Think of your thoughts like butterflies,

(actually, they are more like hummingbirds or dragonflies, stealth and on a mission. But for the purpose of this exercise, because I don't want you to wander off in pursuit of the challenge to catch a hummingbird, we will stick to butterflies.)

Now, imagine you are an entomologist. Your job is to study insects. You don't judge insects good or bad. (Ok, unless you have arachnophobia, but then it is doubtful you would be an entomologist anyway, right? So just play along.)

Before you can learn about insects first hand, however, you must observe them, examine their patterns, their very make up. This might involve catching them for further study, oui?

So, let's play a game.

  • Sitting quietly for a few minutes, think of an event that you find particularly stressful. Ok, just relax for a moment.

  • Ready? Got it?  

  • What is it that creates anxiety for you?

  • Speaking to groups; a new activity; being thrown into a new environment; lack of money; networking; dating?

Those seem like safely anxiety producing events. But wait, some people love public speaking, some enjoy dating (I don't personally understand either of these joys, but then, that is just me). No one enjoys a lack of money, but some see it as a challenge and they rise to it, rather than becoming anxious about it. So, much like arachnophobia, or any other phobia, our fear, our anxiety, what forces the surge of adrenaline through our veins is carried on inside that fabulous and often mysterious gray matter, called our brains.

Did you know stats suggest we have approximately 40,000 thoughts per day? And that 90% of the things we worry about never come to pass? Hence the famous quote about the brave man dying once and the coward dying a thousand deaths.

As difficult as it might be to imagine, it isn't the actual event/circumstance that creates the anxiety. It is what you make of the event. In other words, it is what you THINK ABOUT the event, your thoughts.

Ok, back to the event that creates stress for you. Bring out your butterfly net and scoop those thoughts up. Just look at them. Remember, for the purpose of this game, your thoughts are butterflies. Your only interest is in discovering them, not trying to control or judge them.

You want to know how that butterfly came to be, all the details of its life, how it reproduces and where it is going. You seek to know everything there is to know about this magnificent creature.

You want to do the very same thing for your own magnificent thoughts. You are going to show the same degree of compassion and curiosity to your thoughts, as you would to a beautiful monarch butterfly.

Because it is you know, magnificent, your brain. The synapses that fire to produce a thought are like a neuron ballet. Much more intricate than the wings of a monarch, they are traceable, colorful and unique.

  • Now, take out a pen and paper, and sit for five minutes, jotting down everything you are thinking when you remember the event above.

  • After you finish that, write down every emotion those thoughts create.

  • Do your palms sweat? Do you feel flushed?

Let me give you a small example.

Maybe you are rushing around one morning and say you drop a carton of milk. It goes all over the floor. Your synapses begin to fire immediately, your reaction is visceral. What is the first thing that pops into your head? Do you wonder in amazement at the intricacies required to hold a carton of milk, seven muscles in the hand alone, and then go, ahhh, it isn't surprising that I dropped it? I rather doubt that you do. I am betting you become frustrated and judge yourself in some demeaning fashion for clumsiness, impatience, or the like.

You have now created a memory. Your brain has catalogued the moment, what happened and what your thoughts/feelings were about it. If you shrugged it off as no big deal, that is how it was filed away. If however, you began a tirade of calling yourself clumsy or stupid, that is the file that was created. One small event which now has the potential to color your day.

As simple, or silly as it may sound, this is how we begin to build beliefs about ourselves.

If we happen to repeat several events in a day where the same thoughts come up for us, before we know it we have created a belief about who we are.

What might happen, if instead you looked at your thoughts like you were examining something unique and rare. Not in a critical, I know the answer to this question way; but in a truly inquisitive, I am a toddler learning to crawl way. The same way an entomologist might contemplate a butterfly. You just want to know if this guy was on his migratory jaunt, or spent his life around Boston.

I am going to challenge you today.

Pack your imaginary butterfly net and keep it close throughout the day. Many of our thoughts fly through our minds unnoticed, but today you are going to go in search of your elusive thoughts. Today, whenever something happens that catches your attention, (typically because you have an emotional reaction to it and it registers in your body), take the time to record it, preferably in writing.

  • At the end of the day today, look back over your list of thoughts.

  • Examine them as if it was your job.

  • Are you really clumsy and stupid because you dropped a carton of milk, etc.?

  • If the thoughts are not true, how do you go about changing them? Good question.