This weekend I went to see my daughter in a school dance concert that was of such a high standard put my high school musical experience into an embarrassing context. Despite having been asked not to, the theatre was lit up with audience members taking out their phones to film. I got up onto my mental high horse, alternating between imagining altercations with other parents and writing letters in my head to the school to both congratulate them on the quality of their show and admonish them for not enforcing their “no filming” policy.
And then, in a moment of clarity, I got it. The camera phones weren’t distracting me. It was my own thinking that was taking up all of my mental attention and not allowing me to be fully present and immersed in the dance. That somehow gave me a kind of permission not to obsess on those thoughts, and before I really knew what happened I was back in the theatre, enjoying the show.
This morning, I was reflecting on that experience and saw that there are really only two insights at the heart of pretty much any breakthrough my clients and I have experienced in our lives:
- Thought in the moment is always the source of whatever I’m experiencing
- Mind is an unlimited potential for fresh new thinking
For example, when I was first transitioning from a more traditional coaching model to the transformative coaching work I do and teach in Supercoach Academy, I had a client I’ll call Gerhard who was deathly afraid of dying. At first I tried to help him based on an outside-in understanding of where our experience is coming from, and we made sure his affairs were in order – insurances, will, trusts, etc. But that didn’t seem to move the needle as far as his sleepless nights or obsession with death.
So next we moved on to a kind of an “enlightened outside-in” approach, where we tried to change his thinking about death, sending his gloomy mental imagery off into the distance and replacing it with positive visualizations of a life well-lived. While this did make him feel better during our sessions, over time his incessant anxiety about dying prematurely seemed to increase, not decrease.
Finally, in desperation, I asked him if it bothered him when he didn’t think about it. He was puzzled by the question, but concluded that he was pretty sure that it didn’t. So I suggested to him he do his best not to think about it between then and our next session. To my surprise, he came back the next time looking younger and more refreshed than I’d ever seen him, delighted that one of my “coaching interventions” had finally worked.
What actually happened?
Gerhard was experiencing the feeling of the energy of thought in the moment, taking the form of his conception of death and dying. When I inadvertently gave him permission not to keep thinking the same thoughts about death he’d been thinking for years, a space opened back up inside his head. His deeper intelligence – what we often call the “Universal Mind” because it’s inside all of us – began bringing fresh new thinking into that headspace, and a completely new experience of being alive came with it.
This is why commonsense practices often work, like taking a break when you can’t figure out what to do next or following Thomas Jefferson’s admonition to “”When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, a hundred.” In both cases, our obsessive repetitive thinking is interrupted, and space opens up for new thought to come rushing in.
It’s also why so many of us have breakthroughs, insights, and inspirations while in the shower, out for a walk, or on a long drive. We tend to give ourselves permission to let our minds wander in those situations, and while a wandering mind can take us down some pretty deep rabbit holes, as often as not the freedom of thought it engenders also opens us up to think new thoughts and experience new things.
If you’d like to explore this further for yourself, give your head the rest of today off (or maybe just a part of the day if that’s too daunting). Your thoughts can go on holiday – nothing to figure out, nothing you need them to understand, nothing you need them to work through.
You don’t have to worry about your problems – if they’re real, they’ll still be there when you bring your head back from vacation tomorrow; if they’re not as real as you think, well, that’s good to know as well.
Just give yourself an honest to goodness break from thinking about your life, notice what you notice!
With all my love,