”The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
“It is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.”
“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.”
Your thoughts are incredibly powerful. This can be an awesome thing.
It can also be a thing that cripples you, paralyses you, causes much suffering and gets you stuck instead of getting you to move forward towards a better and more positive life.
In this article I’ll explore 10 common mistakes I have made many times – and still do from time to time – and what I have done about them to improve the way I use my mind.
1. You overthink.
I used to be a chronic overthinker. This makes taking action very hard, you analyze small things until they become big and scary in your head and in general overthinking things always leads to a negative view of those things.
I have however successfully reduced or almost eliminated overthinking in my life. It did take time, but on the other hand you are in the company of your mind each day so you might as well start working on a better relationship between the both of you.
What to do about it: How did I do it? The most important thing was that I focused a big part of a year in my personal development on reading/listening to books by Eckhart Tolle like Stillness Speaks, A New Earth and The Sun Will Also Die and establishing a habit of being in the present moment.
I listened to those books over and over on my mp3 player while out walking, while riding the bus and so on. This had two big benefits: I was very focused on his advice and it popped up in my head during the day which made it easier to stay aware of though patterns and Tolle became a sort positive influence in my weekly life. Just like a friend can influence you with his/her positive, negative or ambitious attitude and vibe.
Practice being present and it becomes a lot easier to minimize overthinking and to use thinking as a tool rather than letting thoughts control you.
Set short deadlines for decisions. Another tip is to start using deadlines. Instead of thinking about something for days, tell yourself that you have – for example – 30 minutes to think. Then you will make a decision. I also use even shorter deadlines for smaller, daily decisions. I don’t sit around thinking about decisions like if I should exercise, make a phone call, try some new food or anything where I may feel a bit of resistance from within. Instead as soon as I think about it I make a decision to do it within seconds and start moving.
I have found this to be a good way to become more decisive instead of falling into the paralyzing trap of overthinking.
2. You see things in black and white.
Instead of seeing life as it is, somewhat messy, you see things in black and white. You are right and someone else is wrong. This way is good and that way is bad. Things are either this way or that way and there no exceptions or gray areas.
This makes it harder to make sense out of things, to take action in the right way and can be a way of thinking that makes you more and more inflexible as time passes. You get stuck and you put barriers in your mind and life and this creates a lot more unhappiness and suffering than necessary.
What to do about it:
Try to understand the other side. It’s easy to stick to your point of view. But you can gain powerful insights about the other person and yourself too by trying to understand their point of view. This also tends to decrease harshness and negativity and can make it easier to reach an understanding where both parties feel more satisfied with the solution.
Be aware. Like with any mistake in this article, just being aware and paying attention during your normal day can help you to discover and reduce these thought patterns by stopping that thread of thought and then changing what you focus on.
Be OK with not having to be so smart and right all the time. It won’t kill you but can instead in my experience be the more helpful choice in the longer run. You tend to become more relaxed and feel better about yourself and your world if you make that choice.
3. You think the world is revolving around you.
You fall into the trap of worrying about what people may think and let that paralyze you from taking action. Or simply become too self-conscious or too focused on yourself in conversations and relationships.
What to do about it:
Be aware. Perhaps use a post-it on your bath room mirror or fridge to remind yourself each morning.
Act as you would like to feel. Use this when you feel self-conscious and like everyone’s attention is focused on you. In such situation or on such days act as if the world doesn’t revolve around you and people don’t care that much about what you do. After a while and after taking action you will actually start to feel that way for real because experience hands your mind proof that this is indeed the truth.
Focus outward. Instead of thinking about yourself and how people may perceive you all the time, focus outward on the people around you. Listen to them and help them. This will make you feel better about yourself and help you to reduce that self-centered focus.
4. You generalize yourself and your world.
You may tell yourself: “I’m this and that person just because I’ve done this. Or failed at that.” Just because you’ve failed with your 30 day challenge to exercise each day doesn’t mean that you can’t be a person who succeeds with that.
Maybe a few people in the real world don’t get along that well with you. They may not like you. It’s important to not let those few people dictate how you view what others think of you.
Or you may generalize because of one event or action. But what other people say about you or to you is often more of a reflection of them rather than you. Maybe they are having a bad day, week or year. Maybe their pet was run over. Maybe they are having a conflict with a family member or friend. You don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives. But since we tend to be a bit self-centred we may interpret what someone is saying as being about us and that this one action or event represents this person.
What to do about it: Realize that the past is the past and just because you weren’t that good at something in fifth grade doesn’t mean that it is the person you are now or that you couldn’t become good at that thing now. You may find that parts of your self-image that you thought were accurate are just based on a few things that you did or that happened to you in the past.
When you examine those beliefs you may realize that they aren’t really that well-grounded as you had imagined. They are more like a house of cards rather than a house made of bricks. Just because you’ve failed a few times or made a few mistakes doesn’t mean that you are such a person. It is just stuff that happened.
And again, try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Remember that one event or action is not always the full picture and try to understand and form a more complex picture. And don’t make too big of a business out of a few people that you don’t see eye to eye with. That’s OK and just life.
5. You look for problems even when there are none.
This is a weird one. I have found myself looking for problems even when there are none really. I think in part comes from snapping back into your old mindset. I used to be much more negative and see problems everywhere for many years. So the mind is conditioned to operate that way and so used to it. So on some days you sit around and suddenly realize while thinking that you are looking for a problem in a situation or area of your life where there are none.
What to do about it: I have written “There is no problem” on my white board on my wall to remind me each day.
If I am faced with what I start thinking is a problem I ask myself: who cares? I most often then realize that this isn’t really a problem in the long run at all.
I also think this can come from thinking a bit too much about personal development and working on that. You become so accustomed to looking for solutions that your mind wants to find problems that it can solve. This personal development stuff is awesome. But read about and think about it in moderation and not all the time.
6. You are addicted to your comfort zone.
If you are always thinking about how to feel and be really, really safe then making a positive change will be impossible. The unknown and change is uncomfortable and scary to the mind because it tends to want your existence to be stable and continue to be as it has been so far.
What to do about it:
Be curious. When you are stuck in a bit of fear, when you get stuck in your comfort zone then you are closed up. Curiosity on the other hand is filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. It opens you up. And when you are open and enthusiastic then you have more fun things to think about than focusing on your fear.
Do it in small steps. What holds us back in our zone of comfort is often a fear or that facing that fear head on might be overwhelming. Doing things in small steps allows you to stretch your comfort zone and slowly making it less uncomfortable and frightening.
Focus on the positive past. Realize it can be fun to get out of your comfort zone despite what your mind and feelings might be telling you before you get started. Think back to the previous times when you have broken out of your comfort zone. Focus on the positive memories, when you got out there, when you took a chance. And you will probably remember that it wasn’t so bad, it was actually fun and exciting and something new to you.
Accept that it will be uncomfortable. Even if you do the things above it can still be uncomfortable to step out of your comfort zone. If that is the case, accept it. That discomfort will be temporary and you can always take action and just do it even though you may not fully feel like it. The thing is if you accept that the discomfort is just there then it tends to become smaller or not so significant.
7. You think about yourself as a victim.
One big problem a lot of people have is that they slip into thinking of themselves as victims that have little or no control over their lives. In this headspace you feel sorry for yourself, the world seems to be against you and you get stuck. Little to no action is taken and you get lost in a funk of sadness and self-pity.
What to do about it:
Know the benefits of a victim mentality. There are a few benefits of the victim mentality.
You can always get attention, validation and good feelings from other people as they are concerned about you and try to help you out. When you feel like a victim you tend to not take action and then you don’t have to risk for example rejection or failure. Taking responsibility for you own life can be hard work, you have to make difficult decisions and it is just heavy sometimes. In the short term it can feel like the easier choice to feel like a victim and not take personal responsibility. And when you feel like the victim and like everyone else – or just someone else – is wrong and you are right then that can lead to pleasurable feelings.
In my experience, by just being aware of the benefits I can derive from victim thinking it becomes easier to say no to that and to choose to take a different path.
Be ok with not being the victim. So to break out of that mentality you have to give up the benefits above. You might also experience a sort of emptiness within when you let go of victim thinking. You may have spent hours each week with thinking and talking about how wrong things have gone for you in life. Or how people have wronged you and how you could get some revenge or triumph over them.
Now you have to fill your life with new thinking and that may feel uncomfortable because it is not so intimately familiar as the victim thinking you have been engaging in for years.
Take responsibility for your life. Why do people often have self-esteem problems? I’d say that one of the big reasons is that they don’t take responsibility for their lives. Instead someone else is blamed for the bad things that happen and a victim mentality is created and empowered. This damages many vital parts in your life. Stuff like relationships, ambitions and achievements. That hurt will not stop until you wise up and take responsibility for your life. There is really no way around it.
8. You think that what you feel now is just how it is.
One big mistake that I have made many times is to think what you feel right now is kinda permanent. That it is how you really feel about things and will feel in the near future too. However, it is really hard to predict how you will feel just an hour or 15 minutes from now. The mind fools you as you identify with the emotions you are feeling right now. This can really hold you back.
What to do about it:
Use and strengthen your discipline muscle. You may for example not feel like going to the gym today. Your mind might say “It’s ok, you don’t need that anyway, you were there three days ago”. And so you lie back on the couch. But you can also say to yourself “No, today is workout day and I will go even though I don’t feel like it/don’t think I need to right now”. And so you go. And after you have been there for maybe 15 minutes you start to enjoy it and you’re glad you went.
Just be aware that your mind doesn’t always want what you know is the right thing to do. The mind often tries to get us to choose the easiest option in our daily lives. It makes it seem like what you feel now is reality. Even though emotional states are fleeting and you can change them around in just a few minutes or hours by going to that gym.
9. You compare yourself to other people.
One thing that can cause quite a bit of low self-esteem, frustration and unhappiness is comparing yourself to other people and their lives. You compare cars, houses, jobs, shoes, money, relationships, social popularity and so on.
What to do about it:
Be kind. The way you behave and think towards others has a big, big effect on how you behave towards yourself and think about yourself. Judge people more and you tend to judge yourself more. Be more kind to other people and help them and you tend to be more kind and helpful to yourself. You become more OK with yourself and the people in your world instead of ranking them and yourself and creating differences in your mind.
Just realize that you can’t win. Just consciously realizing this can be helpful. No matter what you do you can pretty much always find someone else in the world that has more than you or are better than you at something.
Compare yourself to yourself. Instead of comparing yourself to other people create the habit of comparing yourself to yourself. See how much you have grown, what you have achieved and what progress you have made towards your goals. This habit has the benefit of creating gratitude, appreciation and kindness towards yourself as you observe how far you have come, the obstacles you have overcome and the good stuff you have done. You feel good about yourself without having to think less of other people.
10. You think you already know how things work.
If you think that you already know something then your mind will not be open to actually learning it. Whatever someone is telling you, your mind will sort through based on what you think you know. You’ll only hear and learn what you what you want to hear and learn.
What to do about it: Whenever you want to learn anything it may be a good tip to disregard as much as possible of what you think you know. Keep your mind as open as you can. In my experience this makes it easier to pick things up and not disregard important stuff.
Of course, the ego often wants to jump in to meddle and strengthen itself by making you think that you already know whatever you’re about to learn. Be careful in trusting that somewhat arrogant inner voice.