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E1: Recognizing your Thought Cycles and Showing Compassion for your Thinking

Updated: Oct 3



Compassion in the Mental Field
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Jacob Derossett

Today, we're here with Sarah Vallely, a mindfulness teacher, coach and author Sarah has been teaching meditation and mindfulness for the past two decades, training and certifying others to teach mindfulness as well. Sarah is the author of four books. Her latest book is titled tame Sue dwell the 55 teachings of TSD. Mindfulness. On today's episode, we will be discussing how to recognize common thought patterns of thinking, that often lead to stress and how to use self compassion to bring yourself out of this type of thinking. I'm Jacob Derossett. Sarah, how are you?


Sarah Vallely

I'm great, Jacob, I've got a question for you. Okay, when you are a little bit stressed, or just going through your daily life, what are some of the thoughts that you have? Like, what form do your thoughts take?



Recognizing your overthinking with midnfulness.


Jacob Derossett

Something I've noticed is that the time of day really depends on what my thoughts are kind of consumed with. In the morning, I'm typically thinking about something that has been, you know, burning up that I need to get done, or something to do later that day, or something I've been avoiding, or a conversation I might be a bit nervous about.


Sarah Vallely

Yeah, so that sounds like some planning thinking. When you're thinking about the future and things that you need to do, I definitely do that. After meeting with a client, I will spend time thinking about and planning what I will do next to proceed with the client. And the thing is, is when we do this type of thinking, we need to sometimes, right, it's required for our jobs, or for daily living. We need to be able to make plans, but it turns into overthinking when we're doing it in excess, or we're doing it when it's not necessary. And what we can do, if we're having that type of thinking is we can notice--we can use our mindfulness and notice and name it. We can say, "Oh, overthinking," or we can name it, "Oh, planning, I'm in planning mode again." Or, "Oh, I'm projecting." So that could be so valuable, because we're accepting that it's happening, we're not denying it, we're not pushing it away. But at the same time, we're able to take a step back and be more of an observer. "Hmm, okay, I'm just noticing this." And then we can retrain our mind patterns by shifting our attention to either the sounds in the environment, or physical sensations in your body, or even your own breath. And one more thing that can be extremely helpful in limiting this type of thinking or quieting it is to give ourselves self compassion for the thinking, we don't want to beat ourselves up. We don't want to devalue ourselves, because we're in this planning type of thinking. But instead, we can give ourselves self compassion, and we give ourselves self compassion with our words. Or we give ourselves self compassion with an action. And so some words that we could use in this situation are, "It's natural for anyone to go into planning mode. It's okay to do this. I'm a good planner. However, I deserve a break from this mental activity." And that's such a beautiful thing to say to ourselves, when we find yourself in that planning type mode.


Jacob Derossett

What is it about identifying things in our immediate environment that helps to stop the overthinking. What is it about hearing sounds in the room that quiet and sat down?


Sarah Vallely

Well, it gives our attention, something else to focus on. If we shift that attention toward the sounds in the environment, or the sensations in our body or breath, we're actually using a different part of our brain to think about it. It is our sensory experience. And being in that sensory experience has a lot of advantages. It helps with concentration helps with feeling relaxed.


Jacob Derossett

Why is it that somebody would need to use self compassion during that time? Like, why is it that we beat ourselves up at all about thoughts?


Sarah Vallely

Well, some of us might be dabbling in mindfulness and might be learning that it's good to think less, and to not ruminate so much, not worry so much, not be so distracted. And so we're learning that that's better. And maybe it doesn't have anything to do with mindfulness. Maybe it's just something that your teachers taught you in school or things that your parents have said or things that your friends have said. And so we start to get this mentality that, "Oh, it's bad if I'm in these type of thoughts cycles." We are in this pattern of putting ourselves down, because we're doing something, "bad" because that's what happened a lot when we were children probably. And so we've developed that practice or habit, and saying some compassionate words can help break the habit of putting yourself down when you're doing something that you think is, is "bad". And that's the other concept I really want to get across here is these thought cycles aren't bad. So let's talk about rumination. I'm sure you have had times where you've thought about the past and replayed a moment or an event that happened in the past and you're analyzing it. Is that something that you find yourself doing sometimes?


Jacob Derossett

If I say something that I feel like, could have potentially offended someone, next thing, you know, I have a whole list of demands of myself, and not one bit of compassion in their terms of rumination. Yeah,


Sarah Vallely

If you think about our ancestors, the rumination practice was actually saving their lives. Because they were more likely to physically survive when they replayed an event that happened in the past and evaluated it and analyzed its parts so that they learned from it. Considering the evolution of our brains, we don't need to think of these type of thought cycles as "bad". They're just natural. They're part of our DNA, they're part of our evolution, they're not bad. And that's part of the self compassion piece, is reminding ourselves, this is natural, you might say something like, "I'm loved. And I'm worthy, even when I make a mistake, and it's natural for me to slip into rumination." That self compassion type speak, will diminish some of that rumination as well as just helping you feel better. Yeah, I think of a kid who's, you know, upset about something, and then you just validate the child and give the child some compassion. And the child feels better and is not caught up in the thinking as much anymore. Worry is the same thing, right? So when we worry, it's because we're experiencing anxiety, or uneasiness about a problem that's going on right now, or something that has the potential to be a problem. Our ancestors lived in this immediate return environment, which means that they had an action, they made an action, and then there was an immediate return for their action, for example, they might have made the decision to stop eating and run away from a predator. And the immediate return on that was that they were not mangled. Yeah, right. Or maybe they made a poor decision. And they made a decision not to stop eating. And then in the end, they got hurt by the predator. So there was an immediate return on their action. But in today's society, we live in a delayed return environment, which means a lot of actions that we take, we don't experience the consequence of that action until days later, or weeks later, or even maybe years later. For example, we go to work. And we don't get a paycheck for two weeks. Or we sign a contract. And we don't get the outcome of that contract until a couple months later. So there's delayed return. And the issue is, is that there's all this time in between now, between the action and the consequence, and it gives us all this time to worry, our ancestors didn't have all that time to worry. So it was healthy. But now it's not healthy and causing anxiety and depression because we're doing it for so long. And that's why mindfulness is so helpful. It's like the antidote, because we can notice that we are worrying, notice those worry thoughts, and we can name it "worry". And then we can also do some mind training and shift our attention to the sounds in the environment, physical sensations in the body or the breath, to redirect our attention. And then we can also give ourselves self compassion, we might say, "I've been involved to worry and there's nothing wrong with me if I do worry, however, in this moment, I deserve to feel peace and let go of the outcome." Do you get worried about things? Have you have you gone into worry mode?


Jacob Derossett

Yeah, I am a professional worrier. Yeah, I think that's probably one of the biggest things that drew me to mindfulness. So I have a really big fear of flying and no real, like nothing happened. Anybody that flies in any amount have scary experiences on planes, but I have a thing now. If I'm about to fly, or if my wife is flying, I will start to pick up little things in life that are telling me that something bad will happen when I'm on the plane. Which is just insanity. I mean, that is the definition of just crazy, right? I'll see the number "747" Somewhere unrelated to an aircraft. And I just think this is a sign, this is it. Is that worry? I think it is right?


Sarah Vallely

Yeah. And that's also a great example of living in a delayed return environment. Yeah, you buy the ticket online, maybe a month in advance. So there's all this time to go into all this worry. It's a little bit maddening. But let's say it was just a complete surprise. And someone blindfolded you. I mean, you might be worried because you're blindfolded. But yeah, and then obviously, if you didn't buy the ticket, you didn't know anything about the flight. And then you just are blindfolded once you walk onto the plane, and so you were saved that whole month in advance of being worried.


Jacob Derossett

I should start hiring someone to, every time I have to fly, they just sack me up and throw me on the plane. Don't tell me I'm gonna fly though, somehow, like the whole experience is hidden for me.


Sarah Vallely

Yeah, that could be a new profession.


Jacob Derossett

It's like, you know, people that slowly get into the pool versus people that cannonball in. Some people, like I don't want to experience the discomfort for long periods of time, I just wanted it to kind of get it over with. But I was wanting to hear a thought on what to say to somebody that really does not find it easy to practice self compassion.


Sarah Vallely

Yeah. And that's the "badassary factor" here. Because it really takes bravery to get to a point where you're able to give yourself Self Compassion. And the reason is, is because we need to become vulnerable enough to admit that we need self compassion, it's so easy for us to say, "Oh, I don't need that, I'm fine, I've got this, I'm strong, I'm just gonna power through, I'm just going to drink another coffee, I'm just going to, you know, go for a jog, I'm going to be fine." But it takes a lot of strength to be able to say to yourself, "You know, I really am being hard on myself. And I could use some self compassion." So the advice would be to allow yourself to move in to that vulnerability and know that it doesn't make you any weaker, doesn't make you any lesser of a person. In fact, it's the opposite. You know, moving into that vulnerability shows strength, and shows what an amazingly dynamic person you are. Another type of thinking that I noticed that I have is like, I'm rehearsing myself explaining myself to somebody. For example, I might tell somebody that I can't attend an event. And then I find myself, rehearsing this whole, explanation of why I can't go. Or I might be writing an email in my head, kind of explaining or justifying why I did something, or why I did something a certain way. This type of thinking is sometimes necessary. Especially if we are learning or making decisions, we need to start explaining things to ourselves or justify that we are going to take a certain action, but it becomes overthinking if we do it in excess, or we do it when it's not necessary, which I definitely do. It's great to be mindful. Notice that you're in that type of thinking, and name it, Say, "Oh, that's justification thinking," "Oh, I'm doing that explanation, thinking again," or just simply calling it "overthinking". And then redirecting your attention toward the sounds in the environment or your breath or physical sensations and then that self compassion piece could be something like, "It's natural for anyone to want to prove themselves, right. However, I do not need to do this. When it comes to my emotions, my beliefs, my actions, I don't need to explain or justify myself. I deserve to be surrounded by love and feel at peace."


Jacob Derossett

I noticed that I do a lot of explaining thinking when I've been criticized. I really tend to react with a doubling down of my reasons and explaining really explaining myself either out loud or internally, of why I have all the reason in the world to do what I did. And then you know, an hour or two or maybe a day later on, like, wow, no, that was all defense. You know, it was that thinking coming online to protect me in a way.


Sarah Vallely

Yeah. And that sounds like badass mindfulness because you are confronting yourself. Yeah. And that's the other thing that's hard to do. It's hard to call out your type of thinking. "Yeah, I'm in some rumination," or this is "worry thinking", or this is "overthinking". Calling yourself out. And that takes a lot of guts because you are admitting that your thought process isn't perfect, which is really healing and humbling. Because humbling is healing. Because we are moving into this new way of thinking that we're just human. And we're not perfect. And that can be a game changer. Another type of thinking that we might notice is catastrophic type thinking, worst case scenario, type thinking, which has been studied. The research term for this type of thinking is called "cognitive elaboration". This is when something happens in our life, an event happens, but we don't have all the information about the event. And so we start filling in the missing information in with worst case scenarios. And again, this is part of our evolution, this process of filling in missing information with our preconceived notions, our prior experience, this process helped our ancestors stay alive. An example of that would be, I hear some big crunching in the woods, I don't have all the information, but because of prior experience, this person has witnessed a tiger come out of the woods after hearing that big creaking cracking in the woods. So they're filling in the missing information that , that could be a tiger, and that tiger could eat me. Yeah, "catastrophic thinking", but back 1000s of years ago, that was like "life-saving thinking". But now, this catastrophic type thinking is not really life saving, I mean, that's gonna lead to an anxiety and depression.


Jacob Derossett

So what I'm hearing is that a lot of this training is actually just not necessarily uploading a lot of techniques and things, it's more or less just understanding your natural way of being.


Sarah Vallely

Yeah, mindfulness is number one, about awareness. It's just being aware. And the idea is, is that when the more you become aware, the more likely naturally, you're going to minimize this type of thinking.


Jacob Derossett

The Northstar of it all is just compassion, and understanding of yourself, you know, and understanding that, like, I have so little control of all of these processes, but I can step back and be aware of them and see them as they unfold. And that helps to minimize the ones that are destructive and increase the ones that are that are productive and in life.


Sarah Vallely

Notice yourself having one of these mental processes and then give yourself some self compassion, see what happens. I mean it it will lead to feelings of relief, feelings of validation. Feelings of "I don't need to keep doing this" but at the same time having all those feelings without feeling like you're doing something wrong or you're lesser of a person.


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