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Episode 197: Worrying & Acceptance

I've talked a lot in the past about the need to control thoughts using distractions and deliberate, forced thinking in order to create a more positive mindset. But I think it's crucial to recognise the importance of accepting our thoughts too.
Humans tend to gravitate towards the things we fear and if we fear our own thoughts then a part of us deep inside might even feel the need to focus more on them. It's as if the more we think about something the more we understand it. And the more we understand it the more control we have over it. Which is probably true if it's a tiger in the jungle but not when the thing we fear is internal, our own anxiety for example.
Worrying about what makes us anxious rarely gives us any extra understanding of it. So sometimes we do need to accept our thoughts, just with a better perspective.

Our worries and fears might still be there out of habit, and it's likely that we'll need some sort of distraction from them, either an internal one or an external one. But even the external distraction of getting a drink of water for example, wandering off to the works kitchen area for no reason other than to get away from your desk for a minute, is going to help not just because it's an external distraction but because it leads onto internal ones.
We can't rely on the outside world to free us from the rubbish in our head but what the outside world can do is prove to us that we have better things to think about.

Eventually our distraction can be as simple just saying to yourself "Oh that's just a thought" and ignore it. If you find yourself worrying about the future to be able to catch yourself when you notice and say "Stop, that's just a thought, it's not reality" can be really helpful but it does take a bit of practise. Fortunately practise turns a conscious decision into an unconscious skill.

It's worth acknowledging that no-one is expected to know how to do anything other than the absolute basics without learning. The good news is that you are designed to learn. You are a natural born learner. Even when it comes to learning how to accept your thoughts.
As a toddler you didn't learn how to walk because you wanted to impress your friends or show off to your parents, you did it because you wanted to get somewhere. You consciously decided that crawling around didn't seem efficient. You watched other people and thought "Hmm that 2 legged things looks handy." And it didn't matter that you fell over from time to time, you didn't have self esteem issues about it. You didn't think "Oh no! I hope they didn't see me fall" and then wait to try it again when no-one was looking. Instead you simply made the decision to walk and talk and then you tried it and practised it.
You didn't learn to walk to show your parents how smart you were. It wasn't an "outside-in" thing. It was an "inside-out" thing. You had what we call "intrinsic" motivation rather than extrinsic motivation.

Is worrying useful though?
Clients will sometimes come to me and say "You use hypnosis, I want you to hypnotise me and stop me from worrying." But after a brief chat about what that would actually mean, if it was even possible, they conclude that living like that would be quite dangerous. Their goal is in fact to worry less, to accept their thoughts and only take responsibility for outcomes that they can genuinely influence. After all, we can't guarantee that our thinking, our worrying is going to make any difference to our world anyway. But many people think that worrying has magic powers, that worrying will keep us safe. As if the harder we worry about something the more protection we get from the worst case scenarios we play out in our mind.
And of course that's not true. The worrying makes no difference does it? We know that intellectually. But we might still keep on trying.

The other reason why people will think that worrying might be helpful is because they think it gives them some sort of motivation. It's possible that at first it actually does. Worrying leads to emotion which leads to behaviour. So the spike of adrenaline and a bit of anxiety will force us to take steps and make things happen, but it's not sustainable. You can't live there. So, over time, it has less and less of a motivational influence, until you have no motivation at all, but the worrying is still there, and maybe 10 times louder now. Draining us of our energy and enthusiasm.

We might think we're getting drained by life but what drained us was simply our own thinking.

With an acceptance of our thoughts as just thoughts and not reality, you can move on from them and become one thought away from a completely new perspective. One thought away from a completely new experience, from a completely new feeling, from a completely new life.
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