I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be human.
Yeah, I just do stuff like that; let’s move on.
Some would say our feelings are part of humanity, but I’m not sure we can make an exclusive claim there, just based on how my dog acts when I come home.
Some would say our ability to have compassion and put the needs of others before our own is uniquely human. I could take the low road and point to counter-examples, but I’ll stick with my animal companions as evidence that this is not true.
Some would say our ability to think is what makes us really human, but really? Animals hunting in groups, animals figuring out how to get at the hidden food, animals creating hiding places. Yeah, that’s not all ours either.
Having said all of that, I can’t even be 100% sure that this next statement is true, but it seems to be the “last man standing” when it comes to what we can claim as being a fundamental human characteristic: our ability to think about what we are thinking. Maybe they do it too, but the communication gap seems, for now, to allow us to exclude animals from this claim. So a big part of being human is thinking about what we’re thinking about.
How do we use this particular and peculiar gift? Usually, at least in my personal and professional experience, we use it to beat ourselves up. We notice what we’re thinking and feeling and give ourselves a hard time about it. “Feeling blue? Of course you are. Get it together!” “STILL grieving? Are you sure there’s nothing wrong with you?” “Insecurity, still? You should have been done with that years ago.” I think of it as double torture. We load judgment onto feeling bad, and that’s how we use our uniquely human gift. Yay!
And now I’m going to tell you the really amazing and kind of awful part. Once we have these thoughts about ourselves (that we pretty much stink for feeling how we feel, that we can’t handle adulting, that we’ve learned nothing, that there’s something wrong with us – whatever version your brain gives you), we look for evidence. We constantly scan the horizon (and our bounty of data from the past) to confirm those assertions. What?! Why?!
Because our brains get a dopamine rush when we confirm our beliefs. At least that’s what researchers Sara and Jack Gorman tell us. It feels good to have our beliefs confirmed and to stick to our guns, dig in with our position, even if plenty of available facts don’t support what we believe. We actually get the same neurohormone rush that we get when we have sex, do drugs, eat sugar (no, those are not all of a piece for me – no worries). This research points to a number of interesting discussions about politics and science, but it also tells us something about ourselves as individuals.
Once we decide something about ourselves, it can be very difficult to change that belief. If I believe that I am spoiled, for example, perhaps because it was part of my family story about who I was as a child, I will more readily see and accept evidence that supports the idea that I’m spoiled. And my brain will reward me for finding that evidence even though thinking that thought will ultimately NOT reward me. Our biology puts us at risk for hanging onto beliefs about the world and about ourselves that are harmful, destructive, and on a personal level, that create barriers for creating the kinds of lives that we want to lead. Now, the brain isn’t just doing this to mess with you. There are evolutionary theories as to why this occurs, but that’s not what I want to focus on.
I want to focus on the simple fact that believing things that are helpful and productive for you can be life-changing. Why? Because your thoughts create feelings and feelings create energy for your actions. When we’re thinking crappy things about ourselves, the actions that come of that usually serve to make us feel worse. Attend ANY of my classes if you want more info on that.
So what does all of this mean? It means that in order to get the results you want, you’re going to have to take a look at what’s going on in that amazingly powerful brain of yours. You’re going to have to see what you’re thinking about who you are in the world. You’re going to have to reset some thoughts so that you can stop collecting evidence that you’re worthless or fundamentally flawed or that there’s just something wrong with you. You’re going to have to replace those thoughts with something else. It doesn’t have to be a positive affirmation. It doesn’t have to be all unicorns and glitter. It just has to be maybe a little more neutral. It just has to allow you some space to see yourself more clearly. It just needs to allow you to take in more of what you’ve done and who you are in the world so you can see more than just that selection of data that proves that you’re no good.
Because friends, you’re not right about that. And your brain will reward you for proving it once you decide to believe something new.
You are here. You are valuable. You have unique gifts (even if you don’t believe it and haven’t found them yet). You are worthy.
If you can’t believe any of that, maybe just start with “I’m okay,” and see if you can find some evidence for THAT. I bet you can.
If you’d like a guide on your journey through your thoughts, I’d love to help.