An innocent trap we can fall into when we have a problem like an overeating habit or anxiety is layering lots of thinking onto that situation. Counterintuitively, the solution to problems like this is less thinking, not more.
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- When we experience tension what is it really about?
- What happens when we set a problem down?
- How do we pay less attention to our thinking
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Transcript of episode
Hello, explorers, and welcome to Q&A episode 34 of Unbroken. I’m Alexandra Amor. I’m here today with the question: How does stepping away from our thinking, solve problems?
Before we jump into that, I want to just give you a little bit of teaser update on a project that I’ve been working on. For the last few months, I’ve been working on writing a new book. And if you’re listening to this, as it goes out, which is going to be on October 9 2023, it’ll be going to my editor this week, and then it’ll come back to me and there’s a bunch of other stuff that has to be done.
What I’m going to do is send a notice out to my newsletter list of subscribers. As things are progressing with the book, I’m going to reveal the title and the cover. And then most importantly, I’m going to be looking to send out a few advanced reader copies, or ARCs, as they’re called in the book biz.
If you would like to receive a copy of the book for free, you can sign up to have that or to, to receive that newsletter about what’s happening and what I’m doing and when I’m going to send things out at my website, so if you go to AlexandraAmor.com/insight. That’s the page where you can sign up for the free video series that I give away. It’s called How To Hack Your Thinking and Let Go of Unwanted Habits. So if you sign up there for that video course, you’ll get the course. And then you’ll be signed up to receive my newsletter.
That’s where I communicate with people about things like this, about special offers and new projects that are coming down the pipe. And you’ll be notified about the new book. As I say, I’ll be looking for advanced readers. So you’ll get notification about that as well.
So that’s a little bit of a teaser. I’ll release more information here on the podcast as the book is getting closer to publication.
Back to our question: how does stepping away from our thinking solve problems?
This is something that I’ve talked about in a number of different ways here on the show, and in my work. And I had an example of this that’s been coming up for me recently, personally. So I thought I would talk about that as a way to is to shed some more light onto this idea that adding more thinking to a problem or a situation that we’re in isn’t where the answer lives. The answer lives in actually leaving the problem alone. And definitely letting our see our thinking settle down. That’s when we’re more open to insight and wisdom and those sorts of things that can help us.
It can be quite counterintuitive to do this. I know it took me quite a while to get my head around what that looked like. So the example that I’m going to use today is unrelated to food. And I thought that might be a little bit helpful because for you it won’t be as charged a topic. So here we go.
I have a little bit of tennis elbow in both elbows actually, just from constantly being on the computer and that kind of thing. And I’m also in my mid 50s now, not getting any younger, and had been wanting to do some more exercises and stretching and building up a little bit of strength in my upper body. And my upper body has never been a place where I’ve had a lot of strength. I do a lot of walking. So my legs are pretty strong, but my arms and upper body just have no I’ve never focused on that.
As we age, we start to notice these creaks and groans and that kind of thing, and definitely the tennis elbow was bothering me. So I was working with a physio for a while a few months ago and she had me doing some stretching and some exercises, some weight bearing exercises and that kind of thing. And it was really helping and I was really enjoying it actually. I did the little sequence that she put me through probably three times a week and I was noticing differences, like that the tennis elbow was bothering me a little bit less and noticed a few other things and definitely felt like I was making a difference and things were improved.
And then I noticed my motivation for doing the weight exercises in the stretches just bottomed out. It fell away completely. I could not see and cannot seem to motivate myself to go back and do that, even though I was enjoying it. And even though I was seeing improvements from it, and even though I had a good feeling when I was doing the exercises and the weight stuff, I still can’t seem to motivate myself about that situation. So, as I’ve been exploring this in my own head by myself, or in my journal, what occurred to me is that the tension between behavior that we want to do, and then the opposite behavior that’s actually coming up becomes the thing that we’re doing.
The obvious example is when we don’t want to be overeating.
And yet we find ourselves overeating, snacking, and go into the fridge at night, or whatever it is. And, in this case, it’s the absence of a behavior. I’m wanting to do my little series of exercises and stretches, and I’m not doing them. But the common denominator is this tension, right? We notice the tension within ourselves, the uncomfortable feeling of either I’m doing something or I’m not doing something that I that I don’t want to be doing, or I do want to be doing sorry to be confusing, but hopefully, you get the idea.
So there’s this thing, there’s a behavior that I would like to be doing differently, let’s put it that way. And, and yet, I don’t do it. And I can’t seem to force myself to, and it’s not something that’s coming together for me. And this is what I battled with, of course, for years, as maybe you have as well, when it came to overeating.
I was never able to think my way out of that problem.
So what happens when we have a situation like that, that tension that comes up that we’re, there’s a behavior about ourselves that we don’t like, our kind of knee jerk reaction, and the way culturally, that we tend to approach those sorts of things, is to apply a lot more thinking to the situation. So in the example of the exercise thing, I could, and it has occurred to me, I could make a little spreadsheet for myself that I fill out on the days that I do the exercise and track it that way I could find an accountability buddy. I could sign up for an app that somehow tracked my progress; I could I could write it down every time I do the certain exercises, and then a lot of the apps sort of gamify that kind of situation. So that it’s, you know, it’s fun, or whatever to track the thing.
That’s certainly a possibility. Yes, I could do that. But what I’m more interested in, is noticing that tension within me and practicing, seeing how effective it is to actually do less thinking about the problem.
In our very left brained way, it can be really scary to think of something like that, and all sorts of thinking can come up within us about, well, I really should be doing this for my health. And this elbow thing is bothering me. So if I would do the exercises, that would be less of a problem. So that a chatter can really come in and start to berate us in a way or even just try to find solutions. Think of ways that we could modify our behavior so that that tension within us disappears. But given that our uncomfortable feelings are always telling us what’s going on with our thinking. That’s where I want to look.
So it looks like from the outside, we could say, that this situation that I’m in is about exercise and about stretching and about the behavior that I’m not engaging in.
But really what it’s about is the busy thinking in my head.
Speaking very personally, I haven’t had an insight or anything about this yet. But I suspect that the thinking that I have, or I should say, I suspect that I have a lot of thinking about being perfect and being doing everything the right way. Because that’s been coming up a lot for me. I’ve been noticing it in other areas of my life. And noticing how tightly I’m often holding on to the idea of doing something perfectly, and how bothered I get when things in life aren’t exactly perfect. And that could be things about me, but it could be things about the outer world as well.
If there’s a fence panel that’s knocked down at this condo building that I live in, and the strata aren’t dealing with it, that kind of thing. It’s more than just an irritation, or a noticing, I really can observe in myself fear. Fear about things that aren’t perfectly perfect all the time. So, I suspect that that the tension that I’m feeling around not doing these weightlifting exercises and stretches that are good for me, not participating in that behavior, that would be good for my health, good for my body. And the concern that I have about that.
Where those two things meet, that’s where the tension exists.
I’m interested in what happens when I, instead of diving into that problem and finding solutions for it, like I talked about earlier, the little apps and tricks that I could do, what happens when I set that problem down?
Anytime that I notice some thinking going on about the situation, what if I consciously try to relax about that?
The thinking may continue to be stirred up. But what if I try to remember as often as possible that that uncomfortable feeling in my body about those two things that are in opposition, working in opposition, creating that tension within me. Adding more thinking to that situation is not going to solve that problem.
This comes back to the old snow globe metaphor, right? So the situation that’s happening, the tension that I’m noticing, is letting me know that there’s a snowstorm of thought going on within me. And my two options are to stir up that thinking even more. So to find a solution using my brain, like a spreadsheet or an app on my phone. And in the short term that would probably look like it actually provided a solution. But long term, it doesn’t.
Instead, what I want to do is just set that snow globe down, just let it be.
If my thinking gets worked up at some point about like I said, the things that gets concerned about you know, my health, oh my goodness, my arms are stiff, my elbows are sore, whatever it is just noticing that is what I plan to do and have been trying the last few days and not getting tangled up in in in that way of thinking because again, that thinking is a gift. It’s a mindfulness bell. It’s letting me know that there’s some really stirred up thinking going on within me.
I want to notice that and appreciate the perfection in my design.
I want tolean into the gifts and the insights and the wisdom that that that message that tension might have for me. And the only way to do that is to not get really super caught up in more and more thinking about what’s going on. So in the past, this has worked for me. And it’s why I continue to talk about this understanding and share about it here every week. So the two examples that I have, of course:
One is my overeating habit, which has gone away because of doing this exact thing.
And the second is, then, once my overeating habit dropped away, I noticed I still had a habit of drinking wine every night, which I’ve probably mentioned on this show, I can’t remember. So in the online course that I offer called Freedom From Overeating, I walk through the process of exploring what would happen if I instead of getting caught up in my thinking about that wine habit, what if I left it alone? What if I just didn’t add any more thinking to that mix, didn’t shake up that snow globe and get really concerned about what was going on.
That’s what I did. And that habit dropped away as well.
So that’s a long way around of saying this stuff works. And now I feel like there’s this new learning edge for me to put my money where my mouth is once again. And observe what’s going on with me and my thinking around this issue of stretching and exercise and see what happens, just see what unfolds. So far things have worked out really well. It’s changed my life.
Stepping away from my thinking is the thing that I do now most often to solve any problem that I have.
Occasionally I do get wrapped up in my thinking of course, and go running off after it. But as often as I can I try to remember not to do that. So this is the next Alexandra project that will be going on. And I’m just really curious and interested to see what happens as we move down the road.
What I’m going to do is put actually put a sticky note on my desk here to remind myself to update you here on the podcast, when I notice changes, or what I noticed as I moved forward with this. So you can tune in at some future date that we don’t know what it is yet and I’ll keep you updated about all of that.
I hope that you found that helpful. I hope that this idea of stepping away from our thinking, and how powerful and supportive it is when we do that is clear to you. It is counterintuitive. Our brains want to create solutions, and they want to jump in and offer answers and have quick fixes and all that stuff. And that’s great, that’s what they’re designed to do. And there’s also another way.
If you have a question about overeating, or anything else that you’d like to explore, please let me know you can fill in the form at AlexandraAmor.com/question.
And again, if you’d like to be on the notification list about the new book that’ll be coming out probably sometime in November, I would imagine November 2023, maybe late October 2023. Then go to AlexandraAmor.com/insight, sign up for the video course there and then you’ll be notified about all the books stuff that is coming up.
That’s it for me today. Take care and I’ll talk to you next week. Bye.