Paying attention to thoughts

Sometime toward the end of 2014, I was in the process of obsessively looking for new podcasts to listen to for my commute to and from work. One day, I was sitting on the train and was browsing the iTunes Podcast app for something that called out to me and I noticed one called ‘The Life Coach School” with Brook Castillo.

It had great reviews, and life coaching had been on my list of dream skills to learn for many years, so I was excited to try it out! This experience literally changed the rest of my life. After one week of binge listening every single day, I had gathered some serious data about myself and the fog I didn’t even know had been there started clearing for the first time ever.

Brooke teaches the CTFAR Thought Model. In short, it helps you notice and analyze your thoughts and how they ultimately cause the results we are seeing in our life. Think of it as just gathering data about yourself, this is never a judgement exercise. Remember, knowledge is power.

The model in a nut shell: Outside circumstances happen, which are out of our control. Then we have a thought about the circumstance which causes a feeling of some kind. Our feelings always cause us to take an action of some kind (even if it is an inaction), and our actions (or inaction) always cause our ultimate results. Period. There is no way around this, it is simple truth. This is good news, because it means we can always work backwards to figure out why we are getting any result we are experiencing in our life!

We can also catch thoughts as they happen, and impact the chain of events in real time!

When we are not watching our thoughts, I call this being on autopilot. Going through life thinking we are in control but in reality we are just going wherever our unconscious thoughts are taking us. Which is really scary, especially the more we learn about how the brain works:

  • Read “You are a Badass” by Jen Sincero, she does a beautiful job showing how our brain just does what it does — just because it thinks something doesn’t mean it is us consciously thinking it, it is just what the brain does! But then we make the mistake of attaching to it when we aren’t paying attention.
  • Read “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath where they talk about how the emotional mind constantly competing with the rational mind for control.
  • It is proven that our brain is super scared of change simply because it does not know if we actually and literally can survive the change we are thinking of implementing. The brain knows beyond a reasonable doubt that I am surviving at this point in time, that what I have been doing has kept me alive (no matter how irrational this is, because it does this even if I am inflicting what will be long term harm to my body or mind), all it knows is I am alive right now at this moment and it doesn’t want to change things up at all).

So, when I started really paying attention to my thoughts, I started getting to know myself on a new level. It was amazing how many thoughts I had that I didn’t actually want to have (didn’t even know I was having), or that were just plain untrue. Once I realized that I didn’t need to ever judge myself but instead just had to observe and reflect on how my thoughts ultimately caused my results, I also stopped judging others over night (including no longer having the expectation that all people had to do exactly what I needed and wanted them to do).

I can still remember vividly how it felt after I started getting the hang of this work… my heart felt like it was beating so much slower and calmer, no-one could make me angry, my heart was open to the moment, to myself and others. I would be sitting on the couch and all of a sudden start telling my husband about a thought I had and how amazingly untrue it is and how if I had not watched it just then it would have lead me to do something that actually went against the goals I had set in my life! I was amazed!

For example: One day after a few weeks of listening to the podcast, I noticed a thought very vividly as it happened:

  • My thought: “I should do something nice for my friend J, maybe get some flowers or some chocolate because she has had a rough couple of weeks. Well, maybe not… I am not that kind of friend after all. I am not the thoughtful kind of friend anyway so never mind that is just silly.”
  • I didn’t even get to the feeling yet because I was watching this happen in real time. And as I watched it happen I jumped up and down in excitement that I had caught it. I wrote it down and told my husband about it. After some reflection, I realized I have had that thought process happen millions of times before, and each time it led me to a feeling of sadness and fear that I was not the kind of friend who was thoughtful. That feeling would always historically lead me to excusing myself for not being thoughtful, and ensuring I didn’t have any close friends.
  • After much more work on this, I ultimately realized I was so hurt by my best friend from high school that I was determined I was never going to put myself in a position where another friend could hurt me again (what a wall I had built and didn’t even know it!). One good way of doing that was always keeping friends at arms length, i.e. never doing anything particularly thoughtful for them, so then we never actually were able to get close enough for them to hurt me.
  • Knowing this about myself has been a blessing. It allows me to challenge my belief systems and face my fears. What is the worst that could happen if I did something thoughtful for a friend? Nothing. They can ignore me, they can decide not to be my friend now or in the future, they can be happy or annoyed with me. No matter what they do, it is their business. All that matters is that I did in the moment what I felt in my heart was something I wanted to do, just because I care about them.  From this place, nothing can hurt me.

Enjoy the podcast and please chat with me @MVDSFDC anytime on Twitter! I love talking about this stuff and sharing my experiences, I would love to hear from you!

To take this work to the next level: once you start getting the hang of the CTFAR model, then read Byron Katie’s “Loving What Is” book to start loving reality on a new level.