Recently, I was speaking to a friend who is a very successful runner - she has been involved in the sport for many years and frequently wins prizes. She is in the process of moving house and is looking for a new running club. I was amazed to discover that this fabulous, fit athlete was feeling nervous and intimidated by the task. What if she arrived and everyone was younger than her? Fitter? Faster? Would she fit in?
Does that type of question seem familiar to you, although not necessarily the situation? Her questions certainly resonated with me: when I decided to join a running club at the beginning of the year, those unhelpful questions led to me imagining various unpleasant scenarios where I was left behind by loads of speedy runners who disdainfully pointed out that there was no way I was good enough to be in their club. Those thoughts, in turn, generated a real physiological change - I was anxious, had butterflies in my tummy and could feel my heart rate increasing... all because of the way I was thinking. I assume my super fit friend experienced similar changes as she allowed her imagination to run wild.
Can you think of situations when you have got into such a stream of negative thoughts that you have decided not to attempt whatever you were thinking about? Had you considered joining a club? Accepting an invitation? Asking for a wage rise? Going on a blind date? Asking for help?
What is happening here demonstrates the subconscious think-feel-act cycle. When we start asking ourselves unhelpful questions and THINK about worst case scenarios, our hormone levels change and we experience an actual physiological response which impacts the way we FEEL and means that we are more likely to ACT in a way that has a negative outcome: we don't join the club, or take a risk, we keep procrastinating and finding reasons NOT to get out of our comfort zone.
The solution is to interrupt the cycle at any point. One way is by becoming more mindful of our thought patterns and choosing to cultivate a more positive way of thinking.
- Notice when we are getting into that spiral of focussing on the worst outcome and what changes are happening internally (is your heart speeding up? Mouth getting a bit dry? Hands feeling clammy? Stomach getting anxious?
- Tell yourself "STOP!" Perhaps you choose to imagine a big STOP sign?
- Change our surroundings - move into a different room or just change your seat or posture.
- Think of something that is going well in life
- Physically move about a bit to feel more energised
- Take time to think about better outcomes... what can you gain if you decide to join that club, make that job application, accept that invitation?
- Decide how you want to ACT - what step can you take today? Right now? To help you get closer to that desired outcome?
The more we become aware of our thought patterns, the more control we have over our feelings and the way we act. At first, like changing any habit, it takes a bit of effort, but with practice focussing on the positive outcome becomes the default setting and life starts feeling much happier.