“Limits, like fears are often just an illusion.” –Michael Jordan
We have an amazing, active mind that helps us survive in our daily living. We could not do what we do if it weren’t for our wonderful and powerful mind. It is truly a marvelous gift! However, sometimes it gets carried away with producing thoughts that may limit us.
The word illusion in the electronic Cambridge Dictionary is defined as “an idea or belief that is not true, or something that is not what it seems to be.” Sometimes we get caught up in our negative thoughts, memories, and judgments. We may become fearful, anxious or intimidated by our own thoughts.
Even though we may have hopes and dreams, our mind can produce thoughts such as: “No, that’ll never happen. I’m not good enough for that. Forget about it, that’s for other people, not me.” Believing thoughts that aren’t helpful limit us. This disrupts our ability to move in the direction that can bring us closer to our goals and what we value in life.
The truth is that we don’t need to believe every thought our mind produces. The dilemma is that many of us may not even be aware of what we think most of the time. For example, there was a young single mom who reported feeling panicky when she came out of the grocery store the previous day. When asked what she may have been thinking, she said she didn’t remember. She insisted her thoughts could not have produced her anxiety. As the conversation with her therapist continued, she remembered that spending money that afternoon had brought a pit in her stomach because she had just lost her job. She didn’t have enough money to pay her rent that month. This was a natural and survival response in her body, yet she didn’t realize her experience of spending money at the grocery store had triggered a survival response that manifested itself in anxiety.
Develop awareness of your internal experiences
You may wonder, why is it important to become aware of one’s thoughts? The answer is that when we notice our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges, we can then learn to respond to them appropriately instead of reacting negatively and becoming limited by those internal events.
You can learn to be an observer. Becoming an observer will help you slow down your thinking process and notice when your mind is producing unhelpful thoughts.
Try the following “Observer” Skill:
Take THREE minutes to breathe in and out slowly.
- Notice how the air comes in and out of your nose or mouth. As you do this, say to yourself: “breathing, breathing, breathing…” Chances are your attention will drift somewhere else.
- Notice when this happens and what thoughts your mind has produced.
- Acknowledge that this has happened by saying: “Hmm, okay. I see.”
- Then gently bring your attention back to your breathing and say, “breathing, breathing, breathing…”
- Most likely, your attention will drift again, but don’t worry about it.
- Just notice the thought, acknowledge it, and gently focus back on your breathing.
- Keep noticing what happens during the 3 minutes. Your attention may go to a thought, feeling, sensation, or urge as you do this exercise. It doesn’t matter because the goal of this exercise is for you to practice NOTICING what happens as you anchor your focus on your breathing.
This observing exercise may appear simple, yet it can be very powerful as you practice it every day. Don’t worry if your attention goes to a thousand places. That is what your mind may be used to doing. Just notice, acknowledge that it happened, and gently bring your attention back to your breathing. You don’t have to practice this exercise only in your home. You can practice it anywhere if you have a few minutes while waiting for somebody or an event.
As you become aware of your thoughts, you will realize you have a choice. You get to choose whether believing the thoughts and acting on them will get you closer to what matters most in your life.
Do not let your thoughts and fears limit you!