Do you ever stop and think about your thoughts?

I know, that sounds strange, doesn’t it. Our thoughts just seem to happen on their own, like our breathing or walking. Yet they are actually created by us, whether we are aware of it or not.

As small children, we seem to have an inherent way of thinking which is useful: we look for the fun in things, we expect things to work out, we have another go if something doesn’t work out the first time round without seeing it as failure, and we are creative and imaginative in our approach to life. Then we learn the ‘normal’ way of thinking, through the influence of those around us: to fear new things, to doubt our own ability, to judge and criticise others, and ourselves and so on.

In Meta, we call these learnt thoughts the inner commentator. We believe that we collect these types of thoughts as children, because we want to be looked after and approved of, to fit in. So although they aren’t our natural way of thinking, we adopt them, because they lead us to behave in ways that fit with the norm, and not challenge the world we live in.

However, when we are grown up, we have the right to check out whether this way of thinking is still useful to us. Notice that we use the word ‘useful’. This not whether it is right or wrong, just whether it makes our life easier or harder, more enjoyable or less enjoyable.

Our thoughts are not just thoughts – they lead directly to expectations and specific behaviour. So they are a very powerful driver for how we live our lives. We say things like: ‘I thought this would be a difficult meeting’, and can be surprised by how often our thoughts are self-fulfilling prophesies, yet the fact is that the thought leads us to expect the meeting to be difficult, and we then unconsciously give off all the non-verbal messages that that is what we expect, and look for the evidence that we are right – we actively make it happen without realising it. No wonder we are so good at self-fulfilling prophecies!!

There is now a considerable amount of research, which backs this up. (For more detail, see ‘It’s the Thought that Counts’ by Dr. David Hamilton). Our thoughts affect how we are physically, mentally and emotionally, and create our experience of life. They are the differentiating factor that causes two people to go through the same event yet have two totally different experiences of it.

And the research shows that thinking usefully actually improves our health and longevity, because our own less than useful thoughts cause stress on our immune system and damage our health, whereas useful thoughts and a more positive experience of life causes us to release more health-giving hormones.

So, once in a while, when life seems hard, stop and notice your thoughts. Could you have a more useful thought about what’s going on? Is this person being awkward or are they having a bad day? Is this work boring or easy to do without much effort? Are you fed up or wondering what would make you feel better about things?

We have a wondrous tool for making our own lives easier, and we do have control over it – we can choose how we think about things. They are your thoughts; choose to make them useful to you!!

About Di Kamp

Di Kamp is chief executive of Meta and has been involved in the field of developing people and organisations for 35 years. She has worked with a variety of organisations, and specialises in enabling senior managers to guide their organisations from good enough to excellence, and enabling management teams to lead their people in a way that will enhance their performance. Di has written several books, including manuals for trainers, one on staff appraisals, one on workplace counselling, one on improving your excellence as a trainer, one on people skills, and one on being a 21st century manager. She is currently preparing a further book on the secret of sustainable successful organisations.

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