Self-awareness is critical to successful leadership. As leaders, we have power and influence. Our thoughts are the basis for every action we take as a leader. Everything created by humans started as a thought. Think about that! Everything on earth for thousands of years created by humans started as a thought. Thoughts determine our actions. They are the spark of every act of creativity and of violence. Thoughts can determine the course of our lives. They are powerful.Every day we think thousands of thoughts and for some of us, it could be over 60,000 in one day! Most thoughts are repetitive, involuntary, and habitual. We are mostly unconscious of them yet they control all of our actions. When thoughts are negative and most of them are, our lives can become unhappy and our actions are uncaring. When thoughts are positive, our lives become better. The hard part is changing the habitual patterns of our thoughts. The good news is we can see our thoughts and learn the patterns. Instead of being a victim to unconscious thoughts, we can be in pursuit of them. It’s within our power to change them.
7 steps to changing your thoughts:
- Notice thoughts
How? Just notice what you are thinking. Being still and quiet can help. Remove distractions and listen to what you are thinking. As you go about your day, stop for a few seconds and look to see what you are thinking. Be still a few times throughout the day and write down any thought. No matter what it is, write it down. Keep a little notebook and develop a practice of noticing thoughts. Notice how the same thoughts repeat and can have a pattern or a theme.
- Practice noticing
Once you can notice thoughts then practice noticing them. The key to noticing is practicing. All of our lives we think thoughts and we don’t really notice them. Now we have to train ourselves to notice them. Judgement is another thought to notice.
- Let go of thoughts
Thoughts give us a lot of information and it is good to know what we are thinking and hearing. After some practice, it is possible to see the thoughts that are dictating our actions and therefore, controlling us. Some of our thoughts may be helpful but most are not. Most of them are self-limiting beliefs, assumptions and outright lies about what happened or what will happen. They try to predict the future and distort the past.
We want to think thoughts that are loving, positive and helpful. We can choose to stop thinking about what we don’t want when we become aware. One way is to replace a thought with another. When you have identified a negative thought or thought pattern, let it go and replace it with a thought you want to be thinking. For example, I may hear, “You never do that well and you are not going to ever be able to do that.” This is not a loving or helpful thought. I want to let it go. I can drop it and turn my attention to another thought. I could replace it with “You are trying to do something new and it may take some time to learn it. Have patience.”
After practicing becoming aware of thoughts, imagine putting them in a box, locking the box and throwing it into the ocean. Imagine the box sinking to the bottom of a very deep ocean. Leave it there. Then replace those thoughts with what you want to hear. Thoughts are persistent and will not stop requiring us to be persistent and consistent in this practice.
- Practice letting go
Unconscious thoughts are involuntary. They continue to pop in our minds all the time! Thoughts left unseen control our actions. We must practice letting go of them over and over because they do not stop. The more aware you become of them in step 2, the more you can let them go. Meditation and mindfulness are the best practices to seeing thoughts and letting them go. Being mindful can be practiced in any moment, at any time, with any activity. It’s helpful to have a place and time to be still and quiet every day to assist in becoming much more aware. It’s possible to practice awareness and letting go in your daily activities.
When we let go of a thought or thoughts, there is an internal space without thoughts. Listen and you will see new thoughts arise. Let go of any new thoughts that arise. As you listen internally, there is peace and calm in this internal place. The mind is at rest. Breathe here and just listen. Write down any thoughts that arise. Wisdom and supportive thoughts become available when we turn our attention to the thousands of thoughts we are unconsciously thinking every day and letting go of them.
- Practice listening
Listen after letting go and be still in the peace and quiet. Let wisdom arise. Continue to notice any thoughts, patterns or habits that arise. Continue to minimize distractions to see thoughts. Don’t avoid them but look directly at them. The freedom from thought control is in looking at them, seeing them, pursuing them and letting them go. Distraction keeps us in the grip of unconscious thoughts.
- Start again
These 6 steps are the way to becoming aware of the thoughts controlling our actions and the level of fulfillment in our lives. This is not a linear process nor is it a straight line of awareness. However, any amount of awareness is good and as you practice with these steps, awareness will grow. Repeat all steps as often as possible.