You can’t think your way out

For years I’ve taught people that their discomfort in life is caused by their painful thoughts and that they only need to change their thinking in order to feel better. While It’s true that changing your thinking opens up your life, I discovered that I was woefully misusing this tool. I know some of you are doing the same thing because you’ve been asking me about it—a lot. So I figured it was time to share what I’ve learned.

I was using my ability to shift my thinking to remain in my fear and the status quo rather than in service of my essential self. Instead of going within my body and asking my essential self what she really wanted, I was trying to thought-work away my deep essential-self desires. One place this showed up for me was in my relationships.

To air my laundry, let’s just say I have some abandonment issues. (It’s not dirty laundry, that would imply shame and I’m not ashamed that I have stuff—nor should you be—but that’s another post.) Because of this, I have a really hard time with conflict when it comes to those I love. I’m afraid if I say what I really want, or if I say that something isn’t going well or is not ok with me, that they will leave me. So whenever I felt any discomfort around my relationships—which by the way is my essential self telling me it wants something—instead of feeling inside and asking that deep part of me what she needs, I would say to myself “I just need to do my work on this!” and proceed to try to thought-work it away.

The problem is, when I don’t acknowledge my unmet wants and needs, I cycle through working the same thoughts over and over again. Nothing gets resolved. There’s no forward movement, just spin. This is what happens when thought work (or any kind of work) is used without the truth-fuel of what we deeply want. I cannot simply work every thought I have about a given circumstance and be left with the truth. My essential self already knows the truth.

We must start with what we want, what we feel, what our essential self knows to be the truth. We get this message by tuning out of the mind and into the body. Our essential self speaks to us through those “gut” feelings in our body. The feeling–the wanting–points the way, and then we put thought work in service of that want. Thought work is the servant, not the master. It’s a tool to help us move toward what we deeply want. You must allow the wanting to live and breathe within you if you truly want to be happy.

In the case of my relationships, this meant that instead of using the thought work to avoid a circumstance where I feared those I loved would leave me, I needed to identify what I wanted. This could be to talk openly about something that hurt or to state my desire for that relationship. Then I used the thought work (and many other tools!) to reassure myself that I would be ok no matter what happened, to remind myself that having these conversations were better than not having them, and to know that even if the other person could not or would not give me what I wanted, I would still be ok. Even if the worst that my mind could imagine happened—that they left me—by acknowledging and acting on my wants, I was never leaving me.

I will tell you that allowing myself to want what I want and using the thought work and other tools in service of that is the much easier way to live. It’s messy and it seems risky, but ultimately it’s way easier than spinning my mental wheels. And my relationships are better and deeper than they’ve ever been. They are also easier because I am now in true relationship with myself, which allows me to be in true relationship with others.

So my friend, feel inside yourself, find your essential desire, and then use every tool in your arsenal in service of that desire.

10 comments on “You can’t think your way out
  1. Man, is this a relief for me to read, my friend! There are many times in my own relationship when I have thought-worked myself out of asking for exactly what my essential self is desiring. This begs the question for me, are all feelings created by our thoughts? or does our essential self/ soul have the ability to create feelings (and desires) as well? If yes, I would say that those feelings could be felt, as you say, in the body. Certainly I think that a huge percentage of our pain and negative feelings are being created in the mind and can be resolved through a good dose of thought work however, I agree whole heartedly with you that thought work is best used to manage our expectations around not getting what we desire but NOT to stop us from connecting to those feelings and making the requests, speaking from our hearts and allowing our essential selves to have a voice.

  2. Yes Lori! So well said. I do think our soul has the ability to create feelings and desires as well. And I also totally agree with what you say about thought work. Perhaps the key is if you’re using the thought work and not finding some kind of relief/movement, check and see what your soul has to say. Or vice versa. 😉

  3. Exactly what I needed to read this day/year! Seriously, together with Martha’s newsletter today (which echos your idea that it’s not always going to be tidy and that’s ok) it’s the perfect 1-2. I think I’m getting it. Thanks Bridgette.

  4. Bridgette – thanks so much. I have noticed that I use thought work to avoid confrontation too but I wasn’t always sure how to stop it. Making sure I’m clear on what I really want first is a very, very helpful suggestion! Thank you!

  5. Well said and so freeing, Bridgette. Recently a dear friend told me that I had become too quick to forgive. She said it was as if I put the circumstance through a little formula and pretended I was all better. In this case, someone I love had been raped. My friend said, “don’t you want to kill the guy.” I stopped long enough to realize my insides wanted to do exactly that so I took out my journal and began to let it all up. Yes, some of it was clean pain, but mostly, I needed to listen, feel what I really wanted to avoid feeling, and let my emotions out to breathe and be seen by me. Then I could move forward authentically. Thank you for your honesty and wisdom.

  6. Oooh….good one B! I love how you have articulated this distinction.

    And, I do think, like Lori suggested, that our soul’s create feeling states.

    Pondering this today!


  7. Hey Bridgette – I am in the June cohort over at Martha’s LCT (hi Teach!) and I love checking out what all you “super duper coaches” are up to. It’s awesome to see how each of you has found her own voice, her own groove, and her own people – it helps me feel around what those will be for me.

    When I read this, it was like the answer to an itch I didn’t know I needed to scratch, if that makes any sense at all. 🙂 This whole issue has bothered me from the beginning – the idea that ALL “negative” emotions are de facto coming from false thoughts. I know this can’t possibly be true but it keeps sounding like that to me – like if you just do the thought-work “right” (yay judgment!) and consistently you’ll just be continuously “beaming gumdrops out your every orifice”, to quote the fabulous Anna Kunnecke, no matter what happens to you.

    Now, I know that there is a TON of unnecessary thought-created “yuck” that we can let go of and be a LOT more peaceful under dire circumstances. I’m seeing huge differences already in my own life and peace-levels by using these tools. However, I kept feeling “itchy” around that idea that there is no…validity? authenticity? truth?…to anything that feels uncomfortable, and that the answer is just to dissolve it. Your words here hit the gold on what actually happens, and this feels so true to me that I actually cried while reading it. I had a huge sense of relief and that giant rush of “YESYESYES!!” – I’m sure you know that feeling. 🙂 Your willingness to share not only the realization, but your personal experience with it, made it resonate like the Liberty Bell.

    Thank you for this, a thousand times thank you.


  8. Some time in our lives we thought there’s no way out. But hey, there will always be a solution to every problem. Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts Bridgette!

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