Do you ever find yourself in bed after snoozing your alarm a few too many times and your first thought is something along the lines of, “Stacy probably got up earlier than me...” ?
Maybe you think about the people who are doing sit-ups right now, and you’re not.
Or you start thinking about your first conference call and you imagine the other participants are thinking about you in a judgmental way. Because they must know you haven’t finished that thing you were supposed to finish. So you worry about whether or not they think you are a productive person overall based on how you think they are thinking about your cumulative worth right now...
...at their house. In their bed.
Maybe while you’re still in bed you do a little sunrise scroll. You decide you’ll spread a little judgement of your own this morning while you look at people who are obviously trying too hard on Instagram. But this backfires, right? It always does. Because your vacations suck and you don't eat at enough cool restaurants. You see all the cool things other people are doing and you imagine maybe they are wondering what you are doing. Well, what the heck are you doing? Being in bed like this. With those clothes on the floor, with that amount of credit card debt, and you didn’t call your grandmother on her birthday, and that weird sweater you were thinking about wearing. And you don’t know any useful facts about the immigration crisis? Who. Are. You. Anymore.?
Maybe you make it into the shower where you use all that extra room to start practicing the conversations you’re going to have with people you imagine are judging you. So you practice the comebacks you’re going to use and you imagine whatever people are imagining about you now will be different because you imagined how you’d tell them they are wrong for imagining the things you've imagined they’re imagining about you.
It's you against the world and now you've got a head start.
You finally make it to work or the coffee shop or the client or the co-working space and all that bravery you built up dissipates when you wave at Francine as you walk in the building but she doesn't see you. But maybe-probably-definitely someone else saw you waving at Francine when she didn’t see you waving, and never waved back. And now they think you blew it. It's only 8:00am and you already blew it.
Then you try to make a joke in your first meeting to mask your nervousness and it doesn't go over so well - so probably everyone is talking about you in a private Slack channel. And you left your lunch too long in the microwave so now people are positive you’re not responsible and your home life is a mess and your pets always die. And when you share something from your heart in an afternoon meeting everyone probably thinks that’s just so … YOU... to be emotional about important things like work. The company needs tactics and strategies! Not empathy! Not human connection!
You're such an emotional hot tub. Everyone thinks so.
And after you leave the office everyone stays after work because they got a calendar invite you didn't for a meeting you're not invited to. They are going to assemble in the main board room with wooden walls and dusty furniture and pictures of old people with the same last name in gold frames and smoke cigars like they're in a 1930's movie about titans of industry and talk about whether or not you lived up to your potential today. Because obviously you didn’t and everyone is so interested in thinking about you!
And they will go home and talk to their families about you, and tell their children never to grow up to be you, and go to bed being grateful they have talents and skills and a life that’s nothing like yours at all.
If you made it this far you're either my mom or sometimes you have thoughts like this too.
My good friend Jay calls these thoughts head trash. Because that’s what they are.
For some reason our brains think it's still important to view the entire world as one big survival challenge because our brains were designed to keep us alive. Our brains were not created to help us achieve a state of internal peace and freedom.
Like many areas of our lives, we can leave the settings on default and we'll make it from the beginning of each day to the end. Most likely we'll have a few friends and a savings account and have some meaningful experiences.
But woven into all of those experiences will be an incessant conversation with ourselves about whether we're doing our lives right or persistent thoughts about how to please our coworkers or endless strategizing how to do something notable so we can gain more acceptance.
Or we could wake up and be conscious of our thoughts and choose to be more intentional about which stories we give life.
It happens slowly, but over time we can take more ownership over the perceived threats we worry about throughout our days through practices like journaling, meditation or prayer, a quick stretch or walk, or having breakfast with friends who are also trying to grow.
One simple phrase I've used the past few years which has led to different levels of freedom and peace is: "They're not out to get you. The universe is not conspiring against Reagan today."
When we can realize no one is thinking about us and remember our lives are not about us, then we're free to go do something brave and generous with all that energy we spent trying to survive. And when we can do this, we might just be able to help others recognize their thoughts don't have to be threats and they're doing a little better than they think they are.