Updated: Jul 17
Imagine you’re driving on the motorway and the car behind you is WAY too close. Annoyed, you change lanes and allow the car to pass. Situation over. However..........
You only keep a thought alive when you focus on it.
We often allow ourselves to hold onto the situation, winding ourselves up about such thoughts as, what an idiot the driver was, how dangerous it was, and that people like that should not be allowed to drive. We retell the incident to our friends and colleagues, and still get the same feeling, the same emotional response as if it was happening.
The thing is, the incident is long gone, in fact it was over the minute you changed lanes, but your thinking, and only your thinking, is keeping it alive. By retelling your story, by playing it out again and again in your mind, perhaps even adding in how you could have handled the situation better, you are keeping the thought, and all the associated feelings alive.
Now imagine this is happening with all situations that have an element of stress in them.
Ah but, I hear you say, my worry is about a future event, perhaps an exam or interview.
As an example let's imagine you have an exam tomorrow. You may have already started to worry about it. Worry always comes from thought, so you may already be thinking things such as 'what if the questions are too hard', 'I am not good at exams', 'I don't know enough', or whatever you’re favourite negative self-talk is. You start spinning this around your head, faster and faster, getting more and more anxious, and you're not even sitting the exam yet...
I am not saying that there is no need to prepare for the exam, but merely to see it for what it is. The exam is just a piece of paper; it is just words on a page, like your favourite book. As a piece of paper it has no power over you except what you give it, through your thinking about it. It is only your thinking about the exam that's causing the emotional response, not the exam.
Imagine that I have put in front of you 1 million pounds in a nice little pile. You look at it and start to experience feelings about it. You may feel happy, imagining the joy of buying your new house, new car, treating your friends or family, or going on the holiday of your dreams. The feeling you are getting is a result of your thought about the money. Not about the money. The money is just paper, useful paper I agree, but the feelings you are experiencing when looking at the paper is not from the paper itself, but of your mentally spending it. The money, like the exam, does not create the feeling; the feeling only ever comes from your thought about it.
So when you begin to understand it is just a thought, you may begin to allow the thought to drift off. You only keep a thought alive when you focus on it. A thought is like a balloon, if it is not serving you any purpose, let it go. If it reappears, let it go again. Your brain will soon get the idea and start to do it naturally.
You can only ever experience the feeling of your thought. Not the exam, or the driver, or the money. Ever. No exceptions.
Martyn Dawes is a Coach, Social Care Consultant, and Author of The Overwhelmed Manager: What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do