Thinking about the Weather

photo by Greg

They say in Missouri that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will change. I’m pretty sure they say this in a lot of places. Right now, it’s pouring down rain. My dogs are mad that their bathroom is wet 🙂 I’m waiting for a webinar to begin of Dr. Kristen Neff teaching about self-compassion. She’s speaking from California live, and I’ll bet the weather is warm and sunny there.

In the meditation practice I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been working with thoughts. We all have a stream of automatic thoughts running through our minds. These thoughts are often undetectable, yet powerful nonetheless.  It’s like having background music playing while you work. Most of the time you don’t even notice it’s on — you simply go about what you’re doing. But have you ever felt that different music affects your mood or even your energy level? Perhaps also your ability to concentrate?

In my book Painfully Shy, I offered this tip on dealing with automatic thoughts: Call a spade a spade.  I wrote: “The first thing you must do to deal with automatic thoughts is identify and label them appropriately. Recognize your socially anxious thoughts for what they are — misleading and maladaptive. Thoughts running through your mind such as, “Everyone is staring at me” or “I’m such a loser,” are simply not true — they’re manifestations of social anxiety. It can be an enormous help to relabel these thoughts and realize you don’t have to pay attention to them.”

I went on: “This technique of ‘relabeling’ your thoughts is used in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder in which people are plagued with obsessive thoughts (e.g., I will be contaminated by germs) and compulsions (e.g., I must wash my hands over and over). In his book Brain Lock, UCLA School of Medicine psychiatrist Jeffrey M. Schwartz describes OCD’s intrusive thoughts as the brain misfiring. He instructs people to tell themselves, ‘It’s not me — it’s my OCD.’

In my experience, the thoughts of social anxiety sufferers are equally intrusive and unpleasant. No one wakes up one morning and says, ‘I’d like to worry all day long about what other people think of me.’ And although it’s probably not as simple as the brain misfiring, relabeling anxious thoughts as being at least partly biological can be quite helpful. Telling yourself, ‘It’s not me — it’s my anxiety,’ relieves you of some of the guilt and shame you may feel about having the thoughts in the first place.”

In Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness, and in many of her meditation CDs, she also talks about thoughts not being facts, or acts. They’re just thoughts. She writes: “Thoughts moving through your mind are like clouds moving across the sky. They are not the sky, and the sky remains unchanged by them.”

And to end with a touch of humor on this rainy day, a quote from George Carlin:

“Weather forecast for tonight: dark.”

5 thoughts on “Thinking about the Weather

  1. I know I mentioned this to you before (I think it was on Brittany’s blog) that I hate attending my class reunion (and that of my wife’s ) as well…I know there are some automatic thought’s feeding this…so I does a person identify them? I know I say to myself “I hate going to these class reunions” but its got to be more that just that.feelings of being judged/ not included/ mocked/ come flooding back…and when I’m at one of these reunions, , the old patterns come pressing in…I went last Summer and tolerated my 35th reunion or a couple of hours, but breathed a sigh of relief when it was time to go…now this Summer, my wife has her 35th class reunion..and I’m already dreading it. (There are a couple of jack asses (I’m being kind) who to this day, will flirt and make comments to me about my wife…and other women as well…I watched two of them hit on a shy class mates date 5 years ago, and I wanted to pop them. they were the class jocks in their day, so full of themselves it makes me want to throw up…I felt so sorry for the guy..his name was Larry…so I have all of these old insecurities want to raise their ugly head in my mind…help 🙂 PS I have so much to be thankful for and have been blessed in so many ways..why should I care what a couple of fools think or say to me? I just hate to be put on the spot in public..I tend to get tongued tied.

    • Does your wife want to go to the reunion? Maybe you could skip it? Be conveniently out of town? How’s that for a psychologist recommending avoidance strategies! I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never made it to any of my reunions. I’ve been in touch with some old high school friends just recently through Facebook. I’d be much more comfortable meeting with a small group than a big reunion. I get tongue-tied, too, and hate talking if I feel like I’m put on the spot. I’ve heard suggestions of thinking of possible things to say ahead of time… seems a little fake, but maybe it would help.

  2. Love the beautiful cloudy pic.!
    I’d always assumed that i was just introverted (runs in my family) but after reading your post, i’m ‘thinking’ lol now that i may suffer from social anxiety. I’m not sure when it started, but it has escalated over the years. I have some ocd thought processing issues as well i’m sure. I ordered your book, and i look fwd to reading it. it’s a good time to experiment. I’m feeling like it’s time anyways. Thanks for your loving blog. p.s.. sharing a favo Pema quote too re: thought patterns. She’s an inspiration to me as well, how she pokes fun of herself in her awareness. Laughing at ourselves is healing because it’s a release from being “uptight about your lawful stuff” (Ram Dass) into being loving and kind with yourself. At least it feels like that for me. It lightens and opens me up.
    “We are all in this together. So when you realize that you’re talking to yourself, label it “thinking” and notice your tone of voice. Let it be compassionate and gentle and humorous. Then you’ll be changing old stuck patterns that are shared by the whole human race. Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.” (Start Where You Are) Pema Chodren

  3. Great advice! I try and label some of my thoughts as irrational right away too, maybe using the words “misleading and maladaptive” would be helpful for me too to label those thoughts. It is really annoying having those anxious thoughts and they can be a pain to deal with, but I’m hoping the more I identify and correct the better I’ll be at keeping calm and reasonable in times when I feel like I’m overwhelmed. Changing how you think and keeping those changes is tough work though, I guess it just takes time.

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