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VideoThinking Flexibly

Thinking Flexibly

We can’t always control unhelpful thoughts, but we can get curious about them — and create some space for more helpful thoughts.

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Have you ever been so overwhelmed by an emotion that you can't get anything done? It's like your feelings literally stop you in your tracks. I've been there and I know how frustrating and overwhelming this experience can be, but thinking flexibly can help. It's the ability to think about things in a new or a different way. And it can help us to navigate our emotions and deal with uncertainty. Maybe you feel nervous about a big presentation at work, or you're still fuming from something someone said earlier. Naming the feeling you're experiencing is one way to support ourselves in working with our emotions. You can start by noticing your thoughts. Just like leaves floating down a gentle creek, you can observe your thoughts the same way without judgment as they float through your mind. As you notice them, you can ask yourself, what is this specific thought that is creating this emotion? This main thought could manifest as all-or-nothing thinking, like when you lump all your worries together and make sweeping statements, like, "Everything is terrible right now" or "They never listen to me." Or you might be putting a label on yourself and that could sound like, "I'm a bad mom" or "I'm such a forgetful person." Maybe the thought takes a form of catastrophizing, like, "I'll never find a job," or "My relationship is doomed." While you can't control or stop your thoughts, you can get curious about them and see if there might be another perspective. Here's an example. Imagine your troubling thought is, "My relationship is doomed." Now try taking that thought and asking yourself a few questions about it. Also, remembering to be gentle with yourself. Here's some questions to help you investigate that thought with curiosity. What would a good friend or someone who cares about me say about this thought? Perhaps it's something like, "You're an amazing and generous partner. I'm here to support you through whatever happens." Is there another way to look at this that may be more helpful? Maybe that sounds like, "It's possible we're just experiencing a rough patch right now." And lastly, if this thought is even partially true, how can you cope with it? An example might be, "If this relationship is over, it will be really hard, but I will get through it. I have tools and resources to support me." (slide whistle toots) With this exercise, you're not convincing yourself of something you don't believe. The goal isn't to go from, "It will be impossible to find a job" to "Finding a job is the easiest thing in the world." The goal is to allow some flexibility into your thinking, like, "It's possible I can find a job. It might even be possible that I'll find a great job." So let's try this right now. You'll need a pen and paper for this exercise, and we'll give you some time between the questions to write, but feel free to pause the video...


Duration4 min

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  • A former Buddhist monk, Andy has guided people in meditation and mindfulness for 20 years. In his mission to make these practices accessible to all, he co-created the Headspace app in 2010.

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  • Kessonga has been an acupuncturists, therapist, and meditation teacher, working to bring mindfulness to the diverse populations of the world.

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  • Rosie Acosta has studied yoga and mindfulness for more than 20 years and taught for over a decade. Rosie’s mission is to help others overcome adversity and experience radical love.

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