Every thought teaches us about what we value, even the “negative” ones. I put negative in quotes because I am learning that there is no such thing as negative thoughts. Our thoughts are just teachers. Behind every thought there is a beautiful message and it’s up to us to learn how to see that message. It’s a message revealing our deepest passions and values. A message that helps guide us to know what action to take next.
I recently had the flu and took several days off work to recuperate. During those days I spent a lot of time laying in bed resting and napping, watching movies, and reading – which would have been the equivalent of a fantastic vacation if it wasn’t for the fact I was feeling miserable. On the Sunday before going back to work, I spent much of the day watching films (a favorite hobby of mine). By the time evening came around, a familiar voice of guilt started speaking up: “You wasted the day being lazy and watching movies, you should have been more productive. You are wasting your life.”
Now most of the time I would have believed that thought. I would usually accept it as truth and berate myself for having squandered away a day that could have been spent doing something far more “meaningful” or “productive.” This self-reprimanding voice would usually continue on and on and I would listen and even chime in to agree. But the ridiculous nature of such a charade is that I would rarely feel motivated to actually do the opposite of what I was criticizing myself for. In fact, I would often just continue doing the “unproductive” behavior in an attempt to feel less crappy about myself.
But not this time!
Instead of believing the thought and agreeing that I’m “lazy” or “wasting my life,” I heard this thought as a reminder of what I cared about. This helpful voice was simply telling me that it was just time to do something different, something that would result in different outcomes. Instead of viewing the previous behavior as “wrong,” I saw the voice encouraging me to balance out the day with a different activity. Though the thought was framed negatively (“you are bad for doing this”) I was able to hear the beauty behind it (“you care about having a balanced life”). I listened with interest as this thought taught me what next action could better my life.
Ever since last Sunday I have continued to see my feelings and thoughts differently. They are simply signs or reminders that help keep me on track. They are my teachers. Instead of believing those old voices of self-judgment, I am learning to bow to them and thank them for reminding me what I value and what actions I can next take to make my life or others’ more wonderful.
Why did this shift happen? I don’t exactly know. But I’m betting it has something to do with my study and practice of Nonviolent Communication, empathy, inner belief work, and many of the other topics that have been discussed on this blog. I know I still have a lot of room for growth in this area but I feel very encouraged by this instance and I hope it’s encouraging for all of you who may also struggle with believing those “negative” thoughts.