Wisdom//

You and Your Brain

Do you jump to the worst conclusions? Imagine disaster around every corner?

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Okay, it’s confession time. Girls and women can overthink things. We all seem to worry too often that we’ve messed up or that everything is horrible. You may have one small stressful thought that quickly blooms into absolute certainty that you’re a misfit and everyone in the world is staring at you. Or maybe that particular thing doesn’t upset you, but you worry your best friend just isn’t as into you as she used to be, or you worry you let the whole cast in the school play down by missing an entrance cue.

Psychologists call that ruminating—when thoughts go ’round and ’round in your head and you feel like a frantic hamster stuck on a wheel. We call it overthinking. You probably call it being trapped with the absolute WORST thoughts that will never ever go away. Either way, it stinks. Bad. Once those I’m-the-lamest-person-who-ever-lived thoughts get in your head, good luck trying to get them out. It’s easy to see why ruminating is a confidence killer. Are you really in the mood for risky action when your brain is spinning like a top?

EXPEDITION INTO YOUR BRAIN

What’s going on in that massive organ living in our skull? It’s an amazing control center. But it can also crank out some pretty crazy ways of thinking. This is where your noticing skills become especially valuable again. Turn them inward. When we observe our thoughts, we can actually change them.

Just to be clear—we’re not telling you to think more, or add to the ruminating! Observing your thoughts is a skill scientists call metacognition. It’s like watching your thoughts and feelings from a distance. Ruminating is like being stuck inside the terrifying tornado of those thoughts.

Check out the most common flawed thinking patterns. Do they sound like you?

Catastrophic: Do you jump to the WORST conclusions? Imagine disaster around every corner? In your world, are people never late—they’re always dead? Does the bad always seem more powerful than the good? Does getting one bad grade, like in our Academic Armageddon scenario, mean more bad grades will surely follow?

Mind Reading: Do you assume that you know what other people are thinking—especially when it’s about you? Like you’re SURE that everyone in class saw you burst into a Noah’s Ark–level flood of tears? Are you pretty sure that anything bad happening is basically about YOU, or that people think so? If two people are whispering in class, it MUST be about your stupid answer? Or about what you’re wearing?

Set in Stone: Do you feel like things just are what they are—fixed in place? Like there’s no way to make changes? That grade on the essay clearly means you’re dumb, and there’s not much to do about it. It had nothing to do with effort, or understanding the project—you’re just bad at school. Or when you miss a backhand in tennis, do you automatically think, “I’m bad at tennis,” versus, “I’m bad at backhands–I need to work on them”?

The headline is: we basically lie to ourselves—a lot. Being a catastrophic, mind reading, or set in stone thinker means you are telling yourself wilder tall tales than any fib you’d ever try on a parent or friend. Notice these lies your brain tells you and how painful they can be.

Here’s why the messed-up thinking can do real damage:

What we THINK creates what we FEEL, which then shapes what we DO.

And that’s where all this ties into confidence. Too much thinking—or, more accurately, too much flawed thinking—leads to bad feelings, and sometimes reckless action. But most often, it leads to NO ACTION. We become paralyzed, or frightened. And no action means no confidence building.

Confidence Warm-Up

Check out how a different way of thinking about the exact same situation can directly shape your feelings, and then your actions.

Scenario #1

Situation: Eleven-year-old Zo works hard to prepare to perform a traditional Indian dance at a family party.

Thoughts: “What if I do it all wrong and disappoint my family? What if I ruin the whole celebration? So many things could go wrong.”

Feelings: Nervous, worried, anxious

Action: Zo tells her mom she’s just way too nervous and bows out. Then, at the party, she’s frustrated to see her cousin up there performing, when it could have been her.

Scenario #2

Situation: Eleven-year-old Zo works hard to prepare to perform a traditional Indian dance at a family party.

Thoughts: “It’s so cool that my parents finally asked me to take part in a family tradition and I’ll get to show off all my hard work! It might not be perfect, and I’m nervous, but it’s in front of family members who love and support me.”

Feelings: Excited, pleased, proud.

Action: Zo carries it off with one or two mistakes, but is proud of herself and gets wild applause.

See what a difference it makes if you can corral those wild thoughts?

Excerpt from THE CONFIDENCE CODE FOR GIRLS by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

HarperCollins Publishers

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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