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Today I wanted to share with you something that I have been noticing come up in a lot of my client work recently - and has to do with intrusive thoughts.
I have this analogy that kind of came up… intrusive thoughts remind me of weeds. Now follow along with me here because weeds are simply plants where you don't want them. Similarly, intrusive thoughts are thoughts when you don't want them.
And so, the question is… how do we mindfully navigate intrusive thoughts?
Because one of the things that's so painful about intrusive thoughts - besides the fact that they show up when you don't want them - is that intrusive thoughts often further perpetuate limiting beliefs, shame tapes, second-guessing, anxiety, worries, concerns, or fears. Right? So often these intrusive and incessant thoughts are not serving us. They're not supporting us. And they're certainly not encouraging us on our path.
So, one of the things that I have been working with my clients a lot recently is that idea of how to set a container or a boundary with our self around our thoughts.
In mindfulness, we often teach that we can choose and select our thoughts the way we get to choose and select our clothing. It's a practice and one of the very simple. Simple, but not easy.
One simple practice that we can do to navigate intrusive thoughts is to set a time to think about, worry about, be concerned, over analyze or work toward figuring out whatever the intrusive thought is bringing up.
Let's say that we have a job interview coming up and it's still a month out, but we're super nervous about it and intrusive thoughts are just coming in…
we're not going to make it
we're not good enough
these other individuals have more qualifications
they have more experience
they have more knowledge
they have more skills
… and whatever the self-doubt intrusive thoughts are...
I have to remember to say this
I have to make sure not to say that
I wonder if they're going to know my previous boss and that relationship didn't really go very well
Whatever the intrusive thoughts are… I invite you to set a particular time during the day to think about it, to worry about it, to feel about it, and then let that be it.
My recommendation is not to do it first thing in the morning. Although first thing in the morning may work for you, for me personally, first thing in the morning, I like to have much more of a sacred container starting my day with a lot of intention… with a lot of things that I feel supportive and are in alignment with how I want to show up in the world. And often, intrusive thoughts are simply not that.
I invite you to find a particular time during the day, maybe you set a timer for 15 minutes or 30 minutes. Let's say five o'clock, right? Get out of work or maybe it's on your drive home from work. So let's say you commit yourself to think about your job interview from 5 to 5:30.
Throughout the day, when thoughts about this job interview come up you can acknowledge it… "oh I'm thinking about the job interview again" and tell yourself… “I am happy to think about that at five o'clock.” If that thought is that important it will find you again at five o'clock.
Let's say an idea of what you want to make sure that you talk about during your job interview comes up. If that's the case, open a notes app on your phone or grab your journal and write it down. Then close the notes app and tell yourself, “I will circle back to that at five o'clock.”
And then once five o'clock rolls around, set a timer for whatever amount of time that you decided 10, 15, or 30 minutes and allow yourself to think about it. Give yourself permission to think, to worry, to be afraid, to feel… whatever it is about those intrusive thoughts… give them a container where there is permission for you to think and feel about it.
The idea is that outside of that particular container of time, you remind yourself that you're choosing not to think about it. You hold yourself accountable to honor your own personal boundary.
It's not that those thoughts are important. It's that we're working towards creating boundaries around our thoughts. Specifically around those intrusive thoughts so that they don't just end up like weeds popping up where you don't want them, when you don't want them.
And it's that practice when there’s an intrusive thought about that job interview… you say to yourself… “Yep, I will circle back at five o'clock.” The idea is that you notice the thought, you label it as a thought, and you let it go knowing that you'll come back to it at a particular container of time so that you get to have more control and agency over your thoughts.
I know this is working wonders for me, and for many of the clients that I have offered this practice to.
I wonder if you practice it…
Have you found this helpful?
Does it work for you?
Are there particular times of day that you find are most beneficial to have as a particular amount of time to think about whatever those intrusive thoughts are? It could be again about a job interview; it could be about an argument you had with a partner, it could be about X, Y or Z.
The idea is that you are giving space and time for whatever that thought is… only for a brief period of time that you decide so that they don't become intrusive anymore. You're giving them the permission to show up when you need them to show up or when you've given them permission to show up and then outside of that, they're not welcome.
I hope this practice of creating a container of time around intrusive thoughts, serves you and supports you in navigating those intrusive thoughts, those judgments, those critiques. May it serve you along your path.
Feel free to reach out with any questions and let me know how it works for you.
I'll see you all next time.