I don’t know about you, but my mind can be a very annoying, continual list of shoulds. Even right now, as I write, I hear the suggestion, “Shouldn’t it be ‘sometimes annoying’?” This is the problem.
I know a young lady who has a gift for snappy comebacks. When she receives unsolicited advice/information, her immediate response is, “But, did I ask?” (When you’re not on the receiving end, it’s actually pretty funny.)
Anywho, I was doing some deep cleaning, today—like behind the refrigerator and bookshelves level, “Ewww, what is that?” type cleaning, and the whole time my thoughts were serving me the shoulds list. “You should mop the hall first, then change the water.” “Maybe you should clean that out before donating it.” “You should….” blah blah blah. And this time, rather than get frazzled from the constant interrupting thoughts, I was just like, “But did I ask?”
I am so grateful for my awesome coach, who has been helping me pay more attention to my thoughts. Daily, I am realizing how torturous they have been and didn’t even realize it was happening.
Depending on your experience of life, your thoughts can be primarily supportive and friendly, while others (like me) endure a continual soundtrack of critiques, pessimistic what ifs, and the unending list of shoulds.
Have you ever been at home, work, or even out with friends and heard a car alarm go off, and the owner of the car seems to not know what’s going on so it just keeps honking? When a car alarm, that you can’t control is going off incessantly, you just try to keep enjoying your show, doing your work, or continue your conversation with friends. It’s super annoying but you just try to block it out and keep going with it honking in the background.
Imagine if that alarm stayed on for days…. years… or even decades. That’s what life has been like for me probably since childhood. My alarm, though, has been anxious thoughts. Until recently, I was primarily unaware of the soundtrack. And, I had no idea that those thoughts were constantly shifting my emotions. (When I focused on sad thoughts, I became sad. When I focused on worried thoughts, I became anxious, and so on.) However, now that I am paying attention to the sound, I realize how freaking annoying it is.
Paying attention to my thoughts, is like the car owner handing me the keys over and over again to turn off the alarm—better yet, it’s me realizing that it’s been my car alarm going off all along and grabbing my own keys to stop the sound. At any given moment, I get to recognize and temporarily silence the annoying sound of my unhelpful thoughts. And, today, it started with the simple question, “But, did I ask?”
I don’t know if you struggle with anxiety, or anger, or the constant replaying of a memory that was devastating. I just know for me that each time I’ve struggled with any of those, it started with a thought. And when it came to mind, I didn’t have a plan of what to do with it. Out of habit, I reacted to it the same way that felt right/reasonable at the time. I thought of my grandma who passed, and was instantly sad. I thought of my former boss cussing me out in front of customers, and I was instantly angry. Thought about my ex…. and… don’t even ask.
We are on loop with our reactions to certain thoughts. And our mind serves them up like a barista at our favorite coffee shop. (“You gonna have your usual?”) And without thought we say, “Thanks,” pay, and drink it down. However, when we begin to recognize the soundtrack (loop) of thoughts, we can choose to pause first, then react differently. (“No thanks. I’m gonna check out the menu a while.”)
A first step, is to begin to notice the thoughts that shift our moods. When we begin to pay attention to the changes in our emotions, we get better at catching our thoughts. When we suddenly feel down, we can pause and ask, “What was I just thinking?” With intentional shifts in our awareness, we begin to take control of our soundtrack. And doing that alone is so powerful, and life-shifting.
Another tool, that I am currently employing is to find a more empowering way to view the things that tend to knock me off my square. This is not always easy. Depending on the situation it can be really challenging, but it is possible.
I used to be on automatic with my reactions, but now I am getting better at pausing to think. When things don’t go as planned, I catch myself getting angry and think, “What if this is actually a good thing?” When I find myself worrying, I now think, “What if everything works out?” And I do similar things with uncomfortable memories….
I think the work here is to change the meaning of what we remember. We can make shifts from “You left me,” to “you freed me,” or from “I just wasted ten years of my life,” to “Well, now I have a decades worth of lessons to share.” I hold a strong belief that we are interconnected and that sometimes what I go through is for someone else. Meaning that the lessons I learn from my experiences can be used to support someone else. I developed that belief when I was at my lowest state. I chose to hold on to something my pastor once said, “God loves you too much to let you go through for no reason.” It really impacted me. And now, on the other side of that chapter, I get to see how my experiences back then have helped me to empower so many others…. even right now.
I said these words to a friend a few days ago…. “Whether it was a friendship (that I saw from jump was wack and I stayed a decade only for them to snake me), or a situation with an ex, I am learning to look at what I learned, what I gained, how much I’ve grown since then, etc., and it shifts the meaning of those memories.”
Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you do it the way I do it. I just want you to know that you can interrupt the soundtrack playing in your mind, if it’s not serving you. Whether you choose to yell, “Shut up!” (like Les Brown once suggested ), or mumble to yourself, “But did I ask?,” you get to regain control of the sound.