Episode 10 – An introduction to Thought Work.

Hello and welcome to episode 10 of the Cambridge progressive medicine podcast series.

How are you getting on with the psychotherapy? I hope that you are finding embarking on the journey as fascinating and exciting as I have.

Psychotherapy is an immensely valuable stepping stone on the journey towards taking control of our own health and happiness. It is, though, just one step. The first step was mediation, learning to simply turn off painful thoughts, the second psychotherapy, learning where these painful thoughts came from, and why we are not to blame for them. The final step is learning to manage your mind – actively changing painful thoughts to positive ones.

It is important to note that these three steps will overlap. I still meditate, I am still discovering new things about myself, my thought patterns and interactions, and I work at managing my mind continuously. You do not have to fully master one before you move on to the next. All three are tools for living well, and all three can be worked at and improved upon throughout our lives.  When we learn Yoga we may learn Warrior One, before Downward dog, before Firefly pose, but that doesn’t mean that once we have attempted Firefly we never do Warrior One again, or continue to perfect, improve upon and benefit from it.

Psychotherapy is helpful because it teaches us why we think what we think, and that out thought’s and opinions are subjective. This allows us to be forgiving and kind to ourselves and enables us to start the essential process of parenting ourselves.

However, learning the origin of our thoughts does not in itself make us feel better. Understanding the root cause of my insecurities does not help me if I continue to feel insecure. If I continue to think bad thoughts about myself, I will continue to feel bad, irrespective of the fact that I now know why I have developed the habit of thinking the thoughts. If we want to feel better, we must think better thoughts.

Sadly, even that is not enough. I did warn you it wasn’t going to be easy. This stuff is simple, but it’s hard. Not only do we have to think better thoughts, we must also believe those thoughts. I can think the thought “My Podcast is the best ever” but if I don’ believe it, it’s not going to change how I feel. Learning how to think and believe helpful thoughts about yourself, on purpose, is the basis of managing your mind and the way to achieve this is through the practice of thought work.

Today’s episode is quite analytical, we all learn in different ways, and for me, this theoretical approach really helps me to grasp the concepts needed for thought work.

When I first wrote it I honestly thought I was a genius. It was my proudest moment, my greatest work! I thought it was going to change the world.

I showed it to my sister and my partner, and they both said they had no idea what I was on about!

I have rewritten it since then, and I hope that I have made it a little more intelligible, and that you find it helpful.

It is a slightly tricky concept to describe, and you may want to listen to the episode more than once.

Some people prefer to learn by reading rather than listening, and so I have also decided to make text versions of these podcast available, and you can find these on my website at www.cambridgeprogressivemedicine.com

If you are a more practical, hands on learner, don’t worry, there will be plenty of practical examples and advice coming up. If this isn’t your kind of thing you could skip this episode altogether if you wanted. Although you might miss out on a little bit of genius! But I don’t think it is essential to find the work useful. You could always come back to it later if you wanted.

OK, here goes.

There are lots of different theories of mind, of the human self, the concept of me or I. These focus on the different states of consciousness, or different parts of the self. The most famous is probably Freuds concept of ego, super ego and the id. These are fascinating, but they are also complex and confusing, and because of this I’m not sure how helpful they are as day to day tools to help us to feel better and be healthier.

It is, however, helpful to have some understanding or at least awareness of our own concept of self, if we want to embark on some self-improvement. How can we improve something that we don’t understand?

The good news is it doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need to read Freud, or get a masters degree in psychology. You just need to take the time to think about it for yourself, and maybe listen to a few podcasts.

I want to present a very basic concept of self to be used as a tool for thought work. I want you to try to identify and focus on two separate parts to yourself. Two levels of consciousness, both of which are equally a part of who you are, what you are referring to when you say me or I.

You are aware of and experience both, and both are internal to you, and exist in your mind.

You could think of them as thoughts and feelings, or the thinking part and the doing part. Or the observer and the actor. Or the rational and the irrational.

The thinking, rational, observing part are your thoughts, they are the sentences that you have in your brain. The running commentary in your mind as you go through life.

The doing, irrational, acting, part is everything else that exists in your mind, everything that isn’t a sentence in your brain.

It is all of the inputs you get from your 5 senses, the experiences of color, sound and taste. It is the feelings and emotions you experience, the feelings of joy, sadness or loneliness. It is the physical sensations you feel in your body such as, an itch, momentum, pleasure or pain.

The irrational, acting, doing part is all the stuff you do without really thinking about it. What we sometimes call “being in the moment”.  It is the experience of being alive in the world.

Have you ever driven to work in the morning and can’t really remember the journey – well that was your “doing” self driving. Contrast this with when you first learnt to drive, when you had to really concentrate. “Mirror, signal, maneuver”. That was the thinking part of the brain driving. (It is a sentence in your brain).

When you are at a party having a great time your irrational, doing, self is at work. When you get home and start worrying that you were too loud, and drunk, or too shy and boring, or you forgot to say goodbye to the Bobsey twins, that is your thinking, rational, observing self.

When you are talking to someone and busy thinking about what you are going to say next, your focus is on the thinking part, when you are caught up in a fluid conversation you’re focused on the doing part.

This is not some ground breaking theory, but it can be hard to describe. I think the problem is all the words we use to describe these two parts of the self are already taken. Doing, and thinking, acting and observing, irrational and rational already mean different things to different people, and so confuse the issue.

Because of this I think the best way to understand it is to feel it. I came up with this description in the shower this morning. I wanted to write this podcast today, and so I just thought about myself, my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences, what went on in my head, and how I could best describe them to you.

I recommend you do the same. Take a moment to think about it yourself. Your concept of self is personal to you, and only you can know what it feels like to be you. So in the shower try to focus on the different experiences you have.

Try to focus on the difference between the sentences in your mind, and your experience of living in the world. The difference between your thoughts, and your feelings.  Until you actually feel it, to focus on these different parts of the self, it’s hard to conceptualize.

Why don’t you press pause, go jump in the shower and give it a go? Ok you don’t have to be in the shower. That’s not compulsory.

OK. So I’m going to assume that your body and mind are both a little bit cleaner, and you are with me so far on the 2 levels of consciousness idea. It would be good if you are because it is helpful for the work we are going to do going forward. But don’t worry if not. It’s not essential.

Maybe you are a psychology graduate, or big into self-help, and you can see a thousand holes and problems with this gross oversimplification of the self. I want you to try to let go of these for now. I don’t want to worry about if this model is an accurate depiction of the human self, whether it is right or true, that doesn’t really matter. It’s not an academic theorem. It is just a helpful tool for understanding ourselves and doing some work. So try to hold on to it for now, in its most simple form. 

So, each of us has a thinking and a doing part to our minds. The thinking part are sentences in our brain, the doing part is everything else; experiences in our body and mind. Physical sensations, visual experiences, sounds, touch, emotions. How we feel.

I want to expand a little on this concept, with a few observations.

Firstly, both parts exists simultaneously, but we are sometimes more aware of, or more focused on, one than the other. When we are playing sport the moment we hit the ball it’s the doing part we are focused on, but when we try to remember the score the thinking part is at the forefront of our minds. When we mediate our aim is to turn down the thinking and focus on the feeling part.

The doing part can only exist in the present. We can only have experiences when they are actually happening to us, at the time we are experiencing them. If we are ever thinking about the past or the future that is our thinking self at work. It is therefore responsible for all future planning and all analyzing of past events.

The thinking part isn’t just the commentator; it is also the critic and the judge. All value judgments, good or bad, right and wrong come from the thinking part of the brain.

When we experience a sensation, such as a colour, or a taste, or a sound, it is the thinking part that puts value onto it. That makes it a good or bad colour. The sensation itself has no value. It is just a sensation.

That is why people can have different tastes in music or art. What is beautiful to one person may be ugly to somebody else.

So now I am going to share with you best thing that I have ever learnt.

I say share because I can’t teach it to you, and you are probably not going to believe it the first time you hear it.

But maybe by working together I can help you to learn it for yourself.

It is the crux, the bottom line, the fulcrum, the key to all health happiness and wellbeing.

Are you ready?

This is it.

“You are in control of the thinking part of your brain. And the thinking part of the brain controls the doing and feeling part of the brain.” Not the other way around.

You are therefore in control of what you think, how you feel, how you act and what you do. You get to choose.

I’m going to repeat that.

“You are in control of the thinking part of your brain. And the thinking part of the brain controls the doing and feeling part of the brain.”

Most of us believe that what we think, the sentences we have in our minds, are caused by how we feel, what we see, what we hear and the emotions we have. By the world around us.

For example, lets say I go to see my GP, with painful knees, and he tells me I am overweight, that makes me sad and angry, which causes me to think bad thoughts about myself, and so I cheat on my diet. To my mind the GP has caused me to be sad and less healthy.

This is wrong, for 2 reasons.

Number 1:

External events do not cause our thoughts.

External events, what we see, what we hear, the people we interact with, the things we do, do not cause our thoughts.

We cause our own thoughts. Only us. No one else. They come from within us and from us alone.

Number 2:

External events do not cause our feelings.

External events, what we see, what we hear, the people we interact with, the things we do, do not cause our feelings.

Our thoughts cause our feelings. And we cause our thoughts.

And because you can choose what to think, you can indirectly choose your own feelings, by deliberately selecting thoughts that are helpful to you.

If I feel sad when something happens to me; when the GP is rude, or the weather is bad, or my boss shouts at me, it is not the event itself that causes me to feel sad, but my thoughts about it. It is what I make it mean about me, or them, or the world – it is my stories about it – that make me sad. These stories are generated by the thinking part of our brains. We can all learn to master the thinking part of our brain. We can choose on purpose to think different thoughts about any situation or circumstance, to choose thoughts that make us feel good instead of bad. This is the basis of thought work, it is the basis of learning how to manage your mind.

Now remember from episode 1 we said that when we feel unwell we are experiencing a combination of mental and physical thoughts, feelings, sensations and emotions that are unpleasant for us to experience.

If we can choose our own thoughts, and these causes how we feel, being healthy is within our grasp.

All we need to do is learn how to believe positive thoughts that produce positive feeling and emotions. Thoughts that are conducive to good health

And this is how you can learn to choose to be healthy…..

Now, I think I’m going to leave it there for today’s episode. But I just want to say this before I leave you to think about what we have discussed today.

I don’t expect that I have convinced you yet. I doubt you truly believe that external events don’t cause your thoughts or feelings, or that you have the ability to choose to be healthy. It probably goes against your whole system of belief about the world, your place in it and who you are. And as we already discussed the brain, the unconscious, irrational part of the brain, hates the feeling it gets from that uncertainty and insecurity. It will fight it, and throw up a multitude of objections to it. To defend its position.

There is absolutely no way that if I had listened to my own words 5 years ago that I would have been convinced even in the slightest. Honestly, I wouldn’t even have taken the time to listen.

But I want you to stay with me, because I know from my own personal experience, that with work and focus it is possible to learn to believe that you do have control, and to fundamentally change the way you think and feel about yourself and the world. And I’ll tell you this for free – It feels fantastic. It has changed my life, and I want to share it with you so you can feel fantastic too.

I chose those words carefully. I’m not even saying it is true, that my way is right and others are wrong. I’m only saying that it is possible to learn to sincerely believe it.

The beauty of thought work is that it doesn’t even matter if it is true or not. Because convincing yourself is all it takes to take control of your own mind, of your own thoughts, your own feelings, and your own health and happiness.

If you can do that who cares if it is true or not? What does it matter if other people don’t believe it?

If something works for you, if it has a positive impact on you, then it is true for you.

It has worked for me.

I sincerely hope it can work for you too.