Mindfulness

How to Quiet Your Thoughts and Trust Your Gut

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I can’t stand the phrase, “trust your gut.” Not only does “gut” remind me of digestive issues and crime scenes from Law & Order, but as a chronic over-thinker it creates more questions than it answers. I mean, how the hell do I do that? Is it even safe? Won't I end up alone, unemployed, eating off-brand Halloween candy in my PJs every afternoon? 

And that crazy thought is exactly why I want to share:

  1. Why we don't listen to our instincts
  2. How to spot the difference between a thought and a gut feeling
  3. How to strengthen your intuition (no pushups required!)

Why we Silence our Gut

In a culture that teaches us to ignore our instincts and “think things through,” we often ignore our feelings as being trivial or something to push down into the basement where we keep painful memories, resentments, and old sporting equipment. Sometimes our desire to "make things work" or "play it safe" comes from past experiences or societal norms. But how do we know if those guiding thoughts are our gut or our fear talking?  

The truth is that instincts aren’t thoughts, they originate from something much deeper-they come from our feelings. But we are so conditioned to have thought-based reactions to feelings that we talk ourselves out of honoring our intuition before we can process it.

Why? Because feelings and emotions are scary. They are often considered to be liabilities, rather than a compass leading us to our truth, our future, or the nearest gas station.

A thought and a feeling are not the same thing.

Sounds obvious, but we often jump from one to another so quickly that it’s seemingly impossible to separate. For example, “I can’t believe she smacked me across the face with a can of RC cola!” is a thought. The anger you feel toward her is a feeling.

Ultimately, if you can’t describe it as a sensation, it’s a thought, not an instinct.

If you really want to trust your intuition, you need to silence all the “shoulds,” “it’s safer tos,” and “common sense” that you’ve created to play it safe. Because the truth is that those constructs are the manifestations of all your excuses to continue playing small. So how do you tap into that mysterious, omniscient, more-powerful-than-a-mind-blowing-orgasm, place? Strengthen the connection.

Here’s how:

  1. Think back to a happy time or a person who played a positive role in your life. What sensations do you feel? Happy? Grounded? Relaxed?
  2. Think back to a time that sucked. Or, a person that played a negative role in your life. Imagine the moment when you realized this wasn’t what you wanted. What sensations do you feel? Stomach sinking? Heart pounding? Itchy trigger finger?
  3. Let’s get present: Think of a new person or situation in your life you’re unsure of. What feelings arise? Don’t judge or rationalize them away before you feel them. Sit with it. Are they similar to the positive event (#1) or the negative event (#2)?

No matter the outcome, you’re strengthening your connection to yourself. And whether you take action on those feelings or not, you’re likely to find that over time, the situation will play out according to those instincts. Because we tend to focus on thoughts or think our feelings away, strengthening your ability to listen to your gut will allow you to tap into your truth. And, as the saying goes, “The truth will set you free.”

How do you tune into your intuition? Share your story in the Comments section below!

How To Turn Fails Into Wins

You know what I’m really great at? Failure. I do it all the time.  I do it unashamedly, unabashedly and, if I do say so myself, gorgeously.  I am far more proud of my failures than my successes because they are more frequent, more helpful, and more interesting than my wins.  And I’m not the first person to note that it’s only by failing at something that we actually learn how to do it. Like RFK said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” So yeah, I’m due to achieve. Big time.

Most of us focus on improving our track record: running faster, getting richer, making a better frittata.  As we get older and have gotten richer or made said frittata, it becomes harder for most of us to try anything new because we fear being a novice again.  What we rarely appreciate is the true honesty and the awkward joy that fall-on-your-face embarrassment provides. Whether it’s marathon training or potty training. You gotta start somewhere.  

Whatever your brand of “I have to kick ass at everything I do” might be, we’re taught that success means doing things better and, even more annoyingly, consistently.

But when we step outside of our calorie-counting, pencil-pushing, Red Bull-chugging craziness, we recall that the truth is that it’s not only okay to fail, but absolutely necessary if we hope to achieve anything that’s actually worth doing.

Forget the cheesy “love yourself and be grateful for shit,” let’s re-examine failure, itself.

First, I’m going to get nerdy with it. Sarah Lewis, a professor at Yale University, remarked that “failure” was a term never intended to be used with people, instead it was originally intended to describe financial bankruptcy. It meant a dead end-a word ill-fitted to describe us humans. After all, people are dynamic and ever-changing, not static and stunted (with my exes being notable exceptions.)

Word porn aside, “failure” should really be called a helpful, albeit unpleasant, learning experience. A mere step on the path to world domination (or an equally over-the-top goal.)

Distance allows you to see things more objectively. The same way you can examine your friend’s love life more clearly than you can your own.  Ask yourself, what was good about the setback? What worked? How can you fine-tune things next time?

And if you feel like you’re the only one who’s ever failed, look at every artist, entrepreneur, or virgin, and you’ll be in excellent company. Christopher Columbus “failed” and he got a holiday named after him. Not too shabby if you ask me.

So when faced with a setback (another great word for failure), get curious, invite it out for dinner, bring it into bed with you. Then, like any one-night stand, walk away. 

How have you shifted your setbacks into growth? Share your story in the Comments Section below!

How To Stay Hopeful About the Future (even when you're convinced it will suck)

We all go through times where we’re hyper-focused on the negative rather than the positive. I was chatting with a friend recently who said that as soon as he doesn’t hear back from a potential client, his mind begins to cycle to all the possible outcomes. Needless to say, all these hypotheticals result in him going bankrupt, staying single, and sharing canned beans with his dog as he lives under a bridge. Of course, 24 hours pass, he hears back, and bridge crossers need not fear the toll-demanding troll.

But all this got me thinking about optimism and faith. How do we stay hopeful about the future when our minds spin faster than a hamster on a wheel? Here’s how to remain optimistic (even when you’re convinced everything sucks):

1. Imagine how you’d like your future to look.

Most of us have no idea what we want, but we have a nagging feeling that we don’t have it. But since it’s “too hard” to figure out what we actually want, we keep spinning our wheels. Does that make any sense at all? Not really, but we keep doing it anyway. Having a clear sense of what you want evokes excitement and motivates you to get shit done. Vision gives you a reason to push through discomfort and energize you with positive thoughts for tomorrow, regardless of what today looks like.

2. Move through fear.

The unknown is a lot like my parents’ basement. It’s dark, has a lot of crap, and has a faint smell of mold (I think we need to look into that!) I avoid their basement because I think something’s lurking down there. Is that rational? Not really. Do I bring my 10 lb dog with me to protect me anyway? Hell yeah! The point is that when we approach the unknown or future with our natural desire to feel safe and in control, we hold ourselves back. We can’t control the future, but we can control our mind-set. Letting go of past experiences is like a spiritual reset button. It might not change what happened, but it removes the event’s power from hurting you in the future. Until you make peace with your past, it will continue to shape your future.

3. Stop brainwashing yourself.

Our thoughts are powerful incantations that direct our worldview. Talking to yourself and others about what you can’t do becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re hyper-focused on fails, it’s virtually impossible to create a win, let alone be hopeful. So the next time you want to complain about how you’ll never get a raise, remember that you’re the one casting the spell.

4. Stay Present.

Quit future-tripping. When we feel overwhelmed, we assume that tomorrow will be more of today. We tend to live in the future when there’s something we’re avoiding in the moment. Stay present! Is there an action you can be taking to create your happy ending? (No, not that kind!)

5. Reach out.

When I see myself speeding into crazy town, I engage in some sort of pattern interrupt. That refers to anything that gets me out of my own head. For some it’s exercise, for others it’s simply calling a friend. My personal favorite way to remain hopeful is to be of service. It can be anything from helping a friend to volunteering to writing a thank you note. Helping others empowers you to focus on the good, engage with others in a positive way, and be an all-around awesome person.

 

Like Dumbledore said, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” And since I take all my life advice from fictitious characters, I’m confident that everything will work out better than planned.

How do you remain hopeful? Share your tips in the Comments section below!