When we understand how the brain works, we can’t get around this fact: We act on our thoughts. So, to create a thriving brain—as compared to one that’s prone to being stressed—we need to make sure we only keep thoughts that are helpful to us.
So, how do we do that?
Well, we can start with any thought, and then answer five questions. For example, here’s a thought shared by most people: Kids have to finish worksheets and homework assignments before moving on to something else. But now, rather than automatically accepting that statement as fact, we ask ourselves these questions.
1. Says who?
No one was born believing kids have to finish worksheets and homework assignments before moving on, right? But we often forget that our thoughts are a cumulation of what we’ve either inherited from others or formulated all on our own throughout our lifetime.
So, to remind us of that truth, we start this process with a little attitude. “Says who?” challenges our brain to think, “Where did that thought originate?” Moreover, if we’re going to carry that thought with us (for maybe the rest of our life), it seems like we should know that answer.
Well, what if we think the thought came from an expert or someone in authority? Then, we’d ask: How did that source come to believe it? We’d also want to ponder whether that source is relevant today or to our own situation. For example, many of our current educational policies were created during an industrial revolution and reflected how people lived in the 1800’s.
But what if we discover we’re the sole source of our thought? If so, then we’d ask, “What makes me credible? My past experiences? But even if so, why do I keep bringing my past . . . to the present?”
2. How much money would I invest in believing this thought is a FACT that no one could dispute?
If we wouldn’t invest much or anything, that suggests we know (on some level) the thought is not a factual statement—that it’s just a perception. Yet, we most often parade our perceptions as facts, which then prevents us from moving forward.
For example, if we view the perception that kids must finish their work as a fact, we probably won’t be open to learning how that belief contradicts with how the brain learns naturally. We probably also won’t be willing to explore why this requirement doesn’t always contribute to learning, and in some cases, has quite a negative effect.
3. How does believing that perception is FACT affect my own and others’ lives?
This question is important because it reminds us that we act on what we think. So, here are some possible ways this thought (I believe kids must complete worksheets and homework by a designated time) might impact many people’s lives.
(If I’m the teacher and I believe this is fact)
I have to hold kids accountable for completing their work and then discipline them if they do not do so. If a child does not complete his work on a regular basis, I will have to contact his parents to discuss this—which may or may not go well—and may still not move the situation forward. This belief may interfere with creating a positive connection with such kids because I’m constantly having to address their incomplete work. Since some kids in my classroom will finish the work on time, I may inadvertently create a hierarchy among my students—where kids who finish their work on time achieve a higher status and recognition than those who do not.
(If I’m the parent and I believe this is fact)
I have to hold my child accountable for completing his work and discipline him if he does not. If I become frustrated that the work is still not completed, I may be willing to disconnect with my child by arguing, threatening, and doing similar reactions to try and motivate him to finish. I may even opt to do some or much of his work so that I’m not judged by the teacher as being a bad parent (for not getting him to do all of it) or to prevent my child from having to face consequences for incomplete work.
(If I’m the kid and believe this is fact)
I may believe I’m not smart since other kids seem to finish on time, or I may be convinced that I can’t do homework without my parent’s help. If I miss recess to complete my work (while other kids get to go and play), I may resent my teacher. Or, if I’m given some other disciplinary action, I may get angry. If not completing my work is a regular occurrence, I may even resist starting any work since I’ve experienced the same scenario (i.e. I won’t finish, which means something bad will happen) is likely to occur no matter what. Or, I may learn that it’s better to just rush through work so that it looks finished—regardless whether I gave any thought to what I was doing.
4. What fear or other prior belief prevents me from letting this thought go?
By the time we arrive at this question, we may have already defended, justified, or rationalized why we REALLY DO need to keep the very thought we are examining. If so, we may not realize that we’re probably still viewing the original thought as fact—rather than perception—while also presenting other perceptions as “fact” to make our case.
For example, maybe we think, “It would be chaos if we allowed all kids in the classroom to work at their own pace,” as a fact, rather than to explore how that may be possible. Or, maybe we’re stuck on a thought that takes a detour from the original thought, such as insisting that, of course, everything we do in life has to end, right?
But here, that person is arguing a point that isn’t part of the original thought we’re examining. The focus was on whether every child needs to have completed the assignment at an established point in time and whether it’s in a child’s best interest to make him do so before moving onto something else (if he has not).
In general, resistance to something that may help us is always a great clue into our subconscious mind. Since we operate from our subconscious mind about 95% of our day, it warrants discovering what our subconscious mind believes (since, again, we act on our thoughts). It’s also important to note that if our subconscious mind has conflicting views on any topic, the most fear-based view will always “win” and be the one that dictates how we act in our daily life.
That’s why if one or more resistant thoughts kept popping up when answering the first three questions, we need to pause at this point of the process. It’s going to be more helpful to take the time to zero in on which other thoughts are getting in the way.
For example, maybe we don’t believe we can toss the original thought (about finishing work) because, “I’m not the kind of person who rocks the boat or challenges the status quo.” Or, maybe we think, “There will be a backlash directed at me and my child if I don’t believe this thought is true.”
But, if so, where did any of those thoughts originate? And that’s why at this point in the process, we put the original thought on hold to now go through this same process for whatever thought has become a roadblock.
However, once we flush out our fear-based beliefs, we’ve now created space to adopt new thoughts, while also allowing other thoughts, previously overshadowed by fear, to come to light. For example, maybe we realize that we already knew, “The model of my phone or computer or other electronic device certainly isn’t the one-and-only completed version—just as I know there will be more updated versions in the future. And, how about a new edition of a book? Each subsequent edition also means the prior editions were not actually completed. So, if schools are supposed to prepare kids for the future, why ARE we imprinting a perception that differs from how completed work is often perceived in the workplace?”
5. How would I feel if everyone believed my thought was false?
If we answer something, such as “excited” or “relieved” or some other positive emotion, then (once again) we ask ourselves, “Why AM I holding onto this perception?” After all, the stressful thought is only a perception we adopted and then decided to house in our brain. That’s it.
But since we’re the ones who created this neural circuitry, we’re also the only ones who can disable it. And whenever we do so, we often suddenly realize how much stress WE create from believing even just one thought.
For example, look at all the stress that teachers, parents, and kids experience from believing all work must be completed before moving on. But more importantly, think how much stress would be instantly GONE if that thought was tossed!
What if—even after we’ve completed the 5-step process—we still find ourselves clinging to the original stressful thought? Well, then that’s still great fodder for reflection. In such case, we might now ponder why keeping the stress is more appealing than letting the thought go.
Here’s a possible explanation. As odd as it may sound, our subconscious mind may have come to believe that chaos and stress in our life benefits us. You might think, “What?” But chaos and stress provides a great distraction. Such mayhem then prevents us from having time to address whatever we don’t want to face . . . that our subconscious mind is convinced would be even more painful than the current stress.
But we do want to flush out those thoughts. That’s because when our brain is functioning mostly in survival mode (which is the case when we have on-going chaos and stress), we greatly reduce the probability of bringing our heart into our daily interactions and decisions. Instead, our fears will continue to override what our heart wants to do.
Why We’d Want to Take Inventory of Stressful Thoughts
We can use this 5-step process for any stressful thought–and doing so may be easier than it seems. First, we don’t have to change how anyone else thinks for us to move forward. In truth, we can’t control how anyone else thinks, anyway. But we can absolutely choose what our brain thinks. Bottom line: We don’t need to get everyone on board before we toss a stressful thought.
Second, we truly discover how much power we already have if we choose to believe this: The speed in which our life moves forward can be gauged by the speed in which we’re willing to toss stressful thoughts and allow different thoughts in. Think about the simplicity, but powerful truth of that statement. And think how many changes could happen by merely challenging our thoughts with a simple, “Says who?”—and then being open to whatever direction that answer leads us to explore.