One of the most useful metaphors I have for the brain is to consider it as a road network. There are some thinking patterns that are like well-used motorways, wide, fast and without interruption to slow you down. You zoom along them often. There are other ways of thinking that are like hilly, muddy tracks that twist and turn through foliage, great for a walking adventure, but difficult to navigate, and hard work to win through. In between there are A roads, B roads, and country lanes, all varying in speed and ease of passage.
We all have thoughts that are habitual, our motorways. It’s a good discipline to listen in from time to time and notice which patterns come up again and again, passing with no challenge from you. If they are enabling, energising thoughts, that is great news. Sometimes though, they will be limiting thoughts that are likely to stop you from doing things, or lower your self-esteem.
Say, for example, someone lets you down for a planned meet up. You think ‘they mustn’t like me after all.’ The next day, plans for a play-date for the kids fall through. ‘Oh, they don’t want to spend time with us’ you hear your mind say. Before you know it, you have yourself convinced you are unlikeable, unloveable even, and suddenly begin to notice a strong pattern of people distancing themselves and letting you down. You then forget that an old friend got in touch, and those lovely invitations from a new colleague for coffee and a family member for a get together.
Any pathway of thinking can reinforce itself, and other explanations are then not considered. In the example above It could well be that the friend needed to prioritise her children who have exams ongoing, and that the other family have family visiting unexpectedly. There could be illnesses, work stresses, problems with houses and any number of other reasons that people can’t be available when they hoped to be, none of which may relate to you.
What you choose to believe when faced with a moment of discomfort in a relationship shapes how you respond, and therefore how the relationship develops. It is easy to have self-fulfilling prophecies develop. For example, if you did believe people do not like you then you will approach them less enthusiastically and often, or be luke-warm in your responses to them. You can then get more and more stuck in thinking patterns that are more about how you feel about yourself than about what other people think, do or say.
So what can you do?
Next time you hear a familiar, limiting pattern come up, come up with at least two other explanations. One explanation and you are stuck. Two and you have a dilemma. Three or more and you have the beginnings of choice. In some ways it matters less what the reality is, and more what you choose to notice and how that impacts you. Reality is, after all, personal and unique, we each experience the world in our own way.
You might also ask yourself, where might this limiting belief have come from? Beliefs are simply convictions we hold to be true, and that hunt around for evidence to support themselves. They are not fact. They are not truth. Someone helpfully described them to me this week as ‘just a rumour.’
If you don’t believe every rumour you hear, then maybe stand back from your own thoughts too. You can choose to spin round and round and round the same roundabout, or, if you like, you can choose a road off and move forwards. You can choose what you believe, so make it good!