“Thoughts are not facts” – challenging the inner bully

One of the most powerful reflections I learnt from the 8 week mindfulness course when I first participated on it was the phrase: “thoughts are not facts”. So often we take thoughts to be objective statements of truth. Our habitual thoughts are so familiar we do not even think to challenge them. But rather like propaganda, where a lie has been repeated enough times we now believe it to be a truth, the same is the case with our inner self-talk. Friends may see us in a very different way to how we see ourselves and if we could have some of the appreciation and forgiveness a friend might have for us for ourselves it would make life a lot easier!

Imagine you see a friend make a mistake. And they then tell themselves off. You are not likely to say “yes, you are an idiot”. But when it is my own inner bully telling me I’m an idiot, I just agree. With a friend you would encourage them to see another perspective, to recognise that it’s ok to make a mistake…but with ourselves we tend to feel we need to be perfect.

If someone were to walk into your office and see you struggling to meet a deadline for a work project and they then said “you always fail at everything, here you are, messed up again!”. You would very likely think them rude and their opinion invalid. But when it is a familiar voice in your head saying it, it’s all too easy to accept it as an objective statement of fact.

Learning to notice this habitual self-deprecating talk and naming it is the first step to freeing yourself from its grip. Gently saying to yourself as you notice this familiar pattern of self-talk, “thoughts are not facts” helps you to create some distance from identifying with the thought. Some people I have taught even imagine this negative chatter as a little goblin and give it a name, so when it comes in with its opinion they can say “oh, there you are Grumpychops, giving me your opinions again!” This helps to create a sense of perspective – the recognition that just because the thoughts are occurring in you head does not mean they are thoughts you are choosing to have, nor that they are objective or true.

Take this into the laboratory of your life and try it out! See how it is for the next week to challenge the self-deprecating thoughts and the self-criticism by simply reminding yourself “thoughts are not facts” as you hear it.

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