortable with processing your thoughts. Is it’s not only acknowledging these deeper emotions, thinking about them, allowing them to bubble up, but it’s also this expression of the emotions and feelings behind it.
Now, you may wind up feeling like you need some tools for this. So I’m talking about things like journaling or meditation or maybe doing some breath work. This could include things like talking to friends over time about how you feel. Or maybe it’s just walking in nature to be alone for awhile. Maybe this could even come through formal therapy to do this at a deeper level and get more and more in touch with your thoughts and work through those deeper emotions.
So whatever you need to do, these tools are great and you can read more about them, obviously, and learn more about them. But I find that processing your thoughts is just such a critical skill to really upgrade your thinking, not allow these underlying repression of thoughts, because it’s just going to hold you back.
So in terms of what types of things you may need to process, I mentioned grief as an example, but you may need to process positive things too. Like, “Gee, I’m about to get married. My life is going to change”. Or “I’m stepping up into a new job. I’m going to have a new identity. I’m getting promoted. I’m going to be a leader now. I’m going to be a manager. And what is that all about?” Or you may need to process fears or doubts about yourself or about something else.
So what I want to do now is just give you a couple of quick questions that you can ask yourself to sort of process through stuff. So processing with your thoughts can include “Why am I feeling this way?” “Or is this even true?” “Where’s the evidence of this?” Or “Is this helping me?” Or “Do I need to learn more about this?” Or “Do I need to think more about this?” Or “How am I really feeling about this?”
And so that is just a sampling I think of some of these different questions you can ask. Just know that there’s a lot more too. And then the other part of processing is just allowing yourself again to have these feelings. And so having some phrases as well can be helpful, like saying, hey, when I sense that some of these feelings are bubbling up, just saying to yourself something like, “Well, it’s okay to feel this way.” “It’s okay to let it out.” “It’s okay to get it up and let it into the light of day.” And “I’m strong and I can handle this.”
Now the third strategy to upgrade your thinking is to refine your ability to generate useful and empowering thoughts. This is really about how you proactively summon good thoughts by prompting yourself intentionally.
So back to those different types of thoughts that I talked about earlier where I said, you have some thoughts that are random, some thoughts that are reactive, and then some thoughts that are intentional. This is the category that I’m talking about here. This is about finding those high energy, high value thoughts and generating them on an as needed basis to raise your sense of confidence, your motivation, your sense of control, and your level of joy or fun or bliss.
So examples of this could be generating feelings of gratitude and appreciation for something, or saying certain prayers, or having a mantra that you use when you meditate, or having different affirmations that you use that give you a better sense of confidence.
Other types of high energy, high value thoughts can include things like praising yourself or praising other people. Or generating happy memories of good times that you’ve had, or even something as simple as savoring the thought you have about a dessert saying, “Wow, this is really a chocolatey piece of cake, and I love it!” Something like that.
But it’s this ability to generate these useful and empowering thoughts that again, raise your mood, raise your confidence, make you feel better overall. And that’s a big way to upgrade your thinking.
So the point here is that you want to generate a good amount of these every single day. And don’t let as many of those thoughts that you have that through maybe a bad filter that you haven’t refined enough, that you’re having thoughts that go unexamined or unchecked. Or maybe that you’re even taking certain things for granted that you’re not questioning and you’re just assuming that they’re true or useful or empowering when maybe they’re really not.
So the goal is to build some muscle that you use every day to build a repertoire of good thinking practices and great thoughts. So what I recommend that you do to start to build this new skill and start to make it a habit and a practice and get good at generating these empowering and useful thoughts on command is to be more intentional about it to begin with.
And so a way to do that is to set aside some time each day to begin with that you are actively practicing this thought generation. So it could be through journaling, it could be through when you’re exercising or when you’re in the shower. But you set aside some time every day until it becomes a more automatic way of thinking so that when circumstances start to come up you’ve already practiced this. You’ve built some muscle memory. You can start to automatically go to some of these more empowering ways of thinking when the tougher times come up.
So let’s say you’re sitting at your desk, you’re struggling with a report. You’re getting frustrated. You don’t have all the research you need, or you don’t have all the reports, or you just figured out that you’re going to have to wait on somebody else for a piece of information.
Instead of just getting frustrated and going into these lower value thoughts, you shift and you get better at saying, “Well, hey, I’m going to figure this out” or “Hey I’m going to take a break and come back to it in ten minutes”. Or “Hey, this is just a small-time problem. I know that it’s going to get resolved if I stop here and come back to it tomorrow.” So again, whatever it is that you need to do to get better at this, you can build it in on an as needed basis and generate this on command.
Now, I also want to point out here that doesn’t mean that you’re living in this blissed out way where you’re completely unaware of different realities that are going on or that you’re in denial about some certain responsibilities or accountabilities that you have.
I’m just talking about being more intentional about what you allow yourself to think, believe, and process, and that you’re using more of the part of your brain that can help lift your mood, your energy, your motivation, and your sense of drive to accomplish your goals.
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