You Are Not Your Thoughts

Posted by on Oct 28, 2013 in AdultLeader Practices, The Mind | 17 comments

stock-illustration-21194503-halloween-party-balloons-4Are you your thoughts? Most of us probably hope not. The National Science Foundation reports that humans have 12-50,000 thoughts per day. Except for you deep thinkers out there, the vast majority of these thoughts are nonsense.

“Most of them are not facts but evaluations and judgments entwined with emotions—some positive and helpful (I’ve worked hard and I can ace this presentation; This issue is worth speaking up about; The new VP seems approachable), others negative and less so (He’s purposely ignoring me; I’m going to make a fool of myself; I’m a fake).” (From their recent article in the Harvard Business review, Emotional Agility, Susan David and Christina Congleton).

It is estimated that for most of us, 70-80% of our thoughts are negative. These negative thoughts limit us.

Most of us share some or all of these challenges at one time or another: feeling overwhelmed, indecisive, or fearful; experiencing lack of focus or procrastination; acting out emotionally. In our executive coaching conversations, my clients usually discover that it is their thoughts that have gotten the better of them, causing them to be stuck or less effective than they are capable of being.

It is easy to identify with our familiar and repetitive thoughts. We believe them as facts and they are not. We react in that familiar and repetitive way. When we can step back and more objectively look at the situation or challenge, we can choose to respond in a way that is more likely to represent the leader we want to be and to accomplish the result we would like.

Dr. Dan Siegel says … “Objectivity permits us to have a thought or feeling and not become swept away by it. It recruits the ability of the mind to be aware that its present activities – our thoughts, feelings, memories, beliefs, and intentions – are temporary and, moreover, that they are not the totality of who are. They are not our identity.”

As leaders, you can develop this ability of your mind through:
1. Practice – being mindful that you are not your thoughts. “I am having this thought about…”
2. Becoming more consciously aware of your identity, values, natural strengths and positive qualities. If you are not your thoughts, then who are you? What does the evidence suggest? Who is noticing that you are having a thought?
3. Recognizing and being OK with your imperfections. “I don’t have to do everything well and perfect. In fact, it is impossible.”

Developing the ability to separate who you are from your thoughts is not as simple as making these statements or answering these questions. It comes from increasing your self-awareness, and with practice, improving your leadership ability to step back and be more objective and practical about the situation or challenge before you.

Please feel free to send your comments and questions.

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© 2013 Stephen Carr Associates, Inc.
Stephen Carr is a successful, Boston-based Executive Leadership Coach. He can be found at AND


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