Negative Thinking and Stopping it with Mindfulness

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What do thinking that you may be a fraud and practicing mindfulness have in common? More than one might imagine.

Explanations first. The Imposter Syndrome, first identified in research by Drs. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, explains that many people, especially high achieving women, believe their successes have been the result of luck rather than merit. Those identified with this phenomenon often attribute their accomplishments to good fortune, being in the right place at the right time, or even thinking that they have fooled their colleagues or others in their particular systems; they think of themselves as being a fraud.

Now, let’s consider mindfulness. Being mindful is a particular way of paying attention in the present moment without placing judgment on thoughts or feelings. A practice that was originally associated with the Buddhist, Daoist, and Hindu religions, it is now also used in a simple, secular, and scientifically supported manner in areas such as athletics, businesses, medicine, psychology, and education. It has been proven to increase, among other things, focus and attention, empathy for self and others, and overall wellbeing and health. At the same time, it has been proven to decrease stress, anxiety, depression, emotional reactivity, and rumination.

Rumination. The key connector here. When embarking on a mindfulness practice, individuals soon learn to notice the stories they tell themselves, how those stories make them feel emotionally and physically, and how they, and their bodies, react to those stories. Now, consider: Have you ever felt like you couldn’t stop your mind from yapping at you? Like it was in a constant loop that interrupted productivity at work, your sleep at night, or the ability to focus on other activities during the day? That’s not only rumination, but it’s also an example of the negative stories we often tell ourselves.

Mindfulness makes us more aware of those stories, and the impact those stories have on us:

  • Negative self-talk when we tell ourselves that we’re not enough
  • Catastrophizing where we turn everything into a disaster
  • Discounting good things, thinking nothing could be good enough to offset the negatives in our lives
  • Exaggerating negatives where we start believing things are worse than they really are
  • Placing blame when we imagine someone else is at fault for whatever took place
  • Imagining what others are saying or thinking, and only believing they could be saying or thinking something negative

Tara Brach, psychologist, author, and meditation instructor, in her teachings about having self-compassion, touches on the negative stories we tell ourselves and says we are often “at war with ourselves” and tells us that our negative thinking is actually a debilitating emotion. She reminds us that doubting ourselves impacts everything we do, whether it’s an inability to fulfill our potential at work, stymie our creative natures, or stopping ourselves from daring to take those calculated risks that just may be our path to greatness.

The next time your brain starts that yapping at you, and refusing to stop, just remember…

  • Your brain is just telling you stories; you are good enough exactly as you are.
  • You matter, and you play an important role in your world.
  • People are happy that you are a part of their lives and, without you, nothing would ever be the same.

Sending positive thoughts your way,

Dr W

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Photograph courtesy of Kyle Broad.

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