I just can’t get myself motivated..

When it comes to goals, desires and dreams, you can take it to the bank that motivation will not be there when you need it most. Willpower will be on a distant walkabout when you require it as an antecedent to taking action to start living the life you really want for yourself.

Having the right thoughts or feelings prior to taking action is not required.

Be grateful when everything lines up perfectly in terms of your thoughts, feelings and actions, but recognize that more often than not, (especially if you demand that it happen), it won’t. That’s life. When we resist being in alignment with how life works, we suffer. When we align ourselves with how life works, we increasingly experience more vitality and engagement and put ourselves on the path today of experiencing the life we really want.

Don’t rely on your state of mind to be right before you do the right things.

If you are feeling stuck, you are simply experiencing a feeling of being stuck, but you yourself are not stuck. You are, after all, able to move about independently of what you are currently thinking or feeling, aren’t you?

What’s that, you say?

Check it out for yourself right now if you don’t believe me! Tell yourself that you cannot move. Really think it with conviction. Go ahead. Be as serious as death. Tell yourself right now that you absolutely cannot move and say it with the commanding voice of authority. Establish a very strong sense about the absolute truth that you cannot move…

Now, start to wiggle your fingers or toes, or cough, or sing Happy Birthday. Go ahead…try it! Even if you don’t try it, make sure that you don’t notice that you have successfully taken the action of refusing to try something out…cool, right? Decisions and actions are happening nonstop all day long!

What can we learn from this little experiment? You are able to take action independently of how you feel! Frankly, we have more control over our present behavior than we do the thoughts and feelings that enter our minds from moment to moment.

If you don’t know your rights, then you don’t have them. -Susan Dwoskin

Each one of us have an individual bill of rights. You have the right to your own opinions. You have the right to be with who you want to be. You have the right to be wrong, and the right to join in any conversation you want to be in and share your thoughts and ideas. You also have the right to leave conversations that hold no interest for you. Did you know that you also have the right to pay no attention to the unhelpful thoughts that arise in your mind throughout the day, also?

You were born with the innate capacity and ability to disregard the negative chattering that is running through your mind. You already have built into you the ability to make room for the emotions and sensations that are flowing through you as your experience right now. As you begin realizing this and putting it into practice, you will discover that you also have the ability to get into action and invite the fussy, negative chattering to come along with you for the ride!

You are never stuck. You may be noticing or experiencing stuck thoughts or stuck feelings right now, but who you are is never stuck. It is not possible for the you who you are to be stuck, (are you starting to get a sense of why this is true?)

It makes me quietly laugh at myself when I catch myself stress-thinking about needing to work on myself or start some kind of improvement plan in the coming weeks, even though I have done it a million times. The internal dialogue goes something like this, “I really need to take care of myself. I need to change my diet and get more exercise. Man, I need to stretch more, or do some yoga, or pray or meditate…”

Laughing is very helpful in this situation. What?! Why is laughing at my difficult circumstances and my pressured plans to remedy those things in the coming weeks helpful?

Because ‘the coming weeks’ are not here yet, and there is no way I can take action in a time that is not here yet. Would you agree? How much control do I have over a time that is not here yet? Choices are: 1) Total control or 2). No control.

Only right now is here. Only right now am I able to do some kind of action or behavior that is in alignment with what really matters to me in this life. And if I don’t use this now, today, then what makes me think I could access a superpower that would enable me to take action during a time that isn’t even here yet?!

The stories we tell ourselves about life are not reality, but they sure seem like it if we are not aware that they are only stories. Stories are composed of the thinnest of gossamer we call ‘thoughts’.

These habitual thoughts have poured into our minds more mornings than we have been pouring coffee into our cups. The sun rises, we awaken, and instantly, the flow of thoughts begins. No one in the history of humanity has ever found the off-switch to the thought machine that gears up each morning and that runs nonstop throughout the day and into the night, even in our dreams, the thought machine is plugging away!

Trying to control our thoughts is a hopeless activity…it can’t be done.

You don’t need to get rid of the negative thoughts that show up, but rather it is helpful to see them for exactly what they are…thoughts and nothing more. Freedom is found in getting better at noticing them, seeing them as passing story, and then in this very present moment turning toward what really matters to you during this brief time you have on the planet.

If we have been taking shoddy stories about ourselves seriously up until now, so be it. I’m not going to recommend wrestling or fighting with something that is not worthy of your time and attention. The only thing any of us have to do about a shoddy story is absolutely nothing! If we just just leave our thinking alone, and see it for what it is, a shoddy story, we will find out through our own experience that the story moves on.

If you don’t feed it, it withers and slithers away.

It is estimated that we have some 70,000 thoughts a day. It is the nature of thoughts to be constantly arriving and departing, unless we grab a hold of them and keep them in place by arguing with them, or ruminating about why we are having such negative thoughts or exhausting ourselves with trying to get rid of them.

The way to get a story to loosen its grip is to loosen your grip on the story.

You’re Not All That…

You are not your story. You are not a narrative. You are not your thoughts, beliefs, opinions, attitudes or rules. You aren’t your circumstances. You aren’t your reputation, recognition, education, degrees nor awards. You aren’t your financial condition presently, or in the past or in the future. You aren’t the things you own and you’re not defined by what you currently lack. You aren’t your physical body and you’re not the state your body is in right now. You aren’t your looks or your perceived lack of them. You aren’t your traits or your personality, either!

You’re not all that…and this is the best news you could ever hear!

You are alive right now! You are aware! You have this very moment free and clear to use in whatever way you wish!

The pathway to the life you really want begins quite simply, and starts where you are right now: only step back a moment and allow your mind to clear. See if you can loosen your grip on the suspect stories you have been taking so seriously up until this moment. Allow the feverish churning of thoughts, memories, images, and fears all to simply settle down, as best you can. It might happen in this moment, or it might take a little more time. It doesn’t matter. Your mind is designed to self-correct and will do so if given half a chance. Your mind wants to return to peace. It will go there if you leave your thoughts alone. See if this isn’t true for you…

Working on ourselves doesn’t work.

We think that we have to work on ourselves to improve the quality of our experience of life. We painfully reflect on our seemingly deep need to work on our self-esteem. We feel an incessant drive to polish up our persona to secure the praise of others, or hope we won’t be rejected. We try to force ourselves to improve our discipline, and we pressure ourselves to be more mindful, or more compassionate with ourselves or others. We hassle ourselves to no end, and it can feel dispiriting and even downright debilitating at times. We repeat this cycle over and over, day after day, forgetting to stop for a moment, this moment, and simply become curious about what happens when we simply leave all of this inner tension and struggle alone…

Ouch, that hurts!

Imagine this scenario. You are sitting in your kitchen, and you suddenly reach over and grab a nearby cast-iron skillet and start hitting your forehead with it as hard and fast as you can. Ouch! That really hurts! In between skillet strikes, you start wondering if it would hurt less if you slowed down a little bit, or perhaps struck less forcefully. You try this, but it still doesn’t feel very good. It’s hardly an improvement, at all. You desperately look around between skillet strikes to see if you have a smaller pan, and you’re in luck! On top of the stove is a smaller pan, so you grab that one and start hitting your head with the smaller pan, breathing a momentary sigh of relief that you figured out a way to drop the bigger, heavier skillet. But it quickly dawns upon you that you are still experiencing significant pain as the smaller pan repeatedly impacts your head. If you wanted to feel less pain in this scenario, what’s the answer here? Right…the answer is to put the pan down and immediately you start to feel better.

When we mistakenly accept and demand that we need to work on ourselves, we are saying that we believe some degree of pan-striking is required. Sometimes we fear that a heavy skillet is needed, and at other times a lighter one is likely to do the job. Sometimes, we imagine the pain that the skillet/pan will cause, and we give up, wandering over to the TV, or amble over to the cabinet to pour a drink, or simply lie down in bed, hoping to turn off the world by going to sleep . As we engage in some kind of avoidance behavior, we fail to notice that we just picked up another skillet and have started hitting our head with that as we struggle with negative, critical thoughts about ourselves and feel the descending sense of despair about the very real defects we must have that we are unable to even get started improving ourselves.

Just as putting the pan down is the answer to relief from pain, so is putting down our difficult thoughts. The moment we stop taking our pressured thinking so seriously, we will notice relief. Do not take my word for it. Your own experience is what we are looking for here.

When we feel relief, our innate well-being begins to well up effortlessly. We begin to have more perspective, clarity, insights and thoughts that are likely to be quite quite helpful for the situation at hand. Notice that I said the situation at hand, not ‘for situations that are going to happen a week from now’, (let’s all sing together now: “a week from now isn’t here, so how could I possibly know what to do or realistically take action a week from now, in this present moment?”).

I am not recommending inaction as the key to a better life, far from it. If all we are doing is resisting gravity, the likelihood of a full and rich life is quite low. However, what am I saying is that we can only live our life right now. Life is a moment-to-moment process. Sometimes we have the right thoughts and state of mind to get into action and sometimes we don’t. If we do feel a surge of motivation, then go ahead and ride the wave! Get busy and have a blast doing it. If not, we learn to recognize that lower quality thoughts and feelings are temporary and have no power to stop us from taking action, even when they insist they do.

If you have realized that there is something you want to do that is important to you, waiting on something like motivation is a making a decision to to continue feeling stuck. Motivation is not required to take action…taking action is available right now, and only right now, independent of what you are thinking or feeling. Again, test it out for yourself, or this will simply sound like something you might read in a nicely decorated greeting card.

If your mind is full of difficult and dispiriting thoughts, beliefs or images right now, there is nothing to do about them, literally. Doing nothing in this domain, in the psychological domain, is the best thing you could do. The thoughts and feelings will move on, to be replaced by more thoughts and feelings. It is the human condition that we all have thoughts and feelings that arise and move on all day long. When we see that, we can also start to see that we are not obligated to take any of those thoughts or feelings seriously.

You are not your thoughts and neither are you your feelings in any given moment. Sometimes you will feel great, and other times you won’t. However, in any given moment, you have the capacity and ability to take some kind of action in support of what really matters to you.

Today, you can prove this to yourself. You may forget tomorrow, but once you have an understanding that you have the ability to think, and you have the product of that thinking ability that we call ‘thoughts’, you will realize that not every thought or feeling merits your attention, and that realization will be with you as long as you live.

Being grounded in this present moment, having clarity about what matters and taking action whether you feel like it or not are ultimately the keys to a richer and fuller experience of life.

Do not wait. Begin now and prove it to yourself.

Seeking and Finding

Well-being is always present within you. It cannot be given to you by anyone else. Other people cannot take away a single iota of your well-being. 

Consider all the many ways that we seek to make ourselves better in the eyes of others. This debilitating drive is borne from the mistaken notion that there is something missing in us, and that others have what we need or want. 

Faulty assumptions lead to faulty outcomes. Mistaken beliefs lead to unneeded suffering.

Within you, nothing is missing. Nothing is broken. These may appear as mere words or a nice sentiment, but they point to an important truth that we all share. Well-being is already within you, awaiting but your invitation. The arrival of well-being comes as a result of letting go of your fearful thoughts, and walking through the world with a willingness to stop attacking yourself and others.

Look around you today and realize that everyone suffers. Do we need to contribute more to the suffering of others? Do we need to increase our own personal experience of suffering?

How often do we try to control others, to make them behave differently? How often do we judge others and try to make them guilty? How often do we point our finger at them and try to convince them that they are the cause of our very own suffering?

When you begin see that well-being is not dependent on what other people think, say or do, (or don’t do!), you will begin to see how unhelpful it is to attack others thinking that it will bring you peace. The ways of war do not lead to peace.

Trying to control others is exhausting work and it requires constant vigilance. The time and energy you use in trying to control others comes directly out of the time and energy you could be using in living the life you most deeply desire. Fear is the foundation upon which trying to control others seems reasonable. Unfortunately, fear obscures your awareness of inner well-being. Fear makes promises that it cannot keep: by controlling others, I will make myself safe.

When you stop attacking yourself and others, well-being and safety effortlessly float up into awareness. Take a moment right now and see if this is true for you…

No one needs to earn well-being just as no one needs to earn breathing air. Breathing is. Well-being is. 

The essence of who you are is always safe and secure. Tell yourself this over and over throughout the day. Create and strengthen within yourself a knowingness and awareness that your safety and well-being are always present and not at all at the mercy of what other people think, say or do. 

Give yourself the gift of release and relief. As you forgive others and forgive yourself for the many injustices you have perceived up until now, you will begin to see the folly of trying to get others’ approval or trying to avoid rejection.. The happy practice of giving up trying to get what you don’t need will be such a welcome gift to yourself, indeed.

No one can make you better than you already are. No one can cause you to be less. Today, practice letting go of trying to get anything from anyone else and you will see that you already have all that you really need.

Your ever-present and gentle opportunity today and every day is to seek and then find the innocence that lies within yourself and then to look past the drama and conflict of others and see their innocence, too.

You will find what you seek. Be on your side and by doing so, you will help others to find what you have found.

What Are You Waiting For?

This moment is the only time there is, ever. It seems like there is a future and a past, at least it does to me. But when am I having thoughts and feelings about the future or the past? It can only be in the present moment.

Are my thoughts about the future or the past actually the future or the past? The future isn’t here yet, and the only thing that can be true about the past is that it is irretrievably gone.

When I am caught up with overthinking about the future (worry, anxiety, stress) or ruminating about the past, (depression, despair, apathy), I am disengaged from the present moment where life is happening.

The present is the only time I can take actions that are in support of my life values, (who I want to be and stand for).

Am I willing to sacrifice this very moment I am alive in order to attempt to exert control over what is truly not in my control, (the future, the past, other people, the countless thoughts and feelings that arise each day, the weather, aging, outcomes rather than the process in accomplishing goals)?

Put simply, life is for living. Getting into alignment with how life unfolds, moment to moment, we can start to see the value of focusing on the here and now. Vitality, and engagement can be found in only one place: here and now.

Here’s a good strategy to fritter away your life:

  1. Avoid taking time to reflect upon what really matters to you.

  2. Look to others to determine your value and worth.

  3. Devote the majority of your time to thinking about your life rather than actually living your life.

  4. Blame other people for your inability to do what you really want to do.

  5. Make a few attempts to accomplish something and then give up, telling yourself you don’t have what it takes.

  6. Spend your time trying to avoid or escape bad feelings, and do things that might provide short term relief but increase long term problems, (drink a lot of alcohol, watch a lot of television, scroll through social media aimlessly for hours, be socially withdrawn, overeat and choose high calorie, low nutrient food, overwork, oversleep, to name but a few…there are countless other options).

  7. Take yourself very seriously.

  8. Be reactive in dealing with others, easily offended, and take everything other people say or do very personally.

  9. Hold grudges, practice resentment, and be critical of others and yourself.

  10. Use your time today imagining that someday, when all your problems have been solved, you can enjoy your life. At the same time you are imagining, take no action in the direction of the life you want to be living.

  11. BONUS: Live your life as if you can control what other people think, say or do. Pretend that you have control over the past or the future.

One Choice in Every Moment

A musical note: In writing songs, there are common chord progressions which are the skeleton upon which melodies and harmonies can be built. One such progression is: vi IV V I, which stands for the starting chord being the sixth of the scale, followed by the fourth, the fifth and finally to the tonic chord, the I. Enjoy this song that was an experiment of setting out to see what could come of taking the progression out for some exercise! (the song title needed to leave out the fifth to make the title a punny one!). I guess that was a choice! https://soundcloud.com/iancrooksmd/six-for-one

I recently wrote an email to a patient of mine who has long struggled with anxiety. My patient is woman in her mid-30’s, a wonderful, insightful and motivated person. She is married, has kids, works and is in the process of getting more education in order to change careers. She is making real progress in the direction of her educational and professional goals, but wrote to me, very concerned that she was still struggling with anxiety in her day to day life.

Humans are affective creatures. We have feelings. Some of them we want more of, and others we want to get rid of. But to be fully human, we need to be able (and willing!) to experience “the full catastrophe.” 

Have you ever seen the movie, Zorba the Greek?

 https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057831/

In the movie, when Zorba is asked whether he has ever been married, he replies, “Am I not a man? Of course I have been married! Wife, house, kids, everything. The full catastrophe!”

John Kabat-Zinn, the well-known author and one of the earliest promoters of mindfulness practices for the modern era, wrote a book entitled, “Full Catastrophe Living,” in which he explains his take on living ‘the full catastrophe’, “...[it is] the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crises and disaster, but also all the little things that go wrong and that add up. The phrase reminds us that life is always in flux, that everything we think is permanent is actually temporary and constantly changing. This includes our ideas, our opinions, our relationships, our jobs, our possessions, our creations, our bodies, everything.”

In my email to my patient, I had the intention of being supportive, and also to encourage her to find a new relationship to the feelings of anxiety she was concerned about:

“It’s an interesting observation to me that we are never anxious about things that have happened in the past. We usually reserve anxiety for things that have not yet happened, for the future, don’t we?

It is a helpful realization to see that the future isn’t here yet, so how much control can any of us have right now over a time that isn’t here? If the answer is, “I guess I don’t…” then it makes all kinds of sense to put our awareness on what is happening right now, in this present moment. If there is something to do about some imagined or desired event in the future, then we can get busy and do something. If not, then nothing to do.

Experimenting with becoming more process-oriented, rather than outcome-oriented allows us to take care of things in an engaged and vital way as we are living our life (during this very moment), rather than staring paralyzed with uncertainty into an imagined future where all kinds of things might fall apart, feeling anxious and then spending our present moment trying to get rid of the anxiety. 

We humans also seem to dedicate a lot of time to trying to control or get rid of aversive states, (such as anxiety, insecurity, depression, loneliness, anger, etc.,). While the intention makes sense, (who likes to feel anxious or depressed or a million other words used to describe what we don’t want to feel), the actual outcome is invariably not the one we want.

“If you are not willing to have it, you’ve got it,” is a pithy saying that allows to remember that our efforts to get rid of negative states or feelings guarantees that we will have them.

It’s like the little mind experiment, (you can try it for yourself as you read this), “For the next 20 seconds, there are a thousand things you could think of, but you must not think of a yellow apple. If there is even a flash of a yellow apple in your mind for the next 20 seconds, a trap door opens up below you and me, and we plummet 4 stories to the ground. Remember, you must not think of a yellow apple. Ready? Set? Go!….”

How did you do? If you are like most people, the very thing that you did not want to think about kept trying to muscle its way in to your mind. Sure, you could have thought about an orange polar bear, really focusing on that, bearing down on that in your mind, but what was waiting at the periphery? Even if you say that you didn’t have a single thought about a yellow apple, how would you know unless you thought of a yellow apple?

“If you are not willing to have it, you’ve got it.”

Instead of spending time and precious life energy trying to not have our present moment experience, (which could include things like anxiety), what would happen if we just made room for the anxiety? Welcome it in…it’s there anyway.

It’s a curious thing, but our willingness to make space for anxiety quite often diminishes anxiety, but not because we are trying to get rid of it, but rather we’ve given up the struggle to get rid of it.

As we notice the experience of anxiety, and make room for it, (acceptance), we can at the very same moment get in touch with what really matters to us. If there is some action we can take in support of what really matters, we do it, bringing the anxiety along with us as we take action.

Following this fork in the road leads to increasingly experiencing more vitality, engagement and being alive, mostly because we are doing that: being vital, engaged and alive.

As far as I can tell, the point of life is to live it, to make choices about the life we do want to live, and then taking action that is consonant with the life we want to live.

Because there are some things that matter to us in our life, and there is always uncertainty about the future, (including how things might go this afternoon, later tonight, tomorrow morning, and on and on), anxiety may arise. But at all times, we are at a decision point: do I want to invest energy in trying to get rid of the anxiety (and thus make it more pronounced), or do I want to be in my life as it is happening, doing those things that matter most and make room for any anxiety that may arise?

Every hour (and I would suggest, every minute) we are at a decision point. We can ask ourselves a very helpful question, “In this moment, what is the function of this behavior I am doing? Is it in support of living as fully as I have chosen to do, or is it an effort to not have my experience of anxiety, (or any other aversive state)?

Two pathways ever before us…which path am I choosing right now?”

Dear Reader, how does it seem to you? Is anxiety something to get rid of? How about boredom, anger, irritation? Have you found a way to relate to difficult thoughts and feelings that allows you to keep moving towards living the life you want? What happens when you welcome all your feelings, (anxiety, joy, depression, peace)?

Nothing To Do…

I composed a song today that I’d like to share with you. It’s called Shifting States, and it is my musical representation of something that happens in all of us all day long. Hope you enjoy it!

Shifting States by Ian M Crooks, MD
To return of clarity, leave it alone…it will clear by itself!

Every year, I have about 2000+ visits in my private practice office with the people who are my patients. I meet with some people more often than with others, but in general, I have the honor and privilege of working with many people from all walks of life. In meeting these people, and getting to know them, I also learn a great deal from them.

Many people in society think that psychiatrists only manage medications. The people with whom I meet seem genuinely surprised when I tell them that I provide psychotherapy as an integral part of my practice. 

The longer I practice, the clearer it is to me that the majority of suffering comes from people being unaware that ‘who’ they are is just fine. At the core of everyone, there is health and well-being. There is a big difference between ‘who’ a person is, and what they are experiencing.

I’m certain that you, like me, have had times when you have felt stressed and upset, (help me out here…it’s not just me, is it?). Likewise, I’m certain that you have had times in your life when, on the whole, life seemed pretty good and a feeling of peace and calmness would describe your state of mind. Isn’t that true?

What we sometimes miss is the realization that our state of mind is changing all the time, even in the course of one day, (I would argue even in the course of one hour).

We are never one mood for hours or days at a time. Take a moment to reflect and see if this is true for you. Consider how you were feeling yesterday afternoon. Now, how were you feeling two nights ago? How about this morning? How about right now?

Even the most depressed person I have met with in my office will have some variation in the intensity of their mood symptoms throughout the day. The person with intense anxiety will admit to some periods of time during the day or week when they are less tight. People with psychosis, who are hearing at times threatening and critical auditory hallucinations, will report that sometimes it is easier to deal with the voices, and they don’t feel as frightened of them during those times.

I do not recall a single morning where I have gotten up, grabbed a piece of paper and started making my to-list: I need to get frustrated at least twice today. Remember to feel insecure for at least 15 minutes. Don’t forget to feel proud and confident once in the morning and then from 3-4pm. Oh, and make sure that some time is devoted to ruminating about a wrong someone did, and make sure I stew about it, maybe even give the other person the silent treatment, that will show them!

No one makes these kinds of lists, but that’s what shows up as we go through the day, isn’t it? All day long, our mood is shifting up and down. When our mood is up, there really is nothing to do, is there? Simply enjoy it. But then what happens? We like the feeling of the good mood, and we want to keep it.

During a good mood, (it might be peace, joy, happiness, gratefulness), have you ever had the thought, “Hey, I finally got it figured out. I’ve arrived! No need to ever feel down again.” (Honestly, it is the same thing when I hit a good golf shot…“There we go! I knew I could hit good golf shots! I’ve got my style down now. It’s going to be all fun and enjoyment from now on.” Until it isn’t, and then I’m tromping around in the woods, fighting with frustration, finding it difficult to understand what happened, and difficult finding my golf ball!).

Well, if there is nothing to do when our mood state is good, what’s the key to dealing with low moods? Would you be surprised if I said, “Nothing to do,”? I know it surprised me when I first started to understand the nature of moods.

The world around us has about a zillion approaches to getting away from low moods and into better mood states, doesn’t it? We can buy stuff. We can recite positive statements to ourselves. We can visualize. We can get the right relationship. We can work out and eat the right diet. We can mediate and pray. We can work towards goals and get awards and create a reputation. We can surreptitiously elicit approval from others, (sometimes we just demand it). We can also drink booze, smoke cannabis or throw back a few pills as we drink and smoke! The list is really too long to include here. Perhaps you have your own approaches to change the way you feel? 

There is nothing wrong with any of the approaches listed above. Our old friend Shakespeare would say, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” 

However, here is something worth considering: when experiencing a negative state, a low mood, there really is nothing to do.

Have you ever held a snow globe and given it a pretty vigorous shake? What happens? The snow inside flies around every which way, doesn’t it? 

The snow is like our difficult thoughts and feelings. When challenging thoughts and feelings are flying around in our head, we get pretty busy shaking the snow globe harder trying to get the snow to settle down, don’t we? “If I could just get rid of these thoughts/feelings! Then I could feel better and get on with my life!”

How do you get the snow to settle down in a snow globe? The answer is simple, isn’t it? You need to put the globe down, and then the snow settles by itself. In fact, if you do anything with the globe, the snow will start to fly again. It’s the same way with the difficult thoughts and feelings we can experience. Simply leave them alone, and at some point, they will move on. The entire body, including that mysterious thing called our mind,  is designed for homeostasis, a term that means ‘getting back to the norm.’

There is an oft cited study from 2005, the National Science Foundation that stated that we have about 70,000 thoughts a day. That is a lot of thought, isn’t it?

It is the nature of thoughts that they come and go. If we leave them alone, they arise and then they move on. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. Notice in this moment what you mind is doing. What thoughts are arising? Are they the same thoughts that you were having earlier today? 

When we begin to see that ‘who’ we are and what we are experiencing are two different things, it becomes easier notice thoughts and feelings and not be as frightened of our own experience, because we understand that a new thought or feeling is already on its way. 

Some psychotherapy approaches encourage people to get good at spotting dysfunctional thoughts. People are encouraged to look for evidence that their cognitive appraisals are either true or false. Homework is assigned where people are instructed to identify difficult thoughts and then pull them out like you would a weed in a garden and then actively plant more realistic thoughts. Time is spent learning how to reframe the cognitive distortions that arise and try to arrive at a more empowering way to deal with the thoughts and feelings that arise.

Is there anything wrong with this, or the nearly 400 different modalities of therapy currently used in psychotherapy today? Nope. But it does sound like creating a dam in a river that would otherwise be flowing, doesn’t it? Keep holding on to thoughts, and treat them like Play-Do…eventually they’ll improve and you’ll feel better.

Don’t take my word for it. Consult your own experience. What happens if you are simply grateful for the ‘good’ moods that arise, and do your best to be graceful when the ‘bad’ moods show up?

There is nothing to do. You are the experiencer. You are not the thoughts or the feelings that arise and then depart, to be replaced by other thoughts and feelings. When this simple relationship is seen, how much easier it becomes to see that trying to change negative thoughts and feelings is like trying to prevent storm clouds from moving into the sky. Good luck!

The sky has room for everything: clouds, storms, birds, planes, fumes, buildings. None of these things change the sky at all. 

You are the sky, and whether presently your mood is up or down, there really is nothing to do in order for your mood to change. See if this isn’t true for you as you go through your day.

When we give up spending time and effort trying to get rid of difficult thoughts or feelings so that we can get on with our life, we more easily see that we can use our time and effort in this moment in the pursuit of doing things that really matter to us.

Right now is the only moment there is. Our life is happening right now, not in a week from now, and not a year from now. Similarly, our life is not happening yesterday or even earlier this morning when we were eating breakfast.

When we devote each day to taking action in service of our freely chosen values, we experience more engagement, more vitality and fulfillment, not because we got rid of bad thoughts or moods, but because we are living the life we have chosen for ourself. Meanwhile, clouds float by, storms advance and then pass along, planes and birds fly by, noxious fumes float up and then away, and Sky says, “You are all welcome. Stay as long as you’d like. I have room for you all!”

Please feel free to forward this to someone you think might find it helpful.

I’d be interested in hearing your comments, (so, I guess there might be at least one thing to do!).

Riding the mood elevator up and down