We all lack room, and even though I live in compact San Francisco, I don’t mean physically. Our heads, I mean, are crammed with thoughts, ideas, fears and desires, and most of the time, we don’t even control them. Instead, the things in our heads control us, sending us on a constant cycle of thinking we can’t stop.
Take a moment. Breathe. What were you just thinking of? Chances are it’s something you’ve been thinking about all day, all week, or even all year. Now, imagine all the other things you can be thinking about, right now, instead of the thought you’re stuck on. It’s pretty common for our thought loops to crowd our minds in such a way that they don’t leave room for anything else.
These thought loops may be positive or negative, but regardless, they sap our mental energy and reduce the mental power we have left to allocate elsewhere. Our time is important. The more we let our mind cloud our own thoughts, the more we waste the chance to think of something, anything, that could advance our lives.
Let me give you an example. I’ve been dealing with a business issue that’s really been a drag. Without getting too specific, it’s caused me to worry constantly. It’s the last thing I think of when I go to bed and the first thing I think of when I wake up. In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it.
I’ve begun to identify with the issue, making it part of my internal narrative, a bad sign. This identification has caused me cheapen the value of the day, viewing it as something to get through rather than something to be embraced. My thoughts of success have taken a back seat to the negative thoughts associated with my situation, even as I work on growing a successful business.
And then one day it dawned on me: if I wasn’t thinking about this issue constantly, what would I be thinking of? I was literally stressing every waking moment to the point where I couldn’t remember the last time I had a thought that was untainted by my troubles. That made me pause.
I’m at a point in my life where I should be seizing the day, jumping out of bed every morning ready to achieve my goals. Ideas should be flowing, excitement should be growing and my company should be exploding. Instead, none of those things were happening, and I only had myself to blame.
I was robbing myself of my best mental energy and doing myself a disservice. I had the ability to control my mind, but instead I was letting it control me, to the detriment of my life’s trajectory. I should have been laying the groundwork for success, but instead all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball. This had to stop.
I was willingly depleting my energy. Instead of giving my mind the room to think of new and innovative ideas, potentially the ones that would enhance my life, I was focusing on one negative thought loop. This crowded my mind to the point where I couldn’t think of anything productive or uplifting.
What I quickly came to realize was that as you get more successful (and no, I don’t consider myself a huge success), more things are going to try and bring you down. The higher you sit upon your perch, the more it’s going to hurt when something tries to knock you off.
Think about it this way: If I was already facing business resistance and my company was nothing more than an infant, just imagine the resistance I’d face if it ever got to the size of a Facebook or a Google. If I have problems now, I can only imagine what would happen then.
Thankfully, for this business at least, lifestyle design is my aim, not massive scale. Still, it dawned on me very quickly that there’s always going to be something. There’s always going to be some sort of resistance we’ll face that works to cloud our mind, sap our energy, suck our fun, and devalue our time.
And if this is the case for almost everyone in almost every situation, regardless of goal, why do we let external factors consistently control us?
We need to use our clouded minds as a learning lesson. It’s not a negative character trait to lament over, it’s a sign that life’s giving us. It’s trying to point out that a strong mind is as important as a strong body. We purposefully stress our muscles to strengthen them and grow, right? Well, it’s about time we did the same thing to our mind.
The fact of the matter is that things will inevitably arise in life that will negatively consume our thoughts. The higher we aim, the more likely this will happen, making it important to protect ourselves now.
Space is the most important thing you can give yourself. Proper space gives your emotions room to settle and gives your thoughts a chance to expand. When we get stuck in negative thought loops, we close our mind to the potential of free thought. And if you’re like I think you are, this is the biggest disservice you can do to yourself.
We all want to make an impact on the world. Impacting one or impacting millions, it doesn’t matter, as long as that impact is fulfilling. But, when we choose to loose ourselves in negative thought loops, we reduce the ability we have to make a difference.
Take Ron, for example: Ron is a friend who wakes up tired every morning. His first thought of the day is “I don’t want to go into work,” and he thinks about it all the way through his morning routine, if you can call waking up late and rushing out the door each morning a “routine.” His hair is often disheveled, he has bags under his eyes, and all his coworkers think he’s grumpy.
Ron doesn’t think so. Internally, he feels like he's an optimist, but his life situation has made him act outwardly negative. He continues to lament his job throughout the day, and at 5pm sharp, he heads home, sometimes motivating himself to stop at the gym on the way...sometimes. Upon skipping the gym, Ron will sit on the couch, watch reruns, cook pasta, smoke some weed, try to forget about his job dissatisfaction, and do it all over again the next day.
What people don’t know, and what you can’t tell by looking at Ron, is that he’s an aspiring writer. He believes that he has something to say, and that people will want to listen. However, by looking at both his actions and his thoughts, you’d never know. The fact is that Ron is so drained by his work situation that he doesn’t have the time or the energy to write.
On Sunday night, instead of getting to bed early in order to wake up a little earlier to pursue his passion, he gets the “Sunday blues,” and doesn’t feel motivated to write. These blues hangover to Monday, when, lacking sleep already, Ron wakes up with little time to get ready and no time to think. During the workday, he’s too busy avoiding coworkers and getting caught up in disdain to think about the story of his future novel.
After work, thanks to his negative feedback loop, his energy is already gone, depleted to the point where even the gym is a maybe. There’s nothing left to give to his story, and the pages remain unwritten.
This is how our minds rob us. The more negativity and anxiety we feel, the less room we have for productive thoughts, and therefore, productive actions. Rather than having the energy to attack our passions, carve out meaning, and really make a difference, our nonstop thinking causes us to skate through life.
Instead, we need to work on quieting our minds. We need to give ourselves room to think. Book ideas, business insights and passion project normally come as flashes of insight. It happens when we least expect it: in the shower, at the gym or doing something totally unrelated.
It would be a shame to be stuck in a thought loop so strong that you even think about it in the shower. Not only would you forget if you shampooed, but you’d be forgoing one of many opportunities to think of your next big “thing.” So stop, breathe, give yourself space, and save money on toiletries.