I am not my thoughts

If you want to read about the election that is less than two weeks away, close your browser right now. Indeed, I was asked this week why my blog matters right now (i.e. between now and November 3rd) unless I write about my political views, my feelings about the current pandemic, or the importance of wearing a facial covering (just do it). Indeed, my brain, like the news and my social media feed, is full of all of that. But I don’t want to write about that. Indeed, I would love a break from thinking about that. 

And on Monday, I was reminded of very good news: I am not my thoughts. (Despite René Descartes’ famous declaration cogito ergo sum, “I think therefore I am”…).

I listened to a webinar featuring Seth Mattison (whom I have had the privilege of hearing speak in person), who spoke to a group of Aveda salons about showing up whole during challenging times.  

“The battleground starts in our mind,” and “the path to peace starts with mindfulness,” he reminded his captivated audience.   

90% of our thoughts are habitual.  

80% of thoughts are negative.  

Yet I exist beyond those thoughts. I am the CEO of my own mind. I cannot control my thoughts, but I can control which thoughts I give energy to. 

I cannot control my thoughts, but I can decide what are I am going to focus on and what I am going to give energy to. And these two decisions should be based on the following simple yet not easy questions: 

  • Is this thought useful? 
  • Is this thought about something I can control? 

I was so intrigued by this idea that I fell in a black Google hole of “I am not my thoughts” and thus came upon the work of Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and best-selling author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (yes, I am adding them to my reading list)

Tolle believes that “rather than being our thoughts and emotions,” we are (or at least our best selves should be) “the awareness behind them.” He also believes that “the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” He continues: “Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.”

And so, I say to myself as I wake up, “Thoughts, let’s behave today. Today we are going to think constructively, productively, positively, and with empathy.” Today is going to be a good day… Today is going to be a long day… 

Seasons… of the Land, and of Business

I have had the privilege of hearing Seth Mattison speak at various industry conferences and have always come away from his presentations feeling inspired, energized, and motivated. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity of hearing him speak once again, in a more intimate setting over breakfast, and what I came away with was inspiration, energy, motivation – and calm and faith (in the process).

Having grown up in a farming family, Mattison spoke of the seasons of the land and drew parallels between the rhythm of farming and that of business. “When you are close to the land,” he reminded us, “you are close to the seasons of the world.” And “seasons,” he continued, “are relevant not only to farming, but also to business and to life.” As I remember working at my great-uncle’s farm harvesting corn when I was a young teenager, the connection between the cycles of the land and the cycles of business resonated particularly strongly with me.

“Winter is a season to rest, reflect, look back, and recharge.” Indeed, this is very much the symbolic of the months of December and January – months governed by analysis and planning.

“Spring is a season to plant and put seeds in the ground. Diligently, faithfully, every year.”

Summer is a season for monitoring growth and making adjustments to changing (weather or industry) conditions.

Fall is a season for harvesting, the season during which the year’s planning, planting, and labor yields fruit.

I have a love-hate relationship with January. I love the “newness” of it – a blank slate, the ability to start fresh. And I hate the “virgin-ness” of it – all (or most) of the business metrics I measure start back at 0. I don’t like 0s.

Mattison helped me understand that January can never be September, as that would just not be natural.

He helped me understand that I should love January (and winter) for what it offers, and work with the rhythm of nature, not against it.

He helped me understand that in business as in farming, there are many things we cannot control (the weather and the markets for example).

And finally, he helped me understand that while we must “surrender the outcome, we simultaneously must diligently work on the controllable.”