Welcome to Episode 13. This is Kristi Angevine. Today we’re discussing how to think and believe a new thought.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits and feel as good on the inside as they look on paper. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do so you can learn to create habits that give more than they take. And now, here's your host physician and Master Certified Life Coach Kristi Angevine.
Hello, hello, everyone. I am back from a very big family vacation. It was amazing and, also, it was filled with all sorts of opportunities to feel my feelings, watch my mind, and notice all sorts of hidden habits that I didn’t fully appreciate this clearly, until now. If it weren’t for the skills I’ve learned from coaching, I’m pretty sure I’d be returning from this trip feeling like travel with children is chaotic and stressful, and believing that I need to be braced for all future trips.
Instead, I’ve come back, and I have the thought that, “I love travelling with my people.” I know I can handle any emotion I create for myself. And, frankly, I’m eager to do it again. While hanging out, waiting for one of the flights, I was looking through the podcast reviews and I found one that I want to share with you. It’s from the brilliant internal medicine physician and life coach, Dr. Kara Pepper.
It’s titled, “The Missing Link.” In it, she writes, “As a primary care physician I counsel patients on behavior change. Nothing we learned in med school has provided as much clear, concise, actionable, effective strategies as this podcast. Also, Dr. Angevine’s compassionate thoughtful, relatable examples keep me engaged and curious. If you’re feeling stuck and want to create change, this podcast is exactly what the doctor ordered.”
If you don’t yet know or follow Kara Pepper you can find her link in the show notes. Get on her mailing list and then follow her on Instagram. She’s at KaraPepperMD.com; that’s K-A-R-A-P-E-P-P-E-R-M-D. She does amazing work on perfectionism and burnout, as well as recently she’s transitioned to running her own medical practice.
Today I’m going to teach you one of these concise, actionable, effective strategies that she mentions in her review. It’s one that you can use in so many situations, no matter where you are in your habit-change journey.
It’s the strategy, or skill, of thinking a new thought. As humans, we have the capacity to think anything we want. To believe anything we want to believe. We 40,000-60,000 thoughts run through our mind every day. When we have the skill of watching these thoughts, not automatically believing them just because they’re there, and then, thinking new thoughts on purpose, we really get to the heart of how to cultivate intentional habits.
To teach this, I’ll review the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Then, I’ll discuss two ways that you can find a new thought to think. And then, elaborate on the technical how-to side of actually practicing and integrating this new thought. I’ll conclude by alluding to some of the intricacies of this seemingly simple tool. By the end of this episode, you’ll have an understanding of how the skill of thinking new thoughts is at the heart of making behavioral change. You’ll know exactly how to start applying it. So, let’s do it.
The skill of thinking new thoughts: This skill is very tangible and there’s a simplicity to it. But despite the fact that, at face value, it may look and sound extremely simple, and frankly, it would be very easy to see it as a simplistic or overly basic tool, it’s actually quite complex of a skill. If you know anything about mountain biking there’s a technique called the “bunny hop.” If you don’t know about mountain biking and bunny hopping, suffice it to say, bunny hopping is basically where you are riding along, and you hop your bike up-and-over and beyond an obstacle.
It seems very simple; you’re just lifting your bike and getting over an obstacle. But the individual components involved, and actually very skillfully and artfully executing a bunny hop, is very complex. When you watch somebody bunny hop their bike, when they do it really well, it looks super simple. Even though the truth is there are multiple nuanced moves that come together to do this very simple skill.
The same idea applies to the skill of thinking new thoughts. In future episodes, we’ll get into some of the really interesting nuances of this tool. But for today, I’m going to stick to just the fundamentals.
What does thinking new thoughts have to do with intentional habits? Common habit-change approaches fail because they don’t laser in on the thinking that drives the behavior. To change any behavioral habit, you have to change what you’re thinking and feeling that currently drive how you’re acting. This is because of the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and actions. You can hear more about this in Episode 2.
Essentially, the way we feel is created by what we’re thinking. Be it a conscious thought or a subconscious belief. Those feelings or emotions drive what we do, they drive our actions and our habituated behaviors. If we want to change a behavioral habit we have to get to the place where we can change our thinking on purpose.
One of the examples I used to use a lot when I was first teaching my clients about this relationship between thoughts, feelings and actions is this one: Imagine five kids of a variety of ages. They’re at home one day, and their parent needs to impromptu leave for two hours. The parent needs a baby-sitter. Just like in a film, where they might show parallel stories happening at the same time in time, we’re going to imagine four different people show up to babysit these five kids.
Picture the parent leaves and says, “The kids need to get to doing X-Y-Z tasks. Please do this. Please do that. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. The snacks are on the third shelf, etc. I’ll be back in two hours.” Let’s imagine the kids are doing, as many kids do with new baby-sitters, there are messes. There’s tooth-paste on the wall. There’s milk spilled. There are complaints. There are inter-sibling squabbles. There’s whining. There are questions. There are more questions. There are kids not listening. There are kids talking at the same time. Kids testing their limits.
The first the kind volunteer that I want you to imagine is someone who is uptight, kind of stressed out, a worrier. Maybe it’s a relative, or a sibling, or a friend that’s just quite anxious at baseline. You can probably bring to mind someone you know who fits the bill, right? From the minute this person is there at the house, they think, “Uh-oh, this is going to be a disaster. There’s no way I can do this. I have no idea what to do with five kids. I hope I can survive.”
When they think this way, they feel tense and anxious and stressed. Because they feel this way, the way they respond is very tense. They can only see what’s going wrong. They fixate on the problems. They catastrophize. They worry what the kids think of them; what the parent might think later. They can’t see solutions, they don’t collaborate, they don’t creatively brainstorm. There’s no time or energy spent with playfulness.
Ultimately, the experience they create for themselves, with watching these children, is a disaster that they barely survive. They think the thought, “This is going to be awful; I hope I can survive.” That thought becomes their reality. Let’s contrast this with a different volunteer.
This one is the fun-loving, cat-in-the-hat type of a character. Maybe it’s a friend, or a sibling that’s super playful, really funny, kind of rambunctious, maybe a little bit silly. This person shows up and thinks, “This is going to be a blast. I have no idea what I’m getting into, but I know how to have fun. I wonder what these kids are like? I wonder how this is going to go?”
These thoughts invoke feelings like optimism, playfulness, curiosity. Think about what you do when you feel optimistic, playful, and curious. For this person, they’re inquisitive. “How does this work? What do we need to do to work together to get what your Dad said, done? Who likes games? Let’s play while we knock out this math assignment.”
They’re on the hunt for ways to make things fun and engaging. They’re interested in the kids’ point-of-view. They’re not derailed by whining or messes. They’re not catastrophizing. They make their experience, with those kids, one that’s a blast.
The next volunteer we have, let’s picture that this is like a grand-parent, they’re acutely aware their time alive is finite. They have a penchant for really appreciating every moment. They love these kids and their main agenda in life, is just connection and having a good time. They arrive thinking the thought, “I adore these kids. How amazing that the parent asked me to come over.” From those thoughts, they have a sense of calm and a sense of gratitude. They are feeling lots of love.
From those feelings, no matter what the kids do, this grand-parent takes it in stride. They have the attitude, “Kids will be kids.” When they see the messes, they believe the messes aren’t really what matters. They focus on the positive. They savor the little moments; they really relish the little things. The experience this grand-parent creates with their thinking, is one where watching these kids fills up their cup.
Now, I want you to imagine the last of our baby-sitter volunteers. This person is a retired schoolteacher. Five kids at once are not a problem for her. She knows kids can be wild. She knows to expect chaos. She thinks when she shows up on the scene, “I’ve got this.” Because she thinks the thought, “I’ve got this,” she feels confident. And, because she feels confident, she focuses on solutions, not problems.
Unlike the anxious, uptight person, she isn’t bent out of shape with messes and interruptions. She executes her plans, then adjusts on the fly, as needed. She spends no time worrying, no time catastrophizing. The experience she creates with her thinking is one where she reinforces the belief that she can handle it all, no problem.
We have the same five kids with the same messes, the same behavior, the same spills, and totally different experiences created by each of the baby-sitters. Theoretically, each baby-sitter could think that the kids, the circumstance, and the situation, are responsible for creating their feelings and their experience. That the kids make them act as they do. Just think about the anxious one, after babysitting she might go home and tell her friends, “Those wild hoodlums make me so stressed out!” The fun-loving one might say, “These wild kids are a hoot!”
The truth is, it’s not the kids and their behavior that create how the baby-sitters feel; that make them do what they do while they’re babysitting. It’s whatever the baby-sitters are thinking that invoke these particular emotions and then, therefore, drive their behaviors. As we’re discussing this, it’s important to keep in mind, that oftentimes our mindset, our thoughts may not be consciously accessible in the moment.
The lived experiences often are, to continue with this example, that within minutes of being around these five kids, without any notable thoughts, the baby-sitter may feel anxious, at ease, confident, or curious. The subconscious nature of our thinking is one reason that it’s so easy to conclude that the situation outside of us, for this situation- the kids, they create our feelings.
The reality is, in between the stimulus of the kids and the emotion, are our thoughts and beliefs and ideas and interpretations. It’s these things that actually create the feelings and drive how we act. And, ultimately, create our lived experience.
Thoughts create feelings, feelings drive actions, and actions… if we could add them up like a math equation, ultimately, are the things that create our lived experience. With that in mind, you can see the importance of thinking, when it comes to repetitive emotional responses, and habituated behaviors. In order to start behaving in a different way, you need to think and feel in a different way. If you think differently, you will feel differently. If you feel differently, your actions and behavioral habits will show up differently.
All of this is to say, in order to change a habit, you must change what you’re habitually telling yourself. I’m going to say that again because it’s really important: To change a habit, you must change what you’re habitually telling yourself.
One way that you change what you habitually tell yourself, is to think new thoughts on purpose. Let’s flesh this skill out.
First of all, how do you actually find a new thought to think? I’m going to give you two techniques for how to articulate a new thought that you can start thinking. Then, I’m going to discuss how you can install or integrate that new thought by repetitively rehearsing it in ways that can, ultimately, help you shift your thinking to a totally new way of thinking.
First of all, to think in a new way it helps to know what you’re currently thinking. This can be a challenge if you’re not yet used to watching your mind like you’d watch clouds go by, or you’d watch a play. If you aren’t yet sure how to notice what you’re thinking, you are not alone. It is a skill. As such, it is something you can learn and practice.
The simplest way to start doing it is to check in with yourself multiple times a day, even using a phone or a watch timer to cue you to check in, ask yourself, “What am I thinking?” Or, when you feel a strong feeling, ask yourself, “What have I been thinking that’s causing this feeling?” Practice repetitively tuning in and noticing.
To help out, if this is new to you, here’s some common thought-feeling duos that people might notice. “That wasn’t good enough,” might create disappointment. “I can’t believe I did that. How lame,” might create the feeling of insecurity. “There’s not enough time,” creates overwhelm. “I have no idea what to do,” creates confusion. “This is not supposed to be happening,” creates resistance. “This is so good,” creates peacefulness. “I did it,” creates pride. “One won’t hurt, it’ll be fine,” creates permissiveness. “It won’t matter anyway,” creates ambivalence. You get the point.
Technique #1 for thinking a new thought is this: Articulate your current thinking and then, make a slight tweak to the thought you’re thinking so that it creates a more neutral feeling.
Let me explain; say you’re thinking, “I’ll never figure this out,” and from that thought you feel discouraged. A step toward neutral might be, “I’ve figured out other hard things.” Or, “It’s possible I might be able to figure this out.” Or, “Even if I don’t realize it now, I know I’m capable of figuring things out.” Or, “Other people figured this out, maybe, I can too.”
Another example, let’s say you’re thinking, “I hate my body.” A shift to neutral might sound like, “I have a body.” Or, if you have the thought, “I hate my cellulite.” A shift to neutral might sound like, “Cellulite is common. Humans have cellulite. My legs, with their cellulite, they move me through the world. Maybe cellulite is not such a big deal.”
Basically, consider what a thought could be, that you could think, that would be one tiny step toward invoking a more neutral feeling or emotion. Phrases that could be helpful to play around with are things like; “It’s possible that…, Maybe…, Perhaps…, I’m learning to…, I’m becoming a person who…” The goal here is to find a thought that is just slightly different, and gives you a slightly new feeling, and is slightly more neutral.
Doing this is commonly called “bridge” or “ladder” thoughts. These are thoughts that are like rungs of a ladder, or a bridge that get you from your default current thinking to more intentional thinking. That get you from thinking, “I can’t do it,” to “Maybe it’s possible,” to “I wonder if I could figure this out,” to “I’m going to experiment,” to “I’m figuring this out, no matter what.”
In technique #2, you actually imagine what you were to prefer to feel or do. Then, you ask yourself, “In order to do that thing, what would I need to be feeling?” Or, “In order to feel that way, what would I need to think and believe?” Basically, you work backwards from the action you want to take to the feeling, and to the thought.
Say you want to stretch for fifteen minutes a day, ask yourself what would you need to be feeling to follow through on stretching fifteen minutes every day? Maybe you would need to feel determined, or focused, or willing, or committed. Once you identify the feeling that you think will most likely drive the action of following through, ask yourself, “What would I need to be thinking to feel that way? What would I need to be thinking to feel committed to follow through on stretching fifteen minutes a day?”
Maybe I would need to be thinking, “I’m doing this no matter what.” Or, maybe I would need to be thinking, “Following through matters more to me than the instant gratification of avoiding it.” Or, maybe I’d even have to think, “Bring it! Let’s do this!” Or, “Of course I don’t want to do it. But I’m going to do it anyways.”
It doesn’t matter which technique you use, and these aren’t the only two ways to consider alternate thoughts. You may hear a way of thinking from someone else and want to borrow that thought from them. You might read a quote that’s really moving to you. You might recall a sentiment from something a friend said, in passing, and you can use that as a thought that resonates to practice.
The next step here, is really critical. Once you identify the thought you want to think, you need to check in and make sure you believe it. To make sure that the sentence is believable, at least a little bit. So, you check in; when you think it do you feel anything? If you think a sentence that you have no belief in, that means it’s too much of a leap, or it’s just not personal or meaningful enough for you, and it needs to be adjusted.
For example, if right now, you often find yourself thinking, “There’s not enough time to get done what I need to do.” And, you 100% believe that. And, when you believe that, you feel something like overwhelmed, or frustrated, or deflated. If you try thinking the thought, “I have all the time that I need,” it may be too much of a leap from where you are currently. When you think it; it will fall flat. It will sound like hyperbole or some over-the-top motivational poster that you see in a corporate setting.
If it is a leap, you need to make your thought less of a leap. What this might look like, is going from, “There’s not enough time,” to thinking, “It’s possible I can effectively use the time I have.” Or, you can step into the watcher role and say, “I notice that when I think there’s not enough time, I notice I feel the feeling of overwhelm.” Or, “This is the time I’ve got; I’m going to use it as best I can.” Or, a mantra, like, “One thing at a time. I can do this.”
Once you have your thought, you need to test it to make sure you believe it. You’ll know that you believe it a little bit because when you think it, you’ll feel a little something, a hint of an emotion. You want this emotion to be one that feels neutral or slightly more positive than what the original thought creates.
Keep in mind, the first thought you identify as your intentional thought to practice may need to evolve over time. It may seem like the best possible thought you could come up with that, on Tuesday, it evokes the intentional feeling that you want, but then when you think it on Wednesday you just don’t feel anything. It doesn’t feel believable, at all. It needs to be refined or adapted, or completely over-hauled in order to invoke the desired feeling you want.
Now you understand how thoughts create feelings, feelings drive actions and habits, and how you can shift from an unintentional thought to a more neutral one. Or, create a new thought based on how you want to you want to feel or what you want to do. You know you have to test this thought out and ensure that you believe at least a little bit.
Now comes the how of integration or installation. How do you actually practice thinking a new thought on purpose so you can integrate it and believe it? This process can entail: Writing it down; putting a phone timer and noting it somewhere; using sticky notes; putting it on a screen saver on your computer, on your phone, on your laptop.
You can practice thinking this new thought at every red light, or at every stop sign, or while you brush your teeth. You can think it every time you use the microwave, or go to the restroom, or do something that you do regularly already. You can use an app like ThinkUp. Or, you can set a reminder in your phone that when it goes off you look, and the reminder is not for an event you need to attend, but for a thought you need to think.
You can employ your kids to help you remember it. You might even just imagine the future you who effortlessly thinks this thought on default. Tap into your imagination and imagine being the person who already believes in the new thought.
It really doesn’t matter what technique you use for the repetition and rehearsal, just that you find a way that you like; to read, to think, or recall this new thought deliberately and regularly. The rationale behind this repetition is to offer your mind an alternative that you don’t naturally see. Then, to rehearse it like an actor would to prepare for a film.
When you rehearse a sentence, when you think a thought on purpose, this is what happens. You give yourself the opportunity to entertain a different way of thinking. This takes air-time away from the default thinking that drives your default feelings, and drives your default habits. It gives air-time to a different way of thinking. When you do this, you will feel a different feeling. Even if it’s just a fleeting whiff of a feeling. This different feeling is an opportunity to start acting differently.
This entire process reinforces the idea that our mindset and emotions, and our habituated way to behave, they’re learned. They’re malleable. We can literally think any thought we want. No one can stop you from thinking anything in your mind. So, if you can think and believe anything, then you can practice thinking how you want to think. You can be deliberate with directing your mind in the way you want to direct it.
Additionally, when you start thinking a new thought, your mind will go to work to collect evidence to reinforce that thought. I actually really love to imagine that in parentheses, before every thought we think, is this statement, “I’m about to go prove true the idea that… I’m about to reinforce the belief that… I’m going to collect evidence for the thought that…”
When we bring to mind those four hypothetical baby-sitters, we can see how their thoughts ultimately shaped their experience as they collected evidence for how their thought was true. Take the uptight one, when she thinks, “This is going to be a disaster,” we can translate that to, “I’m headed to collect evidence for how this is going to be a disaster experience.”
For the more fun, playful one, “I don’t know what I’m getting into, but I know it’ll be fun,” becomes, “I’m about to prove true that I can have fun, even if I don’t know what I’m getting into.”
For the grand-parent, “I adore these kids.” That thought can actually be, “Let’s go collect evidence for how much I adore these kids.” And, for the schoolteacher who thinks, “I’ve got this,” we can translate that to, “I’m reinforcing the idea that I’ve got this handled.”
Just to drive this all the way home, notice the difference in these two statements: I’m about to reinforce the idea that there’s not enough time vs. I’m about to reinforce the idea that it’s possible I can use my time well. When we add that parenthetical idea to our thought, we show where that thought is going to go, in terms of our end experience.
Keeping all this in mind, once you’ve decided on a new thought that you want to practice, and you’ve started your preferred technique for practicing and integrating it, what should you expect? Sometimes, as soon as you identify the relationship between the thought and the feeling, and you go through the process of considering an alternate way of thinking, the old thought will just fall away. And the new thought, will be the new belief that you instantly believe and integrate into your thought processes.
Other times, and I don’t exactly know the statistics about how often this happens, but my sense is that much of the time, the instantaneous shift in a thought or a belief is not the case. Especially in the beginning, when you’re trying to practice thinking new thought, it can take some time.
Let’s talk about what you should expect as you’re practicing this new thought if it’s not just an instantaneous shift. You can expect that you might notice objections to the new thought. Objections like, “Yeah, right. That’s silly. We know the truth here.”
You might notice, old thoughts reappearing. Reappearing more frequently and more intensely than they have in the past. You might notice you think the new thought and you feel disbelief. You might notice yourself thinking that you should believe the new thought just because you’ve articulated it. Or, you should believe it faster than you are. All of this is 100% expected. It’s frankly, just a sign that you’re doing this process right. That you’re stepping out of the status quo patterns of thinking.
In a future episode, or maybe a workshop event, I’m going to get really deeply, into the specific ways that you can navigate these obstacles. But for now, just wrap your head around the fact that they will happen. You will notice old thoughts reappearing. You may notice disbelief. You may notice thinking thoughts like, “This is just silly,” and objections to this new thought. But, remember, that doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong. This is simply your opportunity to practice being the watcher and the narrator of your own mind.
My favorite technique, for something like this, is to use, “Oh, hi there. Hello brain. I see you. Of course you’re offering these old thoughts, they make beautiful sense. I’ve been thinking this way for years. This is the part where the objections to change just come up. I see you. I hear you, thank you. But, today, I’m thinking in this new way.” Having something like this on hand, in anticipation of objections and old thoughts, can help you get back into a space where you can practice that new thought, cleanly.
If you find yourself thinking the new thought and fully believing it, and if this new thought is a bridge thought towards an intentional thought, or belief that you want to have, that’s a sign that it’s time to move to the next rung of the ladder or to up-level and practice a new thought.
Now the time comes in the podcast where I give you all the caveats. You’ll hear me often say, there are very easy ways that you can misuse the tools that I teach you. This tool is not an exception. How can this tool be misused?
This tool is not intended to be used to tolerate a dangerous, or toxic, or bad situation that you really don’t like. And, tolerate it by changing your thinking as opposed to changing your circumstances. This tool is not meant to sanitize your mind so that you can become this automaton who only thinks positive, cheerful thoughts and feels pleasant, cheerful emotions. Just because you can direct your mind on purpose, it doesn’t mean that every waking moment you must be controlling your thinking with an iron fist.
The goal of this tool and the goal of this work is never to turn into a robot, who 24/7 manages his/her mind. The goal is to know that you can direct your mind on purpose when you want to.
The next thing I want you to keep in mind is that some of the deep work of coaching and self-coaching is figuring out why you repetitively think, and feel, and act the way that you do. This deep work involves understanding how a thought pattern makes sense. How it might have been useful, or adaptive, or resourceful, or protective at one point in time, in the past. This is some of the best work you can do.
That said, the skill of thinking a new thought is something that you can do without fully or deeply understanding the ideology of a patterned way of thinking. In fact, this tool of thinking a new thought is one you can use to develop a better understanding of why you’re thinking, and feeling, and acting they way you are.
The reason for that is this, when you practice new thought all the objections to that new thought will surface, and they’ll be really obvious. These objections are like breadcrumbs leading you back to find the unexplored beliefs that underpin your thinking. This is how the skill of thinking a new thought seems simple, but really has many, many layers to it.
At face value, the goal seems it’s like to find and believe a new thought. Yes, that is one facet. But, some of the less obvious and most powerful parts of this practice are in the discovery of the thoughts behind the thoughts. In discerning what thoughts are in the way of believing a more neutral, or more positive point of view. Finding these thoughts can lead to profound awareness.
Ultimately, the way you think matters. It matters because it creates how you feel, and how you feel drives your habituated behaviors. You can articulate a new thought practice by making a slight shift from your current thinking or you can do it by imagining by what you would need to think, in order to feel or act a certain way. Then, you can move to the tedious work of integration, where you repeat the new thought regularly. Then, you’re on the look-out for all the objections that surface when you do.
I’m so excited to hear what this process is like for you. What it looks like for you to find and articulate a new thought. What works well for you in your practice of repeating and rehearsing and practicing that thought. And, what all the things are that you notice, that come up as objections, or wrinkles in the plan of seamlessly integrating a new thought into your mindset.
I invite you to bring what you find to the Facebook group. If you aren’t already on the Facebook group, it’s called Habits On Purpose. Or, if you want to share more privately you can find me on Instagram; I’m there @Kristi.Angevine. Or, you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t wait to hear what you discover as you do this work.
I will talk to you in the next episode.
If you want to learn more about how to better understand your patterns, stop feeling reactionary, and get back into the proverbial driver’s seat with your habits, you’ll want to join my email list which you can find linked in the show notes. Or, if you go to www.habitsonpurpose.com you’ll find it right there.
If you’re serious about taking this work deeper and going from an intellectual understanding to off the page implementation, I offer coaching in two flavors: individual deep-dive coaching with the somatic and cognitive approach, and a small group coaching program. The small group is currently for women physicians only, and comes with CME credits. You can be the first to learn more about the individual or group coaching options by getting on the email list.
Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit www.habitsonpurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.