Episode 68 – Watching Your Brain

Have you ever watching your brain think?  It’s a fascinating process and very insightful into why we are feeling and behaving in certain ways.  By becoming a watcher of our thoughts, we can gain power over them and figure out which thoughts are serving us best.  

Show Summary:

A few weeks ago we were getting ready to close on our new home. We still hadn’t sold our current home, but our mortgage broker assured us that we were fine just using my husband’s salary because he had received some amazing bonuses in 2017 and 2018. We had gotten all of our information to our lender, and we were waiting for the clear to close. 

At the last minute, another underwriter looked it over and decided he didn’t like the numbers. Because the bonus wasn’t as big in 2018 as it was in 2017, the underwriter threw out 2017 altogether which threw the numbers way off and we no longer qualified for owning both houses (at least on paper and with the information he had).

This last-minute change sent our mortgage broker into a panic, which I don’t blame her. In all the years she has been in this business, she had never had this happen. She called me, apologizing profusely, and while she was obviously panicked, I stayed perfectly calm. I knew that no matter what happened, things would be ok. I would be fine. We would be fine. We would figure it out.  

We were able to add in my husband’s income from his side business, but the numbers still weren’t quite where we needed them to be. We had two choices, start completely over and add my income in (which would put off our close date) or agree to pay off our car. Neither was a great option. We didn’t have the time to start the process over, because we wanted to get into the new house before school started. We could pay off the car, but that would mean moving money around to come up with that kind of cash on top of our down payment. But, we figured it out and decided that paying off the car was the best option.

I really, genuinely wasn’t worried. I was able to manage my mind in such a way that I could handle anything that came. In fact, I was able to calm my mortgage broken down with how I managed my mind.

I don’t tell this story to tell you how great I am at managing my mind. It’s what came next that I think is really important. …

That night, I went to bed and tried to fall asleep, and I couldn’t. My brain was racing, telling me that I needed to worry about this. That things might not work out and then what would happen? What if we couldn’t make the money work. What if we don’t close on the house in time. What if, what if, what if…

It was fascinating to watch my brain panic and try to convince me that things weren’t going to be ok. Even when I had worked all day to manage it, when left unattended (as I was trying to fall asleep) it went CRAZY!!! When I did finally fall asleep, I had crazy dreams about things not working and would wake up with a start, and then my brain would start spinning again.

I kept talking to my brain, trying to reassure it, trying to calm it down, but it just wasn’t having it. When I’d finally get it to calm down, I’d fall asleep, and then the dreams would start again. Needless to say, it was a very LONG night.

My second example is very similar.

My son called me a couple of weeks ago from the mission field and told me he’s really struggling and wants to come home. Of course, my mama heart hurt for him, but I had played this out in my head a long time ago, and I knew exactly how I wanted to show up for him at that moment. We talked about this and worked out some things, and he said he would think about it more and let me know. I was able to speak to his mission president, and I was confident everything would work out exactly as it was supposed to. I actually slept fine that night. But the next night, my brain went crazy again.

What if he came home?

What if people judge him?

What if they judge me?

What if this isn’t the right path for him?

What if the decision to come home ruins his life?

On and on and on, my brain went. Again, it was so fascinating to watch my mind and all of the thoughts it offered to me. But I just spoke to it calmly, letting it know that no matter what happened, it would be ok. My son would be ok. I would be ok. That he will live the exact life he is supposed to live. That while I believe that being on a mission is the best thing for him, maybe I’m wrong. But it was another sleepless night wrestling with my brain.

Watching your brain is a great skill to develop. Our brain is going to offer us a lot of thoughts that are designed with three things in mind:

  1. To seek pleasure
  2. To avoid pain
  3. To reduce effort

We call this the motivational triad. These are the three things that motivate the brain. All were developed for very good reasons. They were developed by our brains to keep us alive. To keep us safe. To keep the species going.

My brain, going crazy as it did, was doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s trying to keep me alive. It’s trying to help me possibly avoid pain.

But in doing so, our brains often offer us thoughts (again, trying to help us) that aren’t helpful. So, when we aren’t in the hours when we are trying to sleep, this is why we want to manage our brains. This is why we want to become a watcher of our thoughts and decide which ones we want to continue thinking and believing and which ones we want to discard.

A fellow coach came up with a great analogy that I wanted to share with you.

Our brain is like a computer. Its default program is “do everything you can so you don’t die” which is helpful in some situations, but not useful in a lot of them. By becoming a watcher of our thoughts, we are installing a new app to help manage this default programming. This new app is a sorting station for our brain.  We learn to use it the same way we sort things in our home, and in our lives.

The first level of sorting is deciding if the thought is useful or not. We can sort thoughts into those two categories. So when a thought enters your brain, you can sort it to useful or not useful.

Useful thoughts are thoughts that give us the feelings, actions, and results in our life that we want. These are thoughts we want to keep believing.

Thoughts that aren’t useful are thoughts that bring us feelings, actions, and results in our life that we don’t want. Sometimes we want negative emotions like if someone has passed away, we want to be sad and we want to grieve. So those are useful thoughts for us. But blaming ourself for their death in some way or saying things like “I should have been a better wife, daughter, friend” is probably not useful.

Level 2 is to sort those useful and un-useful thoughts into different categories

  1. Garbage Bin – these are the un-useful thoughts that we don’t want to keep. The garbage thought bin is bottomless and we can put as many thoughts as we want to in there. All of the thoughts that aren’t serving us can go in the garbage bin in our brain.
  2. Priority Bin – these are the BEST thoughts we want to be thinking. The ones that give us the best results in our life and move us forward.
  3. Recycle & Thoughts in Process Bin – The ones we are actively working on at the moment. Some of the thoughts are recycled from another part of our life, maybe a thought that someone else gave us to try on, or perhaps it’s a thought that worked in one area and we are trying it on in another area. These are our NEW intentional thoughts.
  4. Top Shelf Bin – these are thoughts or idea that aren’t currently working, but you don’t necessarily want to get rid of them. You want to periodically revisit them and see if they would work and move to a new bin.

Watching and sorting our thoughts is an active process. Some thoughts that worked well for you in the past but aren’t currently working for you may need to go to the garbage or recycle bin. But continually watching our thoughts and deciding where they need to go and how they are serving us can help move us in the direction we want to go.

We want thoughts that create the feelings we want for our life. And you know what I always say….out of all the emotions you can choose to feel, creating thoughts to make you feel love is always an option.

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