3 Tools That Help Me To Reveal Toxic Thinking Patterns

Growing personally remains a matter of observing our habits and altering them. If we want to change, we need to break with our conditions and reveal our true needs. “Habit needs unconsciousness to be repeated. Where consciousness enters, habit falls.” Again I refer to Thích Nhất Hạnh here.

Habit has no power anymore as soon as we are aware of it. But how do we break the chains of habit and practice ‘change’ persistently? How do we get our willpower back?

There were so many things that I wanted to quit or change in my life. I read dozens of articles and books on self-improvement, on how to establish healthy routines and foster positive changes.

More and more I found out that if I want to live in a new way, I have to find out what are the old ways?

Simple, right? I have to avoid unhealthy behaviours. But what are these toxic behaviours? Smoking? Eating sugar? Drinking too much coffee? Yeah, these are the obvious ones. But what else is there? How many times have I found myself ruminating negative thoughts and mistakes? How many times do I still make others responsible for my feelings?

To get to the core of my toxic ways ot thinking I really need to have a closer look. How can I develop compassion for myself, if I don’t know me (well enough)? There are some easy steps that help me with the process of becoming more self-aware. I would like to share them with you in this threesome.

1. Practice Being Alert

Survey your behaviour – especially in conversations. I found out that a lot of times I take things too personal. This is a way of giving away my power. It is proof that I have problems with ‘staying with myself’. It is a sign for lacking self-awareness and at the end self-love.

It sounds familiar to you? So, what can you do instead?

Listen more than you speak. Watch yourself and see how your feelings resonate with the words that are spoken. When do you react emotionally? When do you get angry? When do you take things personally? Instead of plain reaction – get in touch with your emotions and desires. Ask yourself why you act like this? What would be an appropriate reaction?

By being aware of our reactions we are learning to review our thinking from a higher perspective. This way we can identify unhealthy thinking patterns.

2. Slow Down

Eat slow, walk slow, breathe slow, be slow. Abandon rushing from your life and everything will change. All of a sudden you will notice things that you’ve never noticed before. You will understand everything better.

“If you win time you win it all,” says Buddha and his disciples.

By paying better attention to our environment we automatically pay attention to what is happening inside of us. This doesn’t only give us the opportunity to act appropriate but also to arrive in the ‘now’. This is meditation – being slow.

3. Find the ‘Why’

I really need to understand the benefits of quitting a bad habit before I can alter it. For example: Theoretically I understand why eating sugar is a bad thing, but as long as I never find out what happens if I stop eating sugar / start meditating / going for a run in the morning I will never establish this habit.

I think this is why it is so hard to adapt the habits of ‘successful people’, because these habits might don’t suit our real needs. Journaling is might be helpful for people who like to write. But for some it is maybe not, because they get even more caught up in there strange thinking patterns.

We have to ask why in both directions. Why do we cling to negative habits? What can we do instead? And why / how changes a new habit my overall well-being? In any way we need to be open to ‘try something new’ every once in a while, if we really want to change our lives.

 

Why I Get Nothing Done

It’s not accurate that I get nothing done. I just don’t get done what I want to get done.

I found this verbal outpour in my inexhaustible source of notes. What stunnes me is how accurate I describe my – I would like to call it – ideation process. In a few years probably I will smile about this type of examination, but right now it illustrates my behaviour lively. My goal is still to write my heart out here – believing in the process and stuff. So, here we go:

“Why I get nothing done” – Well, this is actually the wrong title for this article, because it suggests that I know why I get nothing done. Reality is, I don’t know, really. But if I continue searching I might won’t publish anything (like in most cases as you will find out later on).

In the hope to unclog my blogging-pipeline I will just press the publishing button in a few minutes.

What happens if I want to write an article?

Phase 1: “I have an idea”

Well, it all starts with an idea (some random situation, metro, bed, toilet, any kind of waiting room, forest, plane, train,…) I write down the rough idea/insight into my notebook or on my phone. I think to myself “This is already half the article. Great I will just sit down for half an hour more and than it is all ready to publish.”

Happy and half-accomplished I continue my day knowing that I will write an article the next time I’ll sit on my computer.

But than reality strikes. I open my laptop. I even close all the unnecessary tabs and windows and I start writing. At the beginning it all looks promising. Until one point. Let’s call it the point of no return.

I’m overflowing with ideas and all of a sudden I realize that I have to start another article, because I already reach too many aspects with this one article. And then I think: “Wait a second?” – “Do I actually know what I’m talking about here?” – “What does this word actually mean?” All of a sudden I’m losing control over my own thoughts. I start another document. Maybe a third one where I’m trying to filter my thoughts. Let’s call it ‘outtakes’.

Then I get so confused and I decide “I leave it for now” and rather listen to some 432 Hz forest sounds.

Phase 2: “I want to finish this article”

A couple of weeks later another idea crosses my path. And than it comes in to my mind that I already had started a similar article a few weeks back. “I should have a look and re-read what I thought a few months ago”.

“Wait – I think I read an inspiring article about this topic in a blog. Or was in a book? Or did I have a conversation about it? Or was it Alan Watts who visited me in my dreams and told me about it? 🙂 ”

And this is already the beginning of the end. In this case either I will find out how shitty and unispired my idea is or I just get sucked in by ‘inspiring talks’ on youtube or the odd TED talk about “How to travel the world with no money” or something like this… You get the point.

Phase 3: “Procrastinating procrastination”

But then, sometimes something magical happens – I catch myself watching stuff not related to my topic and miraculously I shake an article like this one off my sleeve.

Hm, I’m not sure if I’m crazy or if this is just part of the process? Maybe I’m just learning? I guess it’s part of the process. I also guess it’s time for The Artist’s Way – many people I admire recommended me this book. The thing is – I write so much already, but none of my ideas gets out of my way. So – maybe this is my way? We will see.

Cheers from the procrastination front

 

Micro Habit Challenge 4.1 – Social Media Substitution

The first week of my challenge is over and probably this is the most successful micro habit challenge so far. Okay – maybe I didn’t challenge myself enough then.

I found out that social media is not my problem anymore, woohoo. My problem are in many ways not the things that I do, but the things that I don’t do. So, instead of ‘being on social media’ for 30 minutes I decided to do something useful instead. I have to address the problem slightly different…

What did I do?

  • Quickly I figured out that my thumb has this stupid automatism. So what I needed to do was to remove the apps (Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp) to another screen of my phone. É voila – I haven’t touched instagram since roughly one week. Apparently it is not that urgent.
  • I figured out that instead of saying: I reduce my social media time, I simply have to find a useful substitution. So what I’m doing now is: I invest the 30 minutes in practicing italian right now. I placed all the ‘useful’ apps like my notepad and duolingo on my homescreen now. Facebook I check only every now and then for a few minutes a day.
  • My biggest let’s call it ‘time invest’ is actually sharing my life with my friends on WhatsApp. This also holds me back a little bit from living in the now. So, what I do now before sending a message, I ask myself, do I really need to share this? A lot of times my initial answer is no. Plus: If I want to tell somebody something, I think about the message a little longer and might even write an e-mail. This whole ‘instant-reaction’-thing bothers me since a very long time anyways.

Why am I doing these challenges?

Already by looking at my behaviour I change it. The so called observer effect doesn’t only apply in quantum physics. By surveilling my actions on my phone I change my behavior automatically. This way with a little bit of discipline it is probably possible to achieve everything.

It’s a little bit like quitting smoking. Already the question: ‘Do you really have to smoke now?’ potentially triggers a series of positive alternative actions. ‘Why not go for a walk instead?’ or say ‘hi’ to the stranger at the bus station, where you are standing right now. Life could be so simple, if we’d just live it.

 

Micro Habit Challenge 4.0 – Social Media Breakdown

“The one who knows something, but doesn’t act accordingly only knows it partially.” This is the rough translation of a quote by french philosopher J. M. Guay, which I found in “Geistestraining durch Achtsamkeit” by Nyānaponika, a Buddhist monk. [I haven’t found the correct english equivalent title yet.]

As I found out in the past changing my behaviour takes time. At the beginning of my ‘journey’ I tried to achieve all at once – I still do on many levels. Slowly I understand I have to take one step at a time in order to climb that mountain.

What I found out recently is that I still distract myself with so much stuff from achieving my daily goals (which adds up to my overall life goals). The thing I still abuse the most by far is social media.

I keep telling myself that facebook is important to keep up my social connections and instagram inspires me.

BUT – let’s face it – mostly it holds me back from living in the moment – the only thing that I really want to achieve in my life. Additonally to that I’m wasting my time instead of investing it into articles like this one. Plus – I become a victim of my device.

I get caught up in reaction to the notifications on my phone. And this is unacceptable.

It’s time for another micro habit challenge. Here we go Nyānaponika. I will get there eventually.

So – what am I gonna do?

Limit my time on social media (including whatsapp) on 30 minutes daily for the next two weeks – man, writing this down it sounds a lot. But probably I reduce the time I spend on my phone already around 200%. Yeees, I have to be clear with this – no matter how painful or emberassing.

I don’t want to push too hard and still want to take the time to answer messages.

What had changed already?

– Today is already day two. Yesterday was easy. Already the decision was liberating and I was in flightmode allday – actually I spend only a couple of minutes online – good start, haha.

– I already feel like having some control back. I want to use my phone and don’t let my phone use me. Technology has advantages and that’s why I want to keep using them.

– Limiting the amount of time helps me to prioritise length and content of my messages. Let’s see if the quality of my overall conversations increases by the end of the first week.

Why I’m doing this?

Interestingly my experience shows that writing this stuff down here on this blog helps me to manifest things.

About a year ago I pointed out “I suck at meditation”. And guess what – since I found the “valve” I get access to this gap between me and my thoughts once in a while – more and more often over the time. I don’t have a regular practice but I practice multiple times a week at various times.

This makes me more than gratful – thanks Nyānaponika – or better say Erich Fromm for introdrucing me to this teacher of mindfulness.

Cheers, I let you know how it went next week.

 

My Personal To-Do-List

More than one year ago I published my personal “Not-To-Do-List” , but somehow I withheld the counterpart. I can already tick off a lot of the items. The pursuit of happiness is bearing fruits.

Things I Want To Do

1. Being happy.
2. Being proud of myself.
3. Talking about positive stuff.
4. Exploring my own desires.
5. Living up to my own values.
6. Living the moment.
7. Seeing the good things in every moment.
8. Walking slow.
9. Eating mindful.
10. Focusing on one thing at a time.
11. Being confident.
12. Loving myself.
13. Positive self-talk. (Whatever that is, but it sounds good :))
14. Not smoking.
15. Reading before I go to sleep.
16. Changing my perspective/considering another point of view.
17. Drinking more green smoothies.
18. Stop hesitating.
19. Making decisions.
20. Being committed to my own dreams.
21. Relaxxx.

Things I Want To Think

  • “I’m strong.”
  • “I can handle it.”
  • “I can achieve everything I want.”
  • “I can learn everything I want.”
  • “I am loved.”
  • “I have all the time in the world.”
  • “I have a lot of positive energy to share.”
  • “I’m happy.”
  • “I’m beautiful.”
  • “I love myself.”
  • “Today is a great day.”
  • “Life is great.”

To be continued….

 

Fail Fast, Learn Quick

You are standing on the edge of a cliff. Beneath your feet the blue of the ocean is hypnotizing you. Waves are breaking powerfully on the rocks. “You can do that!” – “Can I do that?” – “You just dive in” -“What if I crash?” – The voices in your head are fighting a running battle. Finally with the heartbeat up to your chin you jump. A rush of adrenaline is taking your breathe before you plunge smoothly into the water.

For a fraction of a second you lose your sense of direction. One moment later you are already back on the surface. A smile arises from your inside while you are swimming with ease back to the boulders you climbed before. “The next time I gonna do a cannonball.”, you think to yourself with a sense of fulfillment.

Jumping down these five meters was just a matter of overcoming your fear of failure. By making a leap you became aware of your true capabilities.

It is by diving into the unknown that we learn. We are learning to swim, we are learning to jump off cliffs (or three meter towers), we are learning to interact with others, we are learning a different language, new skills. At the beginning we are making mistakes: We might land on our belly the first time we jump off the cliff. Or we can’t wrap our head around the verb classifications of a new language. But we are getting there slowly. Our brain gets there, because it creates new connections everytime we supposedly “fail”.

A long time I’d rather do nothing than doing something wrong. What I didn’t understand was that I only learn through my mistakes. More and more in the process of learning to appreciate my own suffering I’m understanding that this “suffering” is just the pain I feel after making a what I consider “wrong” decision. Or it is caused by this fear of making the wrong decision.

At the moment I’m fighting a lot of battles with myself about which way to go, which job to keep, which friends to meet or which new destination to target. Whether if it is on a personal level or on a professional level – these thoughts are stealing my energy and shattering my last nerve.

What I’m practicing is the acceptance of this pain AND the ability to make a decision anyways. Yes, making a decision not the (the only right) decision.

Mistakes are invariable in the process of making anything better (a life or a product). To put it differently – failure is inevitable on the way to success. The inventor of the light bulb Thomas Edison and his team tested around 3000 (!!) different designs for the light bulb before they found a solid solution. It took years.

Without failure also personal growth is not possible. We don’t learn, if we do everything perfect all the time. Because if we do everything perfect we only adjust to the demands, but we never actually seize our full potential.

I’m repeating myself: What had always been holding me back from achieving personal or professional goals was my fear of failure!

Now I’m trying a different approach: I prototype my life. I define, I try, I fail, I improve – “trial and error”.  How ever you want to call it – the idea is the same. A prototype is not perfect. It improves in iterations and so does my life. 

Okay, so far so good. That’s easier said than done. But how are we going to put this in practice?

1. Don’t be Attached To The Image You Have Of Yourself

We don’t realise that we become the slaves of our own thoughts by saying: “This is just how I am.” These thoughts are planted into our head – either by ourselves or by our surrounding. Maybe we are still attached to the idea we had about ourselves when we were twelve years old?

You don’t consider yourself as creative? Maybe you just didn’t find the right way to express yourself or you simply have the wrong idea about “somebody who is creative” in your head? You are not a rational thinker? Only because you spoiled your physics exam in school doesn’t mean you can never be an engineer. The most important thing is to understand, that these thoughts are not us – even if we are the ones telling them to ourselves. What if you have skills you never thought of?

2. Don’t Fall In Love With Your Ideas

There is a rule in the method of design thinking (and other lean/agile working methods) that links to the written above. “Don’t fall in love with your ideas”. We have this overall image about ourselves in our head. On the other hand we also vision the necessary improvements: Things that need to be done in order to become the person we are supposed to be being.

“When I achieve this and this I gonna be happy.” “If I was just a little bit more rational/outgoing/talkative/had more knowledge/more friends my life would be perfect” or “If I just had that much money, I would be able to live a happy life.” Don’t get me wrong – it is good, no it is neccesary to have goals in life, but by focussing on only the things that we already have in mind we might miss the opportunity to find something else that lights up our heart. With this attitude we close ourselves towards our own truth. So, don’t fall in love with your ideas and stay flexible.

3. Be Willing To Change

What teaches me the most in life? Basically the situations where I let go of old patterns. The moments when I try something new. The moments when I have to adapt to a new situation. In these moments I can literally feel how my ability to live life properly (whatever that means, I will think about it) had improved. Exposing myself to adversity, trying new jobs, learning new skills – this is what really teaches me the most.

“Invent yourself new” – is not only a slogan from the fashion industry (?). Sticking with the same hobbies, the same interests, the same people can only lead to stagnation. Our brain literally needs stimulation to build new connections. Once in a while it is important to do something where we once said “I’m not the type for this.” We might fail, we might don’t like it, but if we never try we will never know.

4. Be Open For Advice

The great thing about living amongst other human beings is that we can learn from each other. Everyone of us makes their own experiences and creates their personal reality.

In order to broaden our horizon we need to listen to others. We can’t change our perspective by standing at the same point of view. Sometimes others know better what we are capable of. A lot of times we limit ourselves with the idea about what we can and what we can’t do. If we take our desires and perspectives too seriously we obstruct the outlook for new opportunities.

5. Drop This F*cking Perfectionism

… and cultivate a healthy failure culture. Aiming for perfection leads nowhere. Nothing will ever be perfect or to put it differently: everything is already perfect. With this approach every new start becomes easier. There is nothing to achieve, there is only something to learn. Don’t blame yourself for being a failure only because things don’t turn out how you wish. Accept your mistakes as being a part of the process.

6. Be Willing To Start Again And Again And Again…..

“Nobody said it was easy….” In order to improve anything in our life we need patience. Sometimes I ask myself: “Will I ever learn?” I feel like I’m doing the same mistakes over and over again. But with this question I already hold myself back from learning. Instead I have to acknowledge: “Hmm, again the same mistake. What have I learnt this time?” The lessons we face are always confronting us for a reason. The same mistakes are just reminding us to keep digging. This is the peaceful war with ourselves. 

Conclusion

While we grow older we lose our sense of adventure a little bit. We are trying to predict the future by considering risks, opportunities and values of a decision. A lot of times we are trying to make “the right decision” instead of allowing ourselves to leave things a little bit more open.

What if we admit that we can’t predict the outcome of a decision anyways? Instead we remain in a state of fear. This fear is leaving us in a state of faint. I don’t say we need to fail on purpose, but I say we should allow ourselves more often to jump off the cliff into a deep blue ocean of the unknown.

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

 

Black, White, All Or Nothing?

Pizza or pasta? Tea or coffee? Should I stay or should I go? Over and over I catch myself paralyzed by the same thinking-pattern: I’m searching for the best solution, the perfect answer, the right decision, the only path that leads to happiness.

I beat myself down over and over again for having not enough discipline – for not being “straight” enough. If I’d just learn another language/did more yoga/became a software developer/travelled to place xy… my life would be perfect. Violently I’m pondering every possibility. The restaurant (Pizza or Pasta?) is just one venue of competition. The toughest fights I stage within myself. “Should I start a new job?” “Should I work this or that job? “Should I travel to Portugal or Indonesia?” – to name just a few of my ridiculous first-world-problems.

Why am I struggling so much with making decisions? And why am I beating myself down for not doing the “right” things? I have a suspicion: It is all in my head! The problem is, that my mind still wants to convince me that there is one perfect decision. If I’d just consider ALL available data I couldn’t go wrong. But you know what? There is no such thing like “all data”. How can we know the outcome of a decision in advance? How do we know who we are going to meet, who might changes our “path” in an irreversible way? How do we know which outlook awaits us behind the next curve of this windy road called life?

A lot of times I’m trying so hard to make the “right” decision that I’m loosing sight of what I actually want. Sometimes I want none of the things, I think I want. 

My own thoughts keep me trapped somewhere between past and future –  but for sure they hold me back from the now. Often I’m loosing contact with the present moment completely. And wait a minute – this moment is all that we have!

It is time for me to really accept that there is no “right” decision – for sure not when it comes to choosing pizza or pasta, but what about the “real” decisions? Where do I want to live? Should I change my job? Should I quit? Travel? Get pregnant? Break up? Get married? Stay single? And what exactly should I do?

The word “should” already implies that the answers to these questions often enough are not mine. They are the answers of society, my family, my friends or my “peer-group”. (if this is a word)

The truth is that we have to create our own reality by walking our own way. As long as we are searching for the “right” answer or our “recipe to happiness” we forget to live.

We will probably never find what we are looking for – but what we will find is even more thrilling and beautiful: surprises, connections, friendships – the pleasure of the unknown.

If we stop thinking black or white we will discover how colorful this world is.

So how am I going to overcome this narrow decision-making-fight? I’m following my excitement by doing what I enjoy doing, by following my heart and dropping my thoughts completely.

The difficult part is to give an ear to my heart, my inner voice. The chatterbox in my head still likes to dominate, but my heart wins with trust and patience.

 

 

My Thoughts Are Like Needles

My thoughts are like needles tickling my skull. First they are soft and gentle. They are trying to stimulate my brain. After a while they start to poke more relentlessly. They are trying to control my feelings and my behaviour. If I’m not careful they are torturing me until I forget who I am. I don’t know who I am exactly, but for sure I am not my thoughts.

 

Micro Habit Challenge 2.1 – A Life without Coffee is Possible

Allright, ten days without caffeine are over. What had changed in the meantime?
At the beginning of my challenge it seemed like an insurmountable hurdle not to drink a single cup of coffee for an entire week. I was already so used to have a coffee in the morning and the next one before lunch. In light of the fact that an existence without this dose was unimaginable for me, I easily renounced. It actually turned out to be just a small change of my morning routine, but the effects were mind-blowing.

What are my learnings?

  1. Ginger tea and a cold shower substitute coffee perfectly. The additional plus: It is actually much better for my health. Instead of “poisoning” myself I detox in the morning.
  2. Indeed the monkey in my head calmed down a bit. Well, I’m still hyperactive, but my mood and my ability to focus stabilizes without caffeine intake.
  3. My sugar consume increased a bit. At the middle of the week I bought chocolate cookies and I ate half of it at once – probably as a surrogate-satisfaction. But I will manage that. 😉
  4. Decaffeinated coffee is not toooo bad. Well…

How do I want to handle my consume in the future?

My most valuable insight: A life without coffee is possible. Yes, it is. I still love coffee and I can’t deny a good cappucino or italian espresso. But the experiment proved my addiction. One approach in my life is enjoying the good things thoroughly without abusing them. If you listen to your favourite song every and every day it gets boring at some point and isn’t it the same with coffee or any other addictive substance? From now on I want to be a pleasure drinker not an caffeine junky anymore.