Bringing Presence to our Obsessive Thoughts

Does anyone else get plagued by OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS? Here is a great tool that can help, from mindfulness teacher Tara Brach.

First, identify your primary areas of obsessive thinking. These may include:
– How someone or people are treating you
– Mistakes you are making/ways you are falling short
– What you need to get done
– What others are doing wrong
– Your worries about another person
– How you look
– Symptoms of being sick/what your symptoms mean
– Worrying about a relationship problem
– How you want someone/people to change
– What is going wrong/what has already gone wrong
– How you need to change
– Something you are craving
– Something you really want to happen
– Something you wish was different

Select a couple obsessions that regularly take over your mind and trap you in anxiety, anger, shame or discontent. Give each one a specific label. It would be a good idea to journal about these.

For example, my main areas and their labels would be: “What I need to get done” (Productivity), “Worrying about a relationship problem” (Marriage Story), and “How I need to change” (Be Better). Also, “What does my husband’s tone of voice mean about me?” (Tone Decoder). That one’s a real doozy!

For a few days, try to notice when you are caught in the obsessive thought, and when you do, whisper its name and pause. Offer a non-judging, FRIENDLY quality of attention to the thought. Remind yourself that the thought is Real, but not True. Check in with how your body is feeling. Breathe in and out with whatever emotions are there. Don’t try to change them; just offer respectful, allowing presence, and then go back to what you were doing. This practice should take only around 30-60 seconds each time.

Would anyone like to comment with your own labels for the obsessive thoughts you identify in yourself? I’d love to hear!

You Created It–Label It!

I love the way the sun goes down each night and comes up again each morning. It provides predictable breaks in the flow of time, creating the manageable, bite-sized periods of life that we call “days.” Can you imagine how it would be to not have days, but just a free-flowing expanse of time? Without the contrast, without the natural endings and beginnings provided by day and night? I literally cannot imagine it. But sometimes, in my mind, I operate as though this were the case. Maybe you do too.

Do you sometimes feel like each of your days bleeds into the ones before and after until they become meshed together in one blob? Do you ever wake up in the morning already feeling burdened and overwhelmed by Yesterday rather than energized and eager to begin a fresh new Today? Does it ever seem like Tomorrow never really comes because you just keep living Yesterday all over again Today? In this post I will provide you with a very simple tool to help you leave the past where it belongs–in the past–so that you’re free to create each new day the way you wish. Sound good?

Most humans spend around 95% of their time in the land of “Has Been.” Our minds like to dwell on what has already happened in the past, because it’s concrete, certain, and we have evidence to show what happened and why and how. It seems more real than the land of “Will Be.” A lot of the time, when we think our minds are focused on Tomorrow and all the things we need to do and what’s coming up in life, we’re actually still in “Has Been” land because it’s all generally the same stuff we did Yesterday.

It is uncomfortable to truly spend time in the land of “Will Be” because it’s uncertain, we have no concrete evidence for how things will work out, we don’t have control over it, and it seems almost fake. Our brains don’t like this unpredictability, but our spirits love it and crave it. That’s because our spirits yearn to Create, and you can’t create in the land of Has Been. Everything we have yet to create is in the land of Will Be. And the only time we can ever create in is Today.

I don’t know about you, but I have ruined so many Todays by letting them become polluted by the mistakes and failures of Yesterday. I think things like, “That was such a stupid thing to do!” “I can’t believe I said that.” “What did I even do all day?” “If only I had ______ then things would be so much better.” “Why don’t I ever learn?” These thoughts, which are all from the land of “Has Been,” are so burdensome that the energy needed to accomplish my goals ends up going towards re-creating Yesterday’s failures. But with a new mindset, you can free yourself from this tyrrany.

The tool is simply this: at the end of each day (or first thing the next day if you forget), label that day with just one word, and write it down somewhere. You can write it in a journal, on a calendar, on a document on your computer, or use the Notes app on your phone (which is what I do). That’s it. Just one word for the day. It only takes a few seconds! You can always write more, and I usually do, but I can feel successful even if the one word is all I write. This tool is so simple and easy that you will probably think it can’t possibly be powerful. But give it a try and see what it does for your mind. I learned it at a training ten days ago, put it into practice, and have already seen my mindset improve, which has created more energy, less stress, and better results in my life!

Try to settle on the label that best encapsulates most of the day, or something significant from the day. And please be more creative than just the words “Good” or “Bad.” Those labels have little meaning. I love positive labels, such as Amazing, Accomplished, Connected, Powerful, Peaceful, Fun, Vibrant, Decisive, Inspiring, Treasured, Relaxing, Clarity, Fulfilling, Generous, Influential,  Reverent, Meaningful, Growth, etc. If the day wasn’t so great, you can use a negative label, for example: Frustrating, Disappointing, Lonely, Blah, Hopeless, Exhausting, Loss, Despondent, Confusing, Dramatic, Tired, Strange, Indolent, Flurried, Complacent, etc. Neutral labels can be useful too, like Quiet, Independent, Unbelievable, Interesting, Wow, Unexpected, Busy, Nostalgic, Extreme, Low-key, Alert, or Unforgettable. (It’s not easy to think of neutral ones, but I like how they can go either way. Please comment with more that I and other readers can use!)

So why does this work? Giving names to things makes them real in our minds. It’s hard for us to even think about things until they have a label, or name, or category of some kind. If it has a label, suddenly it Exists as Something. (You might argue that each day already has a name, such as Sunday, April 30, but dates are arbitrary and not personally meaningful in and of themselves.) Giving a label to the day separates it as distinct in your mind from other days that have gone before, and makes it feel “finished.” You don’t have to worry about it or dwell on it anymore because its creation has been completed. Those days with negative labels can be put behind you and filed away along with the lessons you learned. The days with positive labels can be celebrated as a great accomplishment and an example for future tomorrows. And the other days…well, they’ll count for whatever meaning they held for you, instead of just disappearing into oblivion forever.

Since I’ve started doing this, I automatically start out each morning thinking about what kind of day I want to create, rather than just letting the day “happen to” me. This makes it more likely that I will consciously and intentionally take the actions needed to get my desired results. Labeling each day causes our minds to become more aware all day long of what we are creating, and that awareness multiplies the choices in front of us about how we show up in each moment. If the way I’m showing up isn’t aligned with what I’m wanting to create, I can course-correct and salvage the rest of the day.

Recently in church we studied the account of the Creation in the book of Genesis and other scripture, and I noticed that the principle of labeling or naming what you create is an important part of the process of creation. God exemplified it first. He calls each segment in the creation of the Earth “The First Day,” “The Second Day,” and so on through “The Sixth Day.” And He also looks at what He created and says that it was good. Do we do this? Do we acknowledge that what we put forth effort to create is good? I think that one reason we don’t is because we don’t want to seem boasting or prideful. But we need to acknowledge, celebrate even, the good things we create and accomplish! In that acknowledgment we find closure for that particular creation and gain the accomplishment energy to go on to what we’ll create next. It’s a beautiful upward spiral.

So I challenge you to try labeling each day! It really is so easy to do. Just set an alarm on your phone if you think you might forget to do it. Make note in the comment section if you’re committed, to add some accountability. Also come back here and let me and the other readers know what your results are with this so we can celebrate with you! Or just comment with some awesome words that would make good labels. Let’s get a dialogue going!

(photo credit: David Swindler, Action Photo Tours)

Life is Hard…(Or Is It?)

“Your subconscious mind does not argue with you. It accepts what your conscious mind decrees.” -Dr. Joseph Murphy

I liked to distance run as a child, so in ninth grade I decided to go out for cross country. I went to the introductory meetings, but that was as far as I got. The coach was disappointed when I quit before the season even started. Why did I quit after having been excited about this sport? I suddenly got it into my head that it was going to be too hard.

Where did that “I can’t do it” belief come from? I’m not exactly sure, but every time I talked to my parents about cross country, they made comments like, “Why do you want to do that?” or “It’s going to be hard.” I don’t recall the exact words, but with every comment they made, I realized I was not going to be supported if I continued cross country. If I had been strong, I would have done it anyway, if only out of a desire to prove myself. But unfortunately, I was weak and had little self-confidence at that time.

Going into my senior year, I realized that it was my last chance to run cross country. I didn’t want to graduate from high school having regrets. During that previous three years, I had developed greater confidence in myself, so I went for it. I had a great time and loved being part of a team. I made some good friends, whom I wished I had gotten to know years earlier. However, I was never a strong competitor and was always back running with the freshmen girls. The other seniors, having had trained the previous three years, were out of my league. It was disappointing knowing I could have been like them if I hadn’t quit in 9th grade.

It would be easy to blame my parents for not supporting me, but I don’t. They simply weren’t, and still aren’t, interested in sports or competition. They didn’t really play sports growing up, and none of my brothers really did either. I think that they also weren’t excited about the prospect of having to drive me to and from practices and meets, which would have demanded a lot of their time. (And let’s face it, cross-country isn’t exactly thrilling for spectators!) Or maybe they wanted to protect me from disappointment and failure. Now I’m able to look back and see other motives for the negative commentary and lack of support, but at the time, all I could see was that they didn’t think I could do it, so it meant I couldn’t do hard things.

This was a belief that limited me–physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially–as I grew up. Thinking that “I can’t” is actually one of the most widespread and destructive beliefs in our society. The belief that “Life is hard” is something I hear all the time. I’ve bought into many beliefs that fall under that category, such as:

  • Change is hard.
  • Exercise is hard.
  • Marriage is hard.
  • Raising children is hard.
  • Keeping a clean and orderly home is hard.
  • Teaching is hard (and unrewarding).
  • Overcoming addiction is hard.
  • Trials are hard, and necessary in order to grow spiritually.

Are these statements true? In my experience so far, they seem to be. But I wonder how much I’ve needlessly struggled and suffered simply because I have always believed things are supposed to be hard? Maybe everything would seem easier if I change this idea that “Life is hard” to more empowering belief, such as that “I flow easily and effortlessly through all the challenges and experiences life brings.”

There are countless other limiting beliefs, especially in the areas of finances and love. A lot of our limiting beliefs come from adults who have influence over us as we’re growing up, as was the case in this example. But these kinds of beliefs can come from anywhere: our peers, the media, myths, debunked science, etc. Beliefs are never “true,” they are simply a models that help us make sense of our world. However, in our minds, they represent reality as we know it. Our subconscious minds make no distinction between fantasy and reality, truth and fiction. It simply takes at face value whatever our conscious mind feeds it.

So, if we don’t examine our beliefs, the scary thing is that these programs are running us and could be sabotaging our success without our even realizing it. The good news is that we can reprogram these beliefs so that our minds work for us rather than against us, so that we can reach our goals. How can this be done? Use this simple tool I learned from Jack Canfield (author of The Success Principles):

  1. Brainstorm all the beliefs you can think of that you feel are limiting you. Make a list of all the things you heard growing up that might somehow still be limiting you. Identify which belief you want to change.
  2. Determine how this belief limits you.
  3. Decide how you’d rather be, act, or feel.
  4. Create a turnaround statement that affirms or gives you permission to be, act, or feel this new way.

An example using this tool might look like this:

  1. “I can’t do hard things.”
  2. This keeps me from taking on challenges that help me grow and allow me to create, keeps me from joining new social circles and creating new friendships, and contributes to low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence.
  3. I would rather face challenges with a positive attitude that I can succeed. I would like to feel empowered and capable. I’d love to accomplish more.
  4. “I am capable of succeeding at challenging tasks.” Or, “I enjoy new experiences that challenge me and make me grow.”

Once you’ve created your empowering turnaround statement, to reprogram your subconscious mind, speak it out loud several times a day for a minimum of 30 days. Repetition and intensity are the keys here. This process is powerful. Any idea implanted this way can penetrate the subconscious mind, going deeper than reason, deeper than the conscious mind could ever hope to go.

Why should life keep being hard when it doesn’t have to be? I know I’m going to be working on this over the next month. I hope you’ll give it a try, too!

Look to the Question; the Answer Lies Within

“If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer.” -Edward Hodnett

In life, we’re guaranteed questions, but not guaranteed answers. No problem, though. What if I told you that the answers to many of life’s questions can be found within the questions themselves? Asking powerful questions can help us understand the subconscious patterns of the mind that created the question, shedding light on the assumptions, stories and beliefs we hold. Enough insight can be found through analyzing these things that in so doing, the question can often be answered in a deep, personal and satisfying way.

This process, although simple, isn’t necessarily easy. The tricky part is to make sure you’re asking the right questions. According to Ursula LeGuin,

“There are no right answers to wrong questions.”

How do you know if you’re asking the right questions? The assumptions within the question have to ring true for you. I’ll show you how to break a question down into its assumptions in a minute. If you find yourself asking “wrong” questions, these can actually be insightful as well, if you really think about how and why you’ve asked them.

A “wrong” question I sometimes ask is, “Why are my kids being so annoying today?” Analyzing this reveals far more about myself than it does about my children. If I direct the question away from them and toward myself, it morphs into, “Why am I so annoyed with my kids today?” That’s a little better, but still not a strong question. When I try to focus my attention on the positive rather than the negative, the question becomes, “What is keeping me from treating my family with patience and love today?” And to make it really self-empowering, “How can I take the lead in creating an atmosphere of patience and love in my home?” That question is so much more powerful than the first one in creating change because I’m taking responsibility for my own role in the environment of the home, rather than passively focusing on the negative behavior of others.

Once you have asked a powerful, “right” question, you’re very close to arriving at the answer. Art critic John Ruskin said,

“To be able to ask a question clearly is two-thirds of the way to getting it answered.”

Are you ready for the tool? Get a paper and pencil and try this exercise. (Or if you’re like me, start typing on your computer.) No really, take action and do this right now. It’s powerful.

Start by asking yourself, What is the greatest source of dissatisfaction in your life right now? Write down the answer. Don’t just think about it!

Now consider this: If you could ask God just ONE question about this problem — and you were guaranteed to get an answer — what would that question be? Write the question down.

After you’ve done that, use these steps: (Credit for this tool goes to Stephen Palmer.)

  1. Identify the assumptions embedded within the question.
  2. Then, analyze the assumptions and ask of each of them, “Is this true?” Then, “If not, what is true? What am I missing?”

If you’ve analyzed your question rigorously enough, you should have been able to find several answers that you can use to create the necessary changes toward living a more satisfying life!

If you’re not quite sure what I mean by analyzing your assumptions, see the following example:

Greatest source of dissatisfaction: My marriage. Question: Why is my marriage such a struggle, and what can I do to make it better?

These are some assumptions embedded within this question, and an analysis of each:

  • My marriage is a struggle. (True, from my perspective)
  • There is a reason that it is a struggle. (True)
  • It should not be such a struggle/struggling is bad. (False—struggle is necessary for my growth. But there are more and less effective ways to struggle.)
  • It can get better. (True—hold on to faith and hope. There’s also a lot more that’s already going well that I’ve failed to notice or appreciate.)
  • I can do something or several things to improve my marriage. (True—There’s more I could be doing that I’m avoiding or putting off.)
  • It is up to me, not my spouse, to make it better. (Mostly true. I can always improve, but my spouse plays a role too and can make his own choices. I need to be patient and supportive while he works some issues out for himself. Something I can always do is to pray for him.)

Solution: Be patient, supportive, open and hopeful. Find peace in the knowledge that this experience will help me grow. Learn about and experiment with some new strategies and skills. Pray for my spouse’s hurts to be healed and for our trust in each other to be mended. Be grateful for the good things about our relationship.

See how that worked? These answers were actually embedded within the assumptions of the question itself. This 5-minute exercise ended up providing some valuable and helpful insights and have led to further soul-searching questions filled with more enlightening truths!

I hope that this tool can assist you in creating breakthroughs of your own!

The Swimming Pool Principle

This may come as a shock, but I was totally that bratty 15-year-old who thought that my parents knew absolutely nothing. I felt they understood nothing about me and never could. Is that normal? From what I hear, yes it is. Part of me is glad for that, so I don’t feel quite so bad about being such a horrid teenager. (I have four brothers and my mom keeps saying boys are SOOOO much easier than girls, especially as teenagers. Guess that implicates only me, with no sisters to share the blame!)

But the other part of me really hopes that it’s not normal. When I look at my sweet 7-year-old daughter, who keeps showering me with notes about how I’m the best mom, I wonder how much longer this will last. Sometimes I naively think that she’s just such a sweetheart through and through that she could never turn out to be like I was. I hate to think of her transforming into a sassy, entitled, know-it-all manipulator. Does expecting this to happen cause it, or just help you be more prepared when it inevitably becomes reality? I’m pretty sure that every child goes through something like this at some point, whether at 2 years old or 22 years old, but most often in the teen years.

So, parents, you might as well prepare for it. I’ve got a great tool that you can use pre-emptively. (I learned this from Ann Washburn, one of my mentors.)


Here’s how to use this graph: Before the age of 9, when your child still thinks you know everything, or at least a great deal, draw this graph out for him or her and explain what will happen. He or she may say something like, “Oh mom, I’ll never think you don’t know anything. You’re the best mom in the world! You’re amazing, and wise, and talented, and beautiful,” and on and on. Cherish that.

Fast-forward to when he or she is 13-16 years old, yelling, “You don’t know anything!” or something more fun than that. When your teen is calm and ready to listen, draw out the graph for them again. They will probably remember it. And when they do, inform them that what they are playing out is exactly what you had told them would happen. It will be hard for them to deny the fact that if something you predicted so long ago has now happened, you must know something. So maybe there’s other stuff you’ve figured out, too. Maybe this will cause enough of a paradigm shift to readjust their perspective on you and your parenting.

The green line on the graph represents where the dip might be if you use this tool. The child will still drop to a point where they think you know very little, but it might not hit rock bottom. I’d say that holding on to at least that much ethos during such difficult parenting years makes this tool worth using!