Ep 92: How not to change your mind

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Changing your thoughts isn’t really all that easy, is it? It takes a lot of effort to interact with your thoughts and create thinking habits that will get you where you want to go.

Here’s a concept called flexible attention that lets you go straight to the actions that will help you build a healthier life.

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Full transcript 👇


Ep 92: How not change your mind

Hi. I’m Lori Miller and this is your Mental Health Moment.

The basic premise of mental health is that your thoughts lead to your feelings, and ultimately your actions. So changing your thoughts is a pretty big way to impact your mental health, right?

Change your thoughts, change your life.

If you’ve tried this, you know how much intention and commitment it takes to change your thinking habits.

This is definitely a healthy practice. It will put you on the path to more adaptive thinking patterns that help you achieve and grow.

But what if you could kind of bypass that “interact and challenge” process?

If the life you want to have involves moving towards more healthy actions, can you just go ahead and move straight to the actions?

Is that wishful thinking?

In an earlier episode of Mental Health Moment called “Take care of your own ‘at-bat,’” I described a baseball player in the batter’s box and how he controls his destiny by focusing on what’s in that box.

He’s not concerned with what has come before or what might come later.

He’s totally caught up in that present moment. Focusing on his own at-bat can help his team put a win together.

How does he do that?

  • Does he forget what’s come before?
  • Does he choose to spend time changing his thoughts about what might happen later in the game?

He really doesn’t. He doesn’t have that luxury.

What’s really happening in that moment is that he’s so focused on the task in front of him that everything else just gets pushed aside.

That baseball player has learned to shift all of his attention to a present action. An action that could change something.

It’s not so much that he tells himself not to think about how he struck out earlier.

It’s more about the way he can impact the game right in front of him. That’s where he chooses to place his focus.

In doing so, he no longer has to grapple with those other thoughts.

He’s not fighting with them or challenging them even. He just sets his sights on the task and the thoughts get displaced.

This is called flexible attention.

And this is the superpower that most elite athletes have mastered.

Once it’s time to focus on the next move, there’s simply no room for any other thoughts.

You can do the same with your own thoughts.

It’s useful to capture your challenging thoughts and interact with them. All of cognitive behavioral therapy is based on this principle.

But it may be even more effective to figure out what you need to engage and shift your focus there.

Isn’t that what’s going to make us feel productive and empowered? Seeing the benefits of our actions?

Instead of fighting your thoughts, you accept the challenging thoughts without judgment, then intentionally engage in an action.

So instead of sitting and ruminating about all of the tasks that could overwhelm you today, you choose to focus solely on one of those tasks.

Now that your attention has moved to the activity, your thoughts move toward what you actually need to complete that task.

Those other worried thoughts just got booted from the front seat so you can focus on what’s in front of you.

You didn’t change your negative thoughts about the task.

You distracted yourself with the actual task.

Which means you completed it, and removed one less task to feel overwhelmed by. 👍

You shifted your attention straight to action.

This can help you in a couple of ways:

One, shifting your attention gets you out of your head and keeps you from ruminating and obsessing.

Rumination can tank your mood. Rehashing the same negative thoughts over and over can put you in a downward spiral.

We’ve all had that experience where we sort of think ourselves into a bad mood.

Having the ability to shift your attention shortcuts this process and gets you back in the moment where you can actually influence stuff.

Developing flexible attention trains you to focus on the present.

Getting into the present requires taking intentional actions that will allow you to simply experience the moment you’re in.

Living with anxiety means living in a future with problems that may or may not ever happen.

One of the best remedies for stress and anxiety is to bring yourself back to the present.

Instead of worrying about the future, you engage in the present to impact your future.

But the more you try to make that happen by just thinking about it, the harder it is, right?

It’s like trying NOT to think about a pink elephant.

You can’t wish the present moment to happen. But you can take actions that allow you to use your senses.

This reminds you where you are.

You’re simply experiencing the moment you’re in, doing the thing you’re doing.

And chances are, the thing you’re doing is moving something along.

Shifting your attention produces the actions that will solve your problems.

This is the best part. Instead of trying to get all that insight about your thoughts and where do they come from and all that, you can instead create actions that help you find solutions.

It’s so easy to get stuck in your own thoughts and find yourself swimming in your emotions. This keeps you focused on how you got here.

Shifting your attention to the next thing that could impact your day gets you out of that pool where you can actually see things happen.

The next time you find yourself way inside your own mind, ask yourself, what’s the next tiniest step I can take?

What can I focus on right now that will produce a measurable result?

Place your focus on that one thing and see if it doesn’t take some of the the sting out of those negative and worried thoughts.

Because now, instead of staying stuck, you moved your game forward a bit.

You’re developing a bias for action.

And that will change your life.

You can catch episodes of Mental Health Moment by visiting mymentalhealthmoment.com. Don’t forget to subscribe to Mental Health Moment on Amazon Alexa, Apple podcast, Google podcast and Spotify. Just search for “Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller.”

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If you’re STILL wanting for more, you can find articles and videos about stress and mental health, by visiting my website at LoriMiller.me.

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