I’ve been battling with the tricks my mind can play with me this week, and from what some of you have been telling me, I’m not alone in this.
You know what I mean – how that running commentary we run in our heads has a profound impact on how we feel and what we do; the sneaky voices in our head that bring fear, doubt, worry, anger, resentment, and the other voices that help us feel strong, confident, in control, capable (I do know that sometimes people say to me “what voices? I don’t have any voices in my head”, to which I’ll normally reply “well there’s a voice in your head right now telling you that you don’t have any voices in your head!” – we all have them).
The language used to describe the commentary varies round the personal development world – self talk, mind talk, negative automatic thoughts (NATs), gremlins (‘Taming your Gremlin – a Surprisingly Simple Method of Getting out of your Own Way’ by Rick Carson is a great read on the subject), but what we call it doesn’t really matter, it’s what we do about it that counts.
I’ve come to prefer thinking about it as a vortex that I get sucked into, and which can then be hard to get out of. And I don’t just have one vortex, I have hundreds of them, of different sizes, strengths and colours.
When in one of these vortices I lose perspective and get a really distorted view of reality. And the vortex doesn’t just affect the way I think. It comes with distinct emotional and physical states too.
So, I’ll be merrily going about day to day life, and then something happens. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, it can seem really insignificant, but there is always a trigger, an activating event.
It might be an email, or something someone says. It might be that I walk into the chaos that is one of my daughters bedrooms, or some business that falls through, or the washing machine breaking, or even hearing of someone else’s success! And…sluurrp… before I know it I’m sucked right into the vortex.
Let me give you an example of one of my most familiar vortices -the “I’m inadequate” is always a favourite!
So, I hear of another coach, who has only recently set up (in fact I helped them to do so) and they’ve launched a fabulous new product using really authentic and powerful marketing which brings them a good initial financial return.
My first thought is “good for them“, then quickly into ‘why haven’t I done that, why do I always seem to procrastinate and never translate my ideas into action, I should be doing that, I don’t have what it takes to be in business, I’m not as good as her, I’ll get squeezed out of the market, if I’m squeezed out I won’t make enough money to support the family, I’ll have to…oh no… get a job! And perhaps I won’t be able to get another job, because who would want a failure…“.and so on.
This vomiting of thoughts is accompanied by a sick feeling in my stomach and an emptiness and ache in my heart, my eyes feel hot, my heart beats faster and my breathing becomes shallow and rapid. I’m a little bit shaky. I have emotions of low level guilt, shame, sorrow and a little fear.
It all happens in an instant! And it’s the same pattern I’ll get in response to any number of different triggers (not getting through my to do list, not meeting my income target in any month etc etc).
Now my rational head can see that most of this is nonsense. There may be small kernals of truth in it, but the meaning I’m immediately making is distorted, exaggerated, pessimistic and dramatic.
But just rationally knowing it’s not true is not enough to get out of the vortex. I have to feel it too.
It’s worth also noting that for many years I hadn’t even really noticed what was happening – these thoughts would be rushing round in my head without my full conscious awareness, and all I’d know was that I wasn’t feeling very good about myself and I didn’t know why.
The physical symptoms would be there, just below the surface but in my ‘busy-ness’ I’d suppress them.
But the first step in getting out of the vortex is noticing you’re in it and being very, very honest with yourself about what you find in it, no matter how ‘silly’ or irrational it seems.
Because you’ll be in the vortex for a reason. Each vortex, at its heart, has a good intention. It’s there because of something you care about, and because of a strength and quality you have. But it’s become distorted and unhelpful, like an overplayed strength. At its heart, my ‘I’m inadequate’ vortex is really ‘I want to be all I can be’.
I also understand the vortex isn’t really me – it’s just a small, and distorted part of me. The real me is who I am when I’m at my best, without the interference (the Gallwey equation is performance= potential – interference).
Even when I’m deeply in a vortex, there will be a part of me, a part of my nervous system that is not affected, not part of the neurological pattern that’s playing out. And if I can access that part I can start to escape the vortex’s hold…
So watch for the next post for some of the strategies I use to escape each vortex, but in the meantime, which vortices do you get sucked into?
Some others of mine include: the ‘what if’ worrier; the ‘heavy sigh’ martyr; the ‘its not my fault’ vortex, and ‘I just want everyone to be happy and like me’.
Share in comments below!