Why you shouldn’t “change” your thoughts
Doing new things can be scary.
Whether you’re beginning a new relationship, launching a new project or trying a new fitness class, entering the unknown often triggers an avalanche of self-doubt. Even when it’s a new beginning you’re wanting, even when you’re brimming with the excitement of new ventures, at some point the enthusiasm wanes and fear sets in.
What starts off as a Wow, this is so amazing! or I can’t wait to watch my idea take off! soon turns into: I’m too old/ young, this will never work, I’m just not experienced or talented enough to be a success.
What starts off as a possibility, soon becomes impossible simply because we buy into the doubt and not the dream.
No matter what the series of doubtful thoughts are, they all boil down to one universal fear that stops us dead in our dreaming tracks:
the fear that in some way we’re not good enough.
A few months back I was approached about learning a new format at LifeTime Fitness – not only did they need more people able to teach Strike! but they thought I was a perfect match for the format given the technicality that it required. I was thrilled by the opportunity to take on something new, especially since one of my big career goals is to grow within the LifeTime company and to eventually lead master trainings for them. Since I’ve made that career goal a nonnegotiable, I’ve decided the more I know, learn and take on, the better. Problem was, there were no upcoming live trainings for the Strike! format at that time. So, I did what I could do at that moment – I took as many Strike! classes as I could to better familiarize myself with the format and I completed all the online course work. I was excited. I was prepared. That is, until I was officially asked to sub and a training date was announced (conveniently the weekend before I was set to step in).
The realization that I was taking on this format (and soon!) shook me to my core. Sure, I can break down choreography and build it back up, but did I really have what it took to lead a MMA-based kickboxing class? I wasn’t so sure. Truth be told, my punches and kicks are something I still work diligently on. Unlike v-steps and grapevines, it’s not something that comes naturally. And while I practice, a lot, I worried that I wouldn’t have the skill or the fierce AF tenacity to lead this format in the way it was intended.
I was afraid I wasn’t enough – that I didn’t know enough or have the technical skills required. And more than being afraid, I believed my doubtful thoughts to be true.
Generally speaking, we don’t question the thoughts that tell us we’re not good enough. Instead we’re simply told to “change” our thoughts. We subscribe to the motto, “Change your thoughts, change your life” and we adhere to a methodology that has us try to replace and reframe every negative thought that comes up. Doubt comes up and we counter it with a more positive thought. We think we’re not enough and we affirm to ourselves that we in fact are enough. And we’ll continue to counter our doubt with that argument thinking we just need to say it more, that we just need to “change” the not-enough thought and then we will be enough. But no matter how much we try to change that one thought, in the end we’re left feeling like we can’t win the mind battle. We’re left feeling like maybe the fact that we can’t change our thought is a sign that we really aren’t enough. Surely if we were enough we’d be able to “change” our thoughts, right?
If you’ve ever fought this battle (and I’m sure you have), you know what it’s like to simply try replacing the doubtful thought. It feels fake and off-hitting. It doesn’t hit the same emotional chord, the same level of truth, that the doubt does. And that’s because “changing” the thought isn’t enough to change the truth around the thought. There’s something deeper that we’re not addressing.
“Changing” the thought has never worked for me. Instinctively I’ve always known there was something much deeper. But I didn’t know what and so I did what I knew, what so many people were propounding as truth. I kept trying to change my thoughts. But with every counter argument, the not-enough’s only got louder and the fear inside me intensified. I knew I couldn’t possibly attempt to teach if I was gripped by this fear, but I also didn’t know how to change the not-enough thoughts in less than a week. These were thoughts, the deep, hard-hitting thoughts I’ve been trying to “change” for years.
Years. I had been working to change those doubtful I-am-not-enough thoughts for years. Not hours or days or weeks. Years. Since I was six to be exact. That’s a long frickin’ time without any measurable change, especially if I still believe those thoughts to be true – and I sometimes do. But just as I was feeling downright helpless in my effort to ever change my thoughts, I remembered a book I read a couple of years ago, a book I thought was interesting, but not necessarily of life-altering value – a book that was about asking questions. At the time, I didn’t want questions. I wanted answers. I wanted to be fixed and free and so I put it back on my shelf…until last week.
That book was The Work by Katie Byron and it was The Work that emphatically changed my life this week. I learned that changing my life had nothing to do with changing my thoughts. It started with questioning them.
Bryon calls The Work, “a way to step in between thinking a thought and believing the thought” and what I love about The Work is that it’s so simple. What you do is take any doubtful or stressful thought (for example, I am not enough) and you question it using the 4 questions of The Work:
- Is it true?
- Can I absolutely know that it is true?
- How do I react when I believe that thought?
- Who would I be without that thought?
The answer to the first two questions can be either yes or no, whatever is true for you. The last two questions really allow you to unravel what’s behind the thought, what connects the thought to what you believe to be true – it’s a powerful piece of questioning.
After you answer the 4 questions, you do what Byron calls a “turnaround”, which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe to be true. For example, if the stressful thought is, I am not enough, the turnaround statements might be: I am talented enough, I already am successful, or I am rejecting me.
Once you create your turnaround statements, you find at least three genuine examples of how each is true in your life (check out Bryon’s handy worksheet for the 4 questions and turnarounds or read the whole little book of The Work).
The point isn’t to prove how you really aren’t enough, how the other person doesn’t like you or whose fault it really is. It isn’t about blaming yourself or feeling guilty.
The point is to show you what you have been believing, when investigated turns out to be the cause of your suffering.
Asking the questions – actually writing down your stressful thoughts and putting them up against the 4 questions, then turning the thoughts around and finding genuine examples of how the turnarounds are true – that’s where the real change happens.
The secret to change isn’t in the changing. It’s in the questioning.
This week, don’t believe everything you think. And, when you find yourself caught up in a series of doubtful thoughts you believe to be true, don’t change them, question them.
PS: that class I was worried about? Yeah, I nailed it 🙂