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3 Steps to Coach Yourself Out of Feeling Stuck

Retrain your thought patterns with the power of reframing

It’s 9:53am, you finished your coffee and are just about to head in your favorite part of the day - thinking about what to have for lunch - when you hear the familiar chime of a new email in your inbox and see the words “As per my last email…” and scene. Day ruined. Doesn’t even matter if they’re serving tacos in the cafeteria.

Whether it’s the passive aggressive toolbox from accounting, your micro-managing boss, the overachieving co-worker not-so-subtly correcting a mistake you made, we all have our triggers. And when the trigger hits, we spiral, thinking about all of the things we did wrong and how this is just one more reason we’re the worst.

But does it have to? I mean, we look forward to those tacos all week!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, no matter how deep we go, we always have the power to pull ourselves out of the rabbit hole when we reframe our perspective, and we do that by following these three steps:

Step 1 - Catch the negative thought pattern

When we’re triggered, we often realize it after we’ve already started to spiral… and by then it can be too late. Instead, we want to build awareness to recognize the spiraling at its onset, so that we can dissipate the hold it has over us.

The book The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris shares the tool of “defusion,” or actively de-fusing from our thoughts, realizing our thoughts do not have to dictate our actions or how we feel about ourselves. I’ve noticed whenever I am thinking in absolutes with the words “always” or “never,” I’m in a negative thought pattern, and by recognizing this I can catch the thought pattern before it takes over. Take for example the thought, “people are always nit picking my work.” When I catch myself thinking this, defusion allows me realize I’m having a negative thought, “ah I’m thinking and absolutes,” and “this is because I received an email that made me second guess my work.” By splitting the negative thought from the reason, we can have a better handle on how we feel and what we want to do about it.

Step 2 - Change your questions from WHY to WHAT

Sometimes we don’t speak in absolutes, and instead we start berating ourselves with questions. Why did this happen? Why are they doing this to me? Why? Why? Why? We want answers, and our inner critic is not going to stop until we get them. The problem is this line of thinking only turns up answers riddled with judgement. I mean I’m not sure how “why did they do this to me?” is ever supposed to end well. Never does. So we need new questions.

In the book Change Your Questions Change Your Life, author Marilee Adams reminds us that simply by changing the questions we ask ourselves, we can change our entire outlook on a situation. The like hack: reframing questions from Why to What. Instead of “why did they do this to me?” consider “what might I be overlooking?” Um, need I say more? With the what question we think expansively, outside of our own judgment, doubt, and ego, to consider what else might be possible.

Step 3 - Reset the defaults

I saved the best for last. Our last step is to do these first two steps all of the time. When we’re used to jumping to the negative or blaming ourselves whenever something goes wrong, that pattern becomes ingrained deep in our mind. To break free of this, we literally have to retrain our mind to follow another default. And the more aware we are of our negative thoughts (step 1) and retrain the way we talk to ourselves (step 2), the easier it is to reset our defaults (step 3). Ta-da!

But you don’t have to take it from me, you can take it from someone who studies the brain. Clinical professor of psychiatry Dan Siegel speaks extensively about the power of mindfulness to create new neural pathways in his book Mindsight. By paying attention to the present moment and to how we are reacting and responding, we can integrate our logical thoughtful left brain with our reactive emotional right brain to establish new patterns.

None of us are born judging ourselves or other people, this is something we learn as we grow up and are socialized by the people and environment around us. And even if it’s hard and takes a lot of work, it is possible to learn something else, a new pattern that serves us better.

The next time that passive aggressive email comes through, or someone cuts in front of you in line at Starbucks, or your partner makes a comment about what you’re wearing that you are pretty sure is condescending but you can’t quite tell… pause and reframe. Remind yourself that your thoughts do not dictate your actions, nor are they representative of the full reality of what is happening. When you find yourself jumping to wanting answers, change your line of questioning to begin with “what.” And practice these steps over and over until you’re able to reset your default to something you choose, not something that chooses you.

To learn more about the power of reframing, check out my primer video here.

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