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Looking at Thoughts and Feelings with Curiosity

John is a successful young businessman, he works hard and gets promoted in his company. One day John is asked to give a speech about his work at his companies annual town hall meeting. Thousands will see him talk about the work he’s been doing and how it affects the company. John knows this is a pivotal career moment, and starts to imagine how it will go. It’s not long before he starts to imagine things going poorly... what if everyone hates this? What if he's exposed as a fraud? What if no one else thinks his ideas are good? Before he knows it his pride and excitement have changed to fear and anxiety. What happened here? He has noticed the story his brain is playing and treated it as if it were real and scary!

Humans are unique animals: we have he ability to think, plan, understand, and feel more than any other animal. Because of this we can construct stories and have feeling about things before they even happen. This can be very helpful - humans can envision and build the great pyramids - but this can also get in the way. In John's case he has already given the speech and it has already gone badly. As a result he’s feeling nervous even though the speech is weeks away!

Often times people will try to argue themselves out of negative thought spirals: think positive thoughts, envision success, or tell themselves not to worry. This approach may work for some, but certainly not all people. At its core these approaches send a message - “This thought is scary and you have to do something about it”.  I will often help clients look at their thoughts and feelings with curiosity instead of fearing, avoiding, and believing everything their brains throw at them. For John, we may work on noticing that his brain is playing him a movie that he can choose to watch or not. He can even appreciate all the little details of embarrassment that it’s playing, after all its trying hard to help! Once we’re enjoying instead of fearing the movie John can work on letting that movie play and still practice and give an amazing speech.

What can you look at with curiosity today and how would that impact how you approached it?

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