Brain Science – Episode #7

What are you thinking?

a discussion of thinking and the ways our thoughts affect our everyday life

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Mireille and Adam discuss the role of our thoughts, how they run our lives, and how they make us feel. We talk through alternative ways to think, the power we hold in starving our habitual neural networks, and the ways our thoughts help us to be our best selves. How aware are you of the quality of the soil of your mind?


Notes & Links

📝 Edit Notes

Thoughts and the thinker – How do our thoughts affect how we do ourselves and live our lives?

The Role of Attention or Awareness: If we aren’t considerate or reflective of our thoughts, we ignore the environment in which we grow.

Maladaptive thoughts: Aaron Beck – 10 Cognitive Distortions

  1. Catastrophic Thinking: Imagining the worst case scenario.
    Context and gratitude as alternative options.

Thoughts affect feelings and feelings affect thinking.

  1. All or nothing thinking: Thinking in binary or absolutes modes. This type of thinking perpetuates more cognitive rigidity and lends to feeling hopeless.
    Reframing strategies – Use specifics in lieu of the generalities or extremes.
    Building skills in new lanes…moving from expert to novice when you move the skill or knowledge into a new area or relationship.

  2. Don’t SHOULD on yourself! Creating an external construct and imposing and applying it to oneself. These are within the context of your own internal self-talk and personal expectations.

  3. Mental Filters: Focusing on one aspect or detail of a situation and obsessing over it.
    Reframe – What else can you focus on…put on a different lens to see your world.

It isn’t just about NOT doing these things, it’s about being intentional and reflective around the thoughts we think and putting forth effort in the direction that you want to go.

Use the “Best Friend” test. Would you say to your best friend what you say to yourself?

Resources: Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage


📝 Edit Transcript


Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧

We all have thoughts, but how often do we really examine the thoughts we’re having, what we’re thinking? Everyone thinks every single day, and what we think affects what we feel, how we act, how we behave… But how often are our thoughts distorted, not correct, and just not thinking about what we’re thinking about?

Yeah… Have you ever considered about the thinker behind the thoughts?

Like the Oz, the great Oz behind the curtain.

Right, yeah. Very much so. And it’s interesting, because if I’m not aware of 1) the thoughts that I actually have, how then would I even begin to evaluate whether or not they’re accurate or distorted in any form or fashion. I mean, I would just go about my day as if there’s nothing wrong with it.

It was interesting, I was reading some research study and it was talking about exposure as it relates to learning; we would think that simply exposing yourself to something would result in knowing, and so they did this study to look at fire extinguishers in people’s office or workspaces. One was this university professor, and they said “Go find where the nearest fire extinguisher is closest to you.” And he goes and looks, and was totally stunned that it was immediately outside of his door. And this guy has been a professor for like 30 plus years, and he had no idea that that was in fact where the fire extinguisher was. Because obviously, there hadn’t been a fire, so he didn’t need it, so he wouldn’t know to go look for it, right?

Yeah. And you know, there’s so much in our life, especially in the visual environment that we walk around every day, even your office – I probably couldn’t spin around in my office here and tell you everything that’s in the office exactly where it’s at. Your sort of just let things blur into the background, and that’s part of your awareness, and where you’re focusing on your thoughts, and stuff like that.

Exactly. So attention plays a key role in being able to notice or having this awareness, and so I wanna take some time to even look inside at our thoughts, to go “Are you paying attention to the thoughts that you think?” Because what if how you go about in your day, if you were to imagine that how you think is very much like the soil in which you plant things - would you then care about how fertile, and the nutrients, and what’s in the soil? I would be up to say “Of course!” because I don’t wanna plant things that aren’t gonna grow.

That’s right, yeah. I think the reason why that research that you read is possible is because we have a limited attention span. The human brain has a really hard time on doing two or even three high-intensive things. Try driving and talking on the phone… Pretty hard. Try driving and taking notes… Not gonna happen. Something like that. So I think, as you’re walking into your office or doing your day, or just living your life, you’re not seeing the details, which really is our thoughts.

[04:14] Yeah, and so if I were to ask you, Adam, “Do you know if there’s a problem with how you think?”, do you know what you would answer?

I would wanna say “No, I’m perfect. I’m amazing.” But I think if I examine them a little bit closer… I would need a frame of reference, you know?

I would need to know what is a bad thought, or maladaptive thoughts, as you like to say; not bad or good, but… What are thoughts that are good for me and thoughts that are generally bad for me.

Awesome. Ironically, there was a psychologist years ago who came up with some of this distorted thinking, or sort of template for how we look at distorted thoughts. His name was Aaron Beck, and he came up with ten cognitive distortions. I don’t want to go through all of these today, but I want to give some of the ones that seemed most commonplace and run the most interference with us doing ourselves well… Because again, at the heart of this, I just want people to optimize for themselves. Like, “How does Adam be the best Adam? How does Mireille be the best Mireille?” And that starts with being considerate around the soil of my mind.

One of the distortions, so to speak, is catastrophic thinking. The word itself gives you an indicator of what that entails, but it really is just imagining the worst-case scenario. So it’s like Chicken Little, if you know the story. “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” All the time I am worried about the sort of what-if catastrophe that could occur. Imagine that there might be some bit of truth in what I’m playing out, but it doesn’t mean that the context actually fits.

Right. The focus there is on the worst-case scenario, right? So that’s sort of leaning on the negative sides of an experience or an environment, rather than the positive sides. Too often people only see or magnify the negative sides of something, and not at all pay attention to or even acknowledge the good sides.

Yeah, so I can talk about this in the sense of all of the data that I take in, day to day, that I’ve done over the years and years in which I’ve practiced therapy. I mean, I hear of all the idiosyncratic situations which occur…

I bet… [laughter]

…and so some of the things that my brain will pop up are based on what I’ve actually heard over the years. So I will imagine sort of the worst-case scenario because - guess what? I’ve heard it. I know that that’s a possibility.

We’ll get to this later in the show, we’ll talk about ways to navigate this, but it really involves then talking back to myself, not just allowing that data piece to run if it doesn’t work. So context is key, of going “Okay, would that actually apply?” I mean, I could sit here and say “Well, I live in the Pacific North-West and I am afraid that Rainier is gonna blow any day.”

That’s a possibility, sure.

Sure. But if I then focus on that possibility, wouldn’t it change how I go about my day?

I would say so… It should.

It should, right? And so I would probably think “I’m gonna avoid that and I’m gonna move somewhere else.” But then I’m just picking between earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados…

Yeah. We have hurricanes here, in Houston, often… Floods even too, because of it. Geez, it’s terrible.

[08:01] Right. Some researchers have looked at this too, when it comes to like losing a loved one… Because obviously, we’ve talked about loss in relationships, and that that would feel wretched, devastating. Nobody creates a relationship, invests in it for the purpose of having that good connection go away.

And be destroyed, yeah.

Yeah, and so when people have lost loved ones, what they’ve found is that it actually helps them fare better when they practice gratitude, instead of this catastrophe. As a parent, I can run all of the plausible plays that my brain can sort of conjure up, but that doesn’t help me parent any better, because then I’m gonna lead with this fear. And that’s really the feeling tethered to this cognitive distortion, is fear. “I’m afraid I’m gonna lose someone or something I care about, or that I’m going to be injured in some way, so I’m going to imagine it, so that I can then create a plan for how I’ll navigate that.” And then I’m not really living a life, because I’m worried about what could occur and might occur, and getting prepped, which is–

Versus what is, yeah.

Yeah. So it really takes me out of real time… Which is sad, because then I lose out on all sorts of things that I could enjoy.

Yeah. Something you said there, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this, is the idea of talking to yourself, sort of having a relationship with yourself. You know, this examining and taking stock of your thoughts and the way you think to me seems almost like “Is somebody crazy (for lack of better terms) for talking to themselves?” Maybe out loud that might seem – but is it normal to talk to yourself? Is that sort of like borderlining on what we’re talking about here, like talking to yourself, having a relationship with yourself?

No, we all have different aspects to ourselves, and so can that be distorted and maladaptive? Sure, it would look like, at the most extreme form, like a dissociative identity disorder. Like, there’s John, and Billy Joe, and Suzie… Like, I have all these multiple personalities, and it’s really just sort of this fragmentation of oneself. But for most neurotic individuals, most normal people, we talk to ourselves, and we refer to that like as like internal dialogue.

Imagine that I have these different aspects, and so – I’ll go with the health analogy of like I have one side of me that wants to be ridiculously healthy and make wise choices, and then this other side of me that says “Eat all the cake. Eat the cake. Eat the chocolate!” And so I then have this other side of me that is like the mediator between these, that goes “Hey… You know, we can’t be mean to either one of you. How do we practice sharing?” So when we have these sort of catastrophic thoughts, that we practice talking back to our brain and saying like “Hey, compassion. Compassionate response. I understand that you’re feeling really fearful or worried right now, but here are some things you could do to help that. Maybe there isn’t a possibility that Rainier is going to blow today.”

Or “You know what - why don’t we be grateful for what we do have and that it hasn’t done that yet, and look at what you’ve got to enjoy while you’ve been living here.”

Right. You’re saying the word “we” too, as if it’s a unison inside.

Yeah. I think of it like a symphony, and that there’s different sections. So there’s woodwind, and percussion, and we want all of the sounds to come together, because that’s what makes it beautiful, is this sort of harmonious sound. And so if I try to amputate an aspect of myself and be like “You don’t get to play! No, you fearful little kid side of you… You have to shut up and shut down.” Well, that didn’t help me do it any better, and now I’m just in trouble and now I feel bad for feeling the way that I do, or now I’m in trouble for thinking what I do in fact think. That’s not gonna help me do myself any better.

[12:10] So because you’re having these negative thoughts about Mount Rainier exploding and killing all of Seattle or whatever might happen, you’re feeling negative, so you’re thoughts are sort of affecting how you feel, and that’s sort of this kind of circle of life with your thoughts; you just keep going round and round - negative thought, negative feeling, negative thought, negative feeling.

Right, so then it definitely becomes like “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Well, it’s perpetuating, and that is why we have to start with the awareness… Because if I’m not aware, like “Hey, Mireille, you realize you’re imagining a catastrophe right now?” “Oh…!” Yeah, so then I’m like, “Do I wanna keep focusing on that, or what else might you choose to focus on?”

I could actually look - and we’ve talked about this in terms of coping - to identify the senses. Like, “Let’s just go live” and that looks like–


Yeah, sensory data that I am taking in in the here and now. And then, how might I practice gratitude? How could I be grateful for what I do have? …not the what ifs that could happen.

Would it safe to say then because your fear is in what could happen, that sort of future-focusing, rather than real-time, right now focusing, that you’re sort of thinking in the wrong timespace? That you’re - like you said - not allowing yourself to consider what’s happening right here, right now, and have gratitude towards it and be grateful that you’re sort of like “This could happen, so my fear and my feelings are grounded in this fictitious future that may or may not happen.”

Correct. Yeah. I think I’ve alluded to this or stated this in the past, about wellness being very much rooted in cognitive flexibility, and that when it goes awry is when we have too much rigidity or too much chaos. So some of this anxiety would be like “I’m living in the future, and it’s so chaotic that I can’t differentiate up from down from left from right, because I told you, the sky is falling, Adam! The sky is falling!” [laughs]

“Do something about it! You are not listening!”

Yeah, yeah. So on the opposite end, if I’m looking at it, another distortion would be this all-or-nothing binary thinking, which is more of that rigidity, that goes “I’m gonna live in the past.” I’m sure you have never said this to your wife, that you’re amazing, but to say “You never, you NEVER do the laundry right. You don’t ever.” You ALWAYS say it like that. [laughs]

Right… Well, this isn’t a show about Adam and his life, so I won’t say anything, but I would definitely agree that absolutes often come in… Whether it’s with relationships, whether it’s with yourself, which is - as we just said - a variation of a relationship; or with coworkers, or just your work. There’s always some sort of this absolute. “I never do it right” or “They always do it this way.”

Yes… “I can never get it, no matter what. I can’t. Ever”, yeah, and it’s just not true… Because maybe you’re not living up to your own self-expectations or the expectations of somebody you care about, but “always” and “never” - it just can’t apply.

Yeah. What are good words to use instead? If you’re having this particular distortion, how can you reframe my always or nevers?

It really is in going “What is true about what I’m saying?”

So, “some of the time…” or like– it’s specific. I’ll think about it in the context of interpersonal relationships, in articulating a scenario in which they did do what you’re trying to tell them about. Like, I wanna tell my partner about a time in which they wounded me. So I would say “When you don’t take out the trash, it upsets me. I feel hurt, I feel unimportant.”

[16:14] “That trash is really important around here.”

That’s funny. I like that example, it’s fun. What I’ve heard you say though - you put a timeframe to it. Rather than this “always” meaning “every single time it happens”, it’s more like “when this… “ You sort of put a timestamp on it, rather than like “it’s an absolute” timestamp.

Correct, I’m doing a specificity. I’m going to identify a specific occasion in which this occurred, because of the all-or-nothing is rooted in conditioning of past experiences. I might say “You never follow through. You never show up when you say you’re going to”, and it’s like, okay, well let’s look back and go “When didn’t I?” and then be open to hearing from that person how that made them feel, or what they could do differently.

Yeah. You’re touching too on criticism, which I want to dive into at a deeper level on a different show… But whenever you criticize, you have to give different kind of data than just simply “You’re always/never”, because it’s not correct feedback for someone to change.

Yeah. It doesn’t help at all, because I don’t know what to do differently. It’s just – you make it more of a global thing, instead of individualized and specific, so that then too it also breeds hope. If I feel like I never can get it right, I’m never going to–

You won’t try again.

Yeah! And of course, of course, if you feel like there’s no opportunity to do different. This is why it’s so eroding in interpersonal relationships. So imagine if you’re telling yourself that. Like, “You can NEVER get this one program. You should just never try.”


One of my favorites stories I’ve heard was actually – and maybe UnderArmour will have to clarify this for me… But imagine that so much of life is like hummingbirds. Hummingbirds move things from one place to another, and so it’s like – say you have a strength in one lane, and you can do it over here, but then I move it over to a different one and I just went from expert to novice. Well, UnderArmor, from what I’ve heard, they got their idea for the fabric of their gear from women’s lingerie. So it was primarily then designed for football players because they didn’t like getting tangled up in T-shirts, because they were too baggy… So here’s a fabric that feels good, so people want to wear it, and it’s more confined to the body, so it’s not an additional obstacle when you are trying to do all these other things on the field, right?

So out comes UnderArmor and this awesome product. Well, then they realized that all of their smalls kept disappearing, and they were like “What is going on?” So then they moved it over into women, and they’d like shrink it and pink it, just change it up, and they moved it into another lane, and then had to build on that. So imagine that this all-or-nothing thinking is rooted to some degree too in fear and failure, and that just because you struggle, you’re gonna run interference with it and go “We’re just starting at novice and struggle is a normal part, because it’s new and it’s different… So what can I do to help bolster myself, so that I can have some successes?” So now, I’ve tethered in positive emotions, so guess what I’m gonna wanna do? I wanna go practice more and get better at cultivating that skill.

[19:59] Yeah. Awareness plays a big part of this… Awareness and expectation. If you are aware of – like you had said, if I’m gonna go into this as a novice, I should expect certain things and be aware of how that’s different from when I’m an expert, as an example.

So if you’re walking into a scenario where you’re more of a novice, or you’re still learning, or you’re still growing, you should expect some struggle. And to go into it not thinking that is just setting yourself up for failure.

Yeah, exactly! And it’s really, totally unrealistic. That’s why we call this a distortion. Bear in mind, as we’re talking about these, there’s always a nugget of truth to these distortions. Just imagine that I’m standing in sort of like this concave or convex mirror. It’s still me, but–

It’s just not the same typical Mireille when you stand today into a typical mirror, a flat mirror.

[laughs] No, and then I would have a very different self-concept because of that mirror. Isn’t that crazy to think about?

Well, I think what is interesting to – and I think you did this already, but to specifically say it, like… There is truth in these distortions, and so you’re not – you know, if you’re listening to this and you’re examining some of the thoughts you’re having and saying “Wow, I’m thinking catastrophically” or “I’m an all-or-nothing binary thinker. It has to be this way or that way, and it’s always or never”, whatever… That doesn’t mean that you’re crazy and that it’s not true. There is truth in there, but you have to understand what the distortions are of that truth, and how those are affecting how you feel.

Exactly. So with that, I wanna talk about the next one, which - listen really close as I say this - we shouldn’t should on ourselves. [laughs]

Okay… That’s funny to say. I like that.

I know, but it’s that same thing. I have an external construct, and I say “This is what I expect of me, so I should on myself.”

And just because maybe I’m good at this over here, then I expect or anticipate that I’m gonna be good at it over here, when in fact I’m struggling. So then I start putting in like “What’s wrong with you? You SHOULD be able to do this.” And now I just start the berating.

Isn’t that a source of encouragement though? At what point does that blur into this distortion? Because I say to myself “Adam, you should do these things”, and I can examine my thoughts and know they’re not distorted in this case (like a distortion), and it’s like, my inner voice - this “we” we just talked about before - is encouraging… You know, the positive Adam is encouraging the negative Adam. “Adam, we should do this. We should do this.” When does it blur?

It already did. [laughs]

Okay… Okay, good. Let’s dive in.

Because the issue with a should is that it is an external construct being applied to fit internally. And that doesn’t really matter. So I would rephrase it or reframe it and say – instead of considering it as though it is an encouragement, I would go “Do you want to?”, not “I should.” Is there is a desire to do it? And if you can harbor/hold onto the desire, then go do it. But it’s very different if I’m to say “Here’s the mold. Adam, you should do this.” Why? Because Joe and Bob are doing it? Or because Adam wants to do it and there is a desire that you’re responding to.

Right. And we’ve already talked before about the importance of playing a role in your choices. A should seems to be, based on what you’re saying, that the choice is outside of me, and I just have to fall in line to the mold, rather than being an active participant in choosing.

[23:53] Yes, yes. Because it’s a qualitative feel, and that’s why the should can be, to some people, oppressive. Because I would say too that to some degree personality style and past experiences play a role in this. I know from my experience in sports and athletics – I mean, my coaches weren’t always the most kind of individuals… Not that they didn’t have my best interest at heart, but I can hear very much a sort of internal narrative that’s demeaning, that’s unrelenting, that it’s like “I don’t really care that you’re not sleeping, or that you’re sleeping three hours a night. You *should* be able to get this done. Everybody else does. Look at what they’re doing.” And you see how even in my tone I changed.

Yeah. You were like “You *should*.” It was not nice.

You shouldn’t speak to somebody like that. See, I just used a should. Are they all bad then? Come on… You can’t say that all shoulds are bad. Is that what you’re saying?

No. Ha-ha, you’re going back to the bad…

I’m just trying to – it’s like, I feel like there is a blurred line there where shoulds are maladaptive, I should say.

But why should that be true? What measure are you using? Again, if we look at some of what we’ve talked about, let’s be more specific. Why is it important to you? If I were to say “I should write”, because you know, I want to write. But should, if I’m saying “I should” - it’s going to create some resistance, because every time I don’t write, guess what I’m gonna do.

You’re gonna feel negative.

Yeah…! Yeah.

You’re not living up to your expectation, or some expectation of you. The mold you should fit in.

Right. I still hold that desire, but now I’m like: “Look, I failed… So why should I try again?”

I don’t know. I’m having a hard time grasping this one, if I’m being honest… Because I feel like there’s times when I can see it being good, and being bad or distorted. I’m struggling on this one in particular.

Well, maybe I think that part of it might be the nuance in how you’ve used it with yourself…

True, yeah.

And that maybe it hasn’t felt negative. Am I right, you have a military background?

And I’m pretty sure drill sergeants weren’t the most compassionate of people?

I loved them all. They were all amazing. I’m just kidding there. [laughter] Some of them I can actually recall their face right now, saying “Beat your face, soldier!” which means do pushups.

Yeah… [laughs]

Just… Yeah, I suppose. Where are you getting at?

Part of the nature in this internal dialogue has to do with the voices that we internalize.

So the more we’re exposed to this [unintelligible 00:26:46.13] we all have varying degrees of conscientiousness. They’ve done research around this in terms of employees, like personality factors that make the best employees - and we can talk about this in upcoming shows - and the most important one is conscientiousness. That is the biggest indicator of a great employee. And do you know why?

What is it? What is that? Conscientiousness?

It’s being aware of all the things. If I’m conscientious, I don’t need somebody to tell me what to do, because I’ve already told myself to do it.

Gotcha, okay.

So if I have a high degree of conscientiousness, I’m already knowing I need to do these 24 things on my to-do list, and then my boss comes to me…

Yeah, you’re autonomous.

…and is like “You should do this.” Now I’ve loaded more on… And he’s not wrong; I should do them, because they’re my responsibility, but I’ve already, if I’ve “should” on myself, because I have that narrative in my brain. I’ve already had a full jury trial, convicted… Like, I am sentenced by the shoulds.

Hm… I see.

So part of it has to do with our individual hardwiring…

[28:00] Does that make sense? Some people are more indifferent, careless… They’re just not as concerned with all of the factors, and so then that would contribute to hearing should in a different way. Because if I’m already at 95% and then my boss, or a friend, or my spouse is like “Hey, let me remind you of this 25% you’re really not doing so hot on…”

It feels like crap.

Yeah…! Yeah, yeah. So maybe part of what you’re trying to talk about is like it’s nuanced, and it isn’t always not assistive.

You know what - I think when you said that though, I actually can admit to some clarity… Because hearing you say it back again, what you’re talking yourself is shoulding on yourself. So your internal voice telling yourself “You should…”

And I can understand that better. Hearing it again, the way you said it, clarified it for me… So I’m less blurred now. I will forfeit that.

[laughs] Well, so let’s talk about another one. What about mental filter? Do you want me to explain?

Yes, please.

Mental filters are picking out a single negative detail and focusing on it exclusively, so that all of your vision of what’s going on becomes dark or negative.

Right. I can dwell there… So I really identify with this one in particular, because I can pick out a negative detail in my life and focus on it exclusively, and my life – this is the exact definition - becomes not completely dark, but I can see how the cloud comes in and it covers more things than I want it to. It doesn’t just cover the thing that I think is negative, it begins to cover the positive things, too. And then I start losing sleep, or I dwell in my negative thoughts more, or something like that… And this is one that actually gets to me probably more often than I’d like.

I don’t know about you, but… That’s me.

Well, I tend to be – and I would say that from my experience just always wanting to do the best, be my best, sports, grad school, I’m always looking for how I could do things better, so it’s easy to focus to some degree on the negative, because there’s some truth to that. I can do it better, or different, or just some variation.

So if I then focus on a detail, imagine that I just blow up that balloon bigger and bigger… And what happens to my vision as that balloon gets bigger? My vision of the whole picture gets smaller, and so it makes it – and this is maybe at the heart of some of what we’re talking about in how we think… It’s that we don’t want to only be focused on the negative, and that even if there is negative - because there is; there’s horrific, horrible things that people encounter every day, and I’m not saying these things to undermine those, because those are real… So denying or disavowing or undoing those doesn’t help us, but rather we want to be more considerate that the positive gets to count too.

Yeah. I think living in denial, or this naive aspect, this bliss aspect, is not good. You have to be – you can’t lie to yourself about the positive and negative. You can’t discount the negative for the positive, and vice versa. It’s kind of like the idea of bitter and sweet - you can’t have the sweet without the bitter, and you can’t have the bitter without the sweet. It’s kind of like ying-yang, it’s this sort of coupling that happens throughout many, many examples in humanity and life.

[31:59] Yeah, so much of why I wanna talk about these and why this is helpful is just recognizing if your channel of your thoughts is always on the negative, you’re probably not gonna feel very good going about your day.

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t things you can be positive about or around, but it’s just gonna make it far more challenging. Again, I wanna talk about this more, but the idea of what do we do to combat it is we sort of – imagine how you put on glasses every day, that you could put in front of you what you want to try to look for throughout the day. Have you ever bought a new car and you’d never saw so many on the road, but then you’re like “Oh, my goodness, they’re like all over!”

Yes… For some reason, that’s a reality. I don’t get it, but it is.

Well, I’m pretty sure they didn’t just go dump a bazillion of that car on the road, but what changed?

The fact that I know it existed.

Exactly. So then you were focused on it and you looked for them.

So when we look at this mental filter, what do I do? Well, I want you to put on a different lens.

Right. Realize they’re there, and understand them, and when they pop up, identify them. Maybe even take a note even, like “Hey, that’s a negative mental filter.” We should be aware of that more often.

But here I am again, I said “We should.” See, there is a blurred line…

[laughs] Maybe – here’s the reframe… You say “It would be helpful.”

It would be helpful. I don’t speak that way though… But I like the idea. Continue…

So, you know, I do this with my kids, because I’m trying to help train up their brains to see things differently when – you know, it can be challenging when you’re a kid to only see the negative… And so I started off at the beginning of school always asking them when I picked them up, what was the highlight and what was your disappointment, or what was the thing that upset you, and a positive thing… And then they came home with their teacher had done this exercise and talked about it in terms of roses and thorns. So they said, ’What are your roses for today and what are your thorns?”

So then I tweaked it ever so slightly more, and I said “For every thorn, every upsetting or negative or hurtful thing that you encountered today, you have to give me two roses.” And I’m probably going to keep increasing that, because so much of – I mean, imagine how the weather affects you. I want you to imagine that the weather of your thoughts, that that contributes to the environment and how you feel going about your day every day. I want people to recognize that we have to sort of set our minds to look for – it’s not just not doing these things, because to some degree we’re gonna do them. I don’t want anybody to be alarmed or shocked, or go “I do that!”

“I have the distortions… What’s going on?!” Everybody has this. It’s a thing.

Yeah, come join the rest of us.

Right. Join the club. You already have.

[laughs] Right, got the T-shirt. But what am I going to do so that I can change and move in that direction. I want to be intentional about the way that I live, that I am looking for the things that help me feel better and do better, because guess what I’m then going to build a snowball around? “How I feel is better, and look at the effort I made, and there’s a positive outcome to that effort”, and like “Oh, this sucked and it was so hard for me and I didn’t want to do it, but I did it!” And so now I am practicing tethering, ironically, my positive emotions to my efforts and not to outcomes. This is so important.

[35:53] We talk about it in learning, because we’re not always in charge of outcomes, and this is part of managing our humanity. I can imagine losing someone I love and just how horrific that would feel to me. I don’t think there’s any amount of time I could spend with those I love that I would be like “That’s good! I’ve had enough.”

“I’ve had enough”, yeah.

So it’s going to be painful at whatever time. But if I can learn to practice putting on gratitude, and I have had to practice this with my kids especially, because I love them; I’m so grateful for them, they were wanted… So every time a thought pops up of imagining something happening to them, or whatever it could be, that I have to go “Thank you. Thank you”, as long and as much as it takes in order to change that channel, because this is how I’m building a new neural network.

Remember when we talked earlier about “neurons that fire together, wire together”, so the more that I think a thought, the more that I’m running that play, my brain automates to that. So I wanna practice automating around the positive, that I can just see it.

There is a psychologist who wrote this book some years go called The Happiness Advantage. His name is Shawn Achor. He studied at Harvard, and he had this experience which prompted a research study around thoughts. He’d been playing Grand Theft Auto all night long, and he went out the next morning to go to class, and he saw the Cambridge Police, and he is like “Oh my gosh, I would get the max amount of points if I stole that police car right now.”

[laughs] Oh, boy.

And he was mortified. He’s like “What? What in me– I’m training to be a psychologist and I’m having these thoughts. What the heck?!” Not to mention that the policeman was in the vehicle, and that didn’t deter him. So, he did this study and had students play Tetris for - I forget the length of time, whether it was 48 or 72 hours, but consistently, and then report on their experiences. And what they said is everywhere they went after that, they say Tetris shapes. They’d go to the grocery store and they were like “If I just flip this cereal box, I’ll lose a line. I’ll go to the racetrack. If I flip this brick, I’ll lose a line.” So much of what we focus on is what we feed, and then what we see. This is at the heart of why it’s so important to be aware of the thoughts behind the thinker.

Because of the importance. The more you think of something, the more it’s gonna appear in your life, whether it was always there or it’s suddenly there, because you’re now having this thought pattern.

Mm-hm. And one other thing that I wanna talk about in terms of what we can do differently is using the best friend test. It’s going “If I have this thought, would I say this to my friend?” For example with the should: “You should be doing that”, “You should get A’s”, “You shouldn’t have any trouble doing that coding.” Would I say the same thing to my friend?

Yeah… Probably not.

But when you say “probably not” is when it’s…

Right, because there’s something– context doesn’t fit. And context is so much at the heart. Like we’ve talked about specificity, and saying “Look, much of these distortions - all or nothing, catastrophe - they’re not rooted in context.” They are generalizations or they’re global, as opposed to specific.

Yeah, they’re not based on facts.

[39:43] Right? And we’re all different, and so I want to recognize that I am different than everybody else, and nobody’s had my experiences, nobody has my exact genetics… All of those things. I always find it fascinating with siblings, because people are raised in the same house, by the same parents, but are they the same people or remember the same things?

Right. Because different things stand out to us, in different ways, at different times. But so much of own experiences that are individual are going to affect not only what we think, but then how we see our world. So for our listeners, I would say, what do we take away? What’s your next step of action? So we talked about four of these sort of cognitive distortions today: catastrophic thinking, shoulds, the all-or-nothing, and mental filters. So I would identify – you might even create a little chart, and notice (just track for a day or two) when you do these things. Or maybe you’re just gonna say “I’m going to pick one. I’m gonna pick shoulds, because I’m very aware that I should on myself a lot” and just track it.

Then what I want you to do is write the alternative you are going to replace it with. So not just “Okay, now I’m aware.” I always talk about this with patients in terms of getting better at improving you and your life is twofold. There’s acknowledging, and then there is action. So we are gonna acknowledge the thing we’re not doing well, where I’m struggling, and then I’m gonna identify the action that replaces the thing I don’t want to do. Because whenever we’re trying to change how we think, we change our neural networks by starvation. So I starve that old thought, and I replace it with the new one. It’s so much repeal and replace. Repeal and replace. I’m gonna take away this not helpful way of thinking and I’m gonna replace it with a new one.

I would love to hear from you guys. We’ve got Brain Science on Slack… You can comment in terms of which distortion you chose and what you are doing differently.


Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚

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