Swimming in Our Thoughts

Xperience Growthblogposts

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By: Katie Benson, Director of Expansion


Think about that for a moment, isn’t it true that our REACTION to our thoughts causes the PAIN that we experience in our lives?

Our minds create the suffering by what we THINK! 

Have you ever gotten emotional about a “situation” only to discover that you weren’t even close to being RIGHT about that story you’d created about the “situation”?

Consider that the PAIN FELT is more about WHAT THE MIND MADE IT MEAN than anything else. 

Coach Kate Patulski used an analogy on a call I had with her recently. 

An old wise fish passed two young fish swimming along, the old wise fish said “the water’s nice today ehh boys?” 

After a few minutes the young fish looked at the other young fish and said “what’s water?” 

A fish swims underwater AND because that’s SO NORMAL for the fish, it doesn’t even notice the water. Water is the natural environment for the fish and so the fish doesn’t even notice that it’s swimming under water.

OUR THOUGHTS are LIKE THE WATER is to a FISH, we believe our thoughts are who we are. We believe our thoughts are PART OF US. That’s simply not true! 

MOST PEOPLE (and when I say ‘most’, I mean 95% of us) LIVE IN OUR MINDS!

We have this CONSTANT running dialogue with ourselves inside our heads. We believe we are our thoughts and our thoughts are who we really are.

Our thoughts do NOT define us!


I am a human being HAVING a thought!

I am a human being HAVING a FEELING!

I am a human engaged in an unresourceful thinking habit!

My favorite quote by Victor Frankl in the book Man’s Search for Meaning reads Between stimulus and response there is a space and in that space lies our GROWTH and our FREEDOM

Victor Frankl was in a concentration camp, do you think he knew suffering? The man knew unbelievable suffering, MUCH WORSE than not getting a listing! He was inflicted with physical pain and deprived of the most simple human needs AND YET THIS MAN WAS FREE! 


Because he CHOSE his THOUGHTS, he CHOSE his reaction, he was REAL about the stark reality of the situation and yet he CHOSE how he was going to FEEL ABOUT IT! HE directed his thoughts and his feelings not the other way around. 

When we have a negative emotional reaction, the time between the thought and the reaction is very small, AND THIS IS WHY we believe those thoughts ARE ACTUALLY WHO WE ARE!  Thought and reaction can feel almost simultaneous AND yet they are not, there is a small space between the two. 


How do we PRACTICE using that SPACE between stimulus and response? 

How do we bring AWARENESS to the “water” we are swimming in? 

There is a TECHNIQUE called COGNITIVE DEFUSION that if PRACTICED will allow you to create MORE SPACE between stimulus and response. 

Cognitive defusion involves creating space between ourselves and our thoughts and feelings so they have less of a hold over us. 

Cognitive defusion involves distancing, disconnecting or seeing thoughts and feelings for what they are (streams of words, passing sensations), not what they say they are (dangers or facts).  

Have you seen the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks?

In the movie, Tom Hanks befriends a volleyball (Wilson), draws a face on it and talks to it regularly.

So was the volleyball alive? 

Did that volleyball come up with the conversations Tom had?

NO and NO!  

WHERE did the conversations with the volleyball come from?

Tom Hanks, right?

THIS IS an example of COGNITIVE DEFUSION! It’s assigning your thoughts to an inanimate object such that they are NO LONGER PART OF YOU, they are OUTSIDE OF YOU and you can sort through them logically and without emotional upheaval. 

An easy way to practice cognitive defusion is through a SIMPLE SHIFT in the language that you use. 

Rather than “I’m thinking”, use “I’m having the thought of”. 

Rather than “I’m feeling, use “I’m having the feeling of”.

Rather than allowing the thought or feeling to BECOME YOU, separate yourself from it to create some distance AND AWARENESS around the fact that your thoughts and feelings are NOT YOU. 

In doing this effectively, you will experience incredible FREEDOM from your MIND rather than allowing your mind to run your life. 

Coach Kate always says “you can use your mind, or your mind can use you, it’s your choice”. 

No need to run out and purchase a volleyball, you can accomplish the same effects of cognitive defusion through visualization. 

There have been studies done that show the body effect of visualization is the same as if it were happening in real life. Have you ever had a dream where somebody was chasing you and you woke in a cold sweat with your heart pounding? Same deal.

When researching using visualization to practice cognitive defusion, I ran across a cognitive defusion strategy around visualizing your thoughts as chattering passengers on a bus. You can be in the driver’s seat and remain focused on the road ahead while the passengers (thoughts) criticize your driving or shout directions all around you. 

Trying to stop our thoughts is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater. It just keeps popping up in front of our face (intrusive distressing thoughts). We can allow the ball (our thoughts) to float around us, not intruding, just letting them be.  

One of my favorite metaphors was THE THOUGHT TRAIN. Standing on the station platform sometimes we are advised to stand back as an express train will be passing through at speed. We hear and feel it approaching, thundering through as it buffets us with a strong blast of wind. We don’t attempt to jump on the express train and let it take us to destinations we don’t want to go. We can learn to notice the thoughts and feelings coming, and instead of jumping on that thought train, we can learn to stand on the platform, let it pass, and wait for the RIGHT TRAIN that will take us where we want to go. 

Most of us want to AVOID feeling emotional pain and yet if we would just feel the pain and work through it we would have better mental health and a stronger sense of confidence. 

We hold things silently in our minds without even recognizing the THOUGHTS we’re swimming in. CREATE the SPACE to identify and LABEL the SOURCE BEFORE emotion turns into an action we may regret.

In a fire do most people die from the fire or smoke?? 

It’s actually the smoke that kills you!  

Think of your thoughts and feelings as the SMOKE and the heart of the issue as the FIRE! 

Getting to the source of the FIRE allows you to extinguish the fire without dying from the smoke. Identifying the SOURCE defuses the emotional upheaval such that it doesn’t damage your life. 

The SOURCE of the potential emotional upheaval could be any of the following:

  • A feeling

  • A judgement 

  • An opinion 

  • A memory 

  • A thought

  • A prediction

  • An unresourceful thinking habit such as MIND READING (assuming you know what somebody else is thinking), NEGATIVE FILTER (only noticing the bad stuff), EMOTIONAL REASONING (I feel bad so it must be bad), CATASTROPHIZING (imagining the worst), or the INTERNAL CRITIC (I can’t do anything right), etc. 

Identifying the SOURCE gives you more SPACE between stimulus and response. An additional strategy to employ BEFORE taking an emotionally infused action is SPEAKING IT OUT LOUD. If we were to speak the action out loud such that we HEAR OURSELVES, it allows the cognitive brain to adjust the strategy before creating calamity. 

Before acting in response to stimuli, speak it out loud. 

I ACKNOWLEDGE that I am about to follow a distraction and break my lead generation commitment with myself. 

I ACKNOWLEDGE that what I’m about to SAY is going to create distress in my relationship. 

I ACKNOWLEDGE that I’m shutting down my intuition and doing what’s right for SOMEBODY else. 

I am aware that what I’m about to say may cause pain in another person.

I acknowledge that this decision would jeopardize my health/safety. 

I am aware that I’m making a decision to serve somebody else’s life and dismissing my own! 

TALKING THROUGH THE ACTION OUT LOUD brings new awareness to the thought process BEFORE the REACTION! 

It’s all in the recognition and awareness you bring to it!  

The brain is just a set of patterns triggered by stimuli!

Once we separate ourselves from the thoughts and feelings we are having, we can effectively TRAIN OUR BRAINS to think in the way that is most resourceful for achieving what we desire

Tony Robbins jumps in his cold pool every single morning FIRST THING! He doesn’t do this because he likes it, I mean really, IT’S COLD in that pool first thing in the morning and yet he does this because he is TRAINING HIS BRAIN that when HE SAYS GO it’s GO TIME! 

He doesn’t hesitate, he jumps in that pool first thing in the morning, EVERY SINGLE DAY! 

The brain doesn’t judge, the brain gives you more of what you want. 

The mind doesn’t know positive or negative, it just knows the FACTS!

It follows the training it receives! 

An example is somebody that easily follows distraction, the brain didn’t show up that way, the brain was TRAINED to operate in that way. 

FOR EXAMPLE, let’s say we’ve blocked time from 9-11am to PROSPECT and at about 9:30am an email comes in and we follow the distraction down the black hole and waste all of our prospecting time. 

Can anybody relate

Here’s what happens, the brain looks at the action and says “oh you don’t want to prospect, you want distractions” so the next time we sit down to prospect the brain throws a distraction at us EVEN FASTER than the last time, like at 9:15am! Before long, the prospecting time block is reduced to DISTRACTION TIME and it’s all in how we trained the brain to respond. 

TRAINING THE BRAIN to perform the ACTIONS that are MOST RESOURCEFUL for the desired outcome IS WITHIN YOUR CONTROL.

WHEN WE DECIDE, we can actually bring CONSCIOUS awareness to the silent situation in our minds allowing the SPACE to TRAIN THE BRAIN for SUCCESS! 


Create the SPACE, your FREEDOM depends on it!