THE POWER OF THOUGHTS: CHANGING THE NARRATIVE
Understand your thoughts, how they are created and evolve, and you will be able to change the narrative that is keeping you stuck, uplevel your emotions, and improve your relationships and interactions. I just did!
“Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare
(This is a very personal post for me. Are you ready?)
Thinking is something we all do. All the time. Ranging from simple thoughts to fairly complex ones, our thoughts are laden with emotions. So it’s important to understand them and manage them because, at times, they spiral out of control.
Last week was a very important week for me. The end of a long 2-year journey that I never saw myself in. It was a very painful time that made me question my relationship and my entire existence with my dad. I always thought we had a great relationship. He was my hero. How did all change?
I always looked up to him for life advice. A little farmer boy, he came from very humble beginnings and worked his way up little by little, created the life he always dreamed of. And boy he was intelligent!
Upon his death, everything suddenly changed. I wasn’t prepared for it and, early on, I made up my mind about the whole situation. I “put together” the story. I stayed in my position. I worked through the hoops, without ever questioning my thoughts. For 2 years! 730 days!
After I “closed that book” in my life last week and during a conversation with a dear friend, I came to the realization of two important things that really changed my narrative, and once again, affected my thoughts about my relationship with my dad:
For the past 4 years:
1) I never took the time to mourn his death – I jumped into problem-solving mode and have been in it until now; and
2) I never asked myself “What else could this be?” related to his actions before his death.
OUR THOUGHTS DIRECTLY IMPACT OUR LIVES
Our thoughts create our emotions which in turn, drive our actions. So our thoughts are directly connected to how we behave and therefore, our life. When left unchecked, thoughts can take a life of their own and spiral out of control.
THOUGHTS V. FACTS
Our thoughts are not facts. They are our opinions of the facts; our ideas, interpretations, and beliefs of the facts; a direct result of our past experiences, our upbringing, our past and present environment, and our memories.
But they are not the facts.
What we think will affect how we feel and how we act. Our feelings are the emotional response to our thoughts. And our actions are driven by what we think and how we feel.
The coolest thing though is that we actually get to choose what to think, all the time. I know this concept may seem strange to you but it’s simply how our brain works.
We choose our thoughts. Maybe not consciously all the time, and that’s why we need to develop an awareness of what we think so that we can control it. Isn’t that absolutely amazing?
We choose what and how to think!
Now, we can’t choose the facts, they are undisputable. But we can choose how to interpret them, what to think about them, and what we choose to remember about the facts – and these my friends, are our thoughts!
No one, no event, no thing can make us think a certain way or feel a certain emotion. We are the sole cause and creators of our thoughts and feelings. Things happen to us and we decide what to think and how to feel. People act or react, and we decide what to think about it and how to feel. We also decide how to carry those thoughts into the future.
I decided that my dad had betrayed me. I decided that he didn’t love me the way I thought he did. And I decided to be hurt by it. And for 2 years I never questioned those thoughts. Oh, the amount of pain I’ve been carrying all of those years…
When left unchecked, our thoughts can take a life of their own!
As I mentioned before, when left unchecked, our thoughts can take a life of their own. They can create stories and lead us to a place of hurt, anger, anxiety, fear, pain, and even depression. And it is our job to check in with those thoughts and make sure that they are not doing us more harm than good. Mine were, definitely, hurting my soul.
UPGRADING OUR THOUGHTS TO MATCH OUR CURRENT REALITY
We have the capacity to seek understanding; adjust, add, or delete beliefs; make new cognitive and emotional connections; think new thoughts. You grew up believing in certain things, as did I, now you have the opportunity to “fact check” those beliefs or just see what else is out there that could benefit you better now, in this stage of your life.
We shouldn’t feel that we must have the same thoughts and beliefs forever. Just like our phones, tablets, and computers, we can upgrade our thoughts and beliefs to match our current reality and lifestyle.
This is not flip-flopping. Our beliefs are not really our identity, even though most of us make it that way. They are short-cuts for pattern recognition our brain creates to conserve energy.
Things change all the time. Let’s keep our thoughts in check and make sure they are always in line with who we are in the present moment and what we truly believe in. Let go of the outdated. Hello, version 4.0!
OUR THOUGHTS AND OUR HEALTH
What we decide to think and therefore feel about the facts will either make us feel empowered or get us stuck.
To feel better we need to think better. Better thinking leads to powerful actions. Negative thoughts, create negative emotions which in turn make us feel paralyzed. Positive thoughts, however, create positive emotions that motivate us to keep moving.
Our thoughts have a direct impact on our bodies and health. What we think activates the brain to release certain neurotransmitters.
If we think negative thoughts, the brain will release cortisol, the stress hormone. When we think positive thoughts or when we make positive thought connections, the brain releases the feel-good hormones. It’s empowering.
Changing our thinking can change how we feel, change how we respond, change the chemistry in our brain and our bodies, affect our immune system, and impact our relationships.
POWERFUL QUESTIONS TO UNDERSTAND OUR THOUGHTS
When I catch myself having strong thoughts or feelings, I go through the following line of self-questioning to help me understand my thoughts and change them if I want to. These questions engage my brain to assess what is fact v. what is a thought; what I want to keep, what I no longer need.
“What am I feeling?” – “I’m feeling (insert emotion).”
“Why am I feeling this way? What triggered this feeling? What happened? Who or what?”
“What are my thoughts about this person/event/feeling?”
“What am I making this about?” (Is it about me? Someone else? Blame?)
“What else could this be?” (what other reasons could there be for the incident / people’s behavior. Here I am trying to get rid of the blame and the “victim mode” by assessing the issue from different angles, assessing reasons other than a direct attack on me.)
“What emotion would I rather feel?”
“What thoughts can I practice to create that emotion?”
“What is important to me and what can I do about it?”
Because I’ve been practicing this questioning for a while, I get answers fairly quickly and I get to a peaceful place in my mind fairly quickly as well. I’ve noticed that when I don’t take the time to question my own thought process, I can get wrapped up in a bad soap opera and a downward spiral that affects my mind, body, and spirit.
I’ve also noticed that sometimes I choose to have negative thoughts and stay in that negative place. But when I do that, I’m the one hurting… See? We all do it. We all go through it. It’s pretty normal.
A CHANGE IN NARRATIVE, A CHANCE FOR LOVE AGAIN
My dad’s actions affected my life and my siblings’ lives in a very big way after his death. And we had to deal with the consequences. It broke us at times, but it ultimately brought us closer together.
For the past 2 years, my thoughts were: “Why would he do what he did? How could he lose his love for us? Why would he do such a thing? what did I do to make him hate me? I thought he loved me.”
I wrongfully concluded that our entire (great) relationship was a fraud and that hurt, a lot.
What I should have asked instead, which I finally did last Friday, was:
“What else could this be? What other reasons or motivations would my dad have to choose to do what he did?”
When I finally asked myself what would be my dad’s other possible reasons and motivations for his actions, the answer came fast: he did it for himself.
There! He didn’t do it to hurt us or me, he did it for himself, for his sanity, for his happiness at the moment. He knew his life was short and he just wanted to live it fully, on his own terms. With no worries.
He did not do it because he did not love us. He did not do it to hurt us intentionally. He did it for himself. That’s what he needed at the time. And I respect that. We do what we need to do.
I’m always saying that we must do things for ourselves, to do the things that we need to do to live a happy life, in the present. My dad did just that. I understand that now.
Yes, his actions had an effect on us, but his actions were not with the intention to hurt us. I don’t condone his behavior because it caused us a lot of headache BUT believing that he did not have the intention to hurt me directly and that he loved me is enough for me.
In my mind, I made peace with it. I’m at peace and I find a place to love my dad again and maintain the good memories of our lives together. He still my hero. And as I’ve always done, every time I hear “My Hero” by The Foo Fighters, I will think fondly of him: my ordinary hero.
(Dad and I – 2009 and 2014)
And for the first time in 4 years since my dad’s passing I was able to cry and miss him, and miss our conversations, our laughs – he had the best laughter: super gentle, yet so genuine – and his hugs! Oh, how I miss his hugs and our conversations.
No matter what happens in the world, we get to choose what and how to think. And that is our superpower.
What thoughts have you been carrying around that are hurting you instead of helping you?
How can you change the narrative by answering some of the above questions?
Are you ready to let go of what is no longer serving you and focus on what is right here, right now, and will enrich your life? You have the power.
Post-election. Holidays. Lockdown. They are all here.
Need some conflict management strategies? I got ya!
Foolproof strategies to help you manage your thoughts and emotions (as well as others’) as you navigate the holidays or post-election conversations. Diffuse conflict. Save the relationships (if that’s what you want). This is an old but goodie!
With love and gratitude,
Focusing on what matters most, let’s improve our communication and transform our interactions one conversation at a time.
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