Welcome to episode 28! On today’s episode, I’m talking to Kara Loewetheil all about thought work and how to take back control of your thoughts. She is a Master Certified Coach with a B.A. from Yale and J.D. from Harvard Law, as well as the host of the iTunes top-rated self-help podcast Unf*ck Your Brain. As I’ve talked about in the past, our thoughts dictate and influence our emotions. If you can change the way you think about something, you also change how you feel about it. In this episode, Kara takes that to the next level.
In this episode, we talk about:
- What I’ve been up to during the podcast break
- Defining thought work and how people think
- Kara’s path to coaching and thought work
- Kara’s journey through size and happiness
- Self-confidence and where it comes from
- Changing the way you feel about your past
- Personality tests and horoscopes
- Where intuition, instinct, and lizard brain play into your thoughts
- Beliefs and feelings in regard to photos of yourself
We talk about big theoretical ideas in this episode but also include a ton of practical tips that you can incorporate into your life so you can start ‘unfucking your brain’ (as Kara calls it).
What I’ve Been Up To
Since we last talked, I’ve been taking a break. I started the podcast at the beginning of 2019 and went basically 27 weeks without a break. Next year will be a lot different, since I’ve decided to break up the seasons a little bit shorter. I have a backlog of episodes that I’m going to release in the upcoming weeks, and then take another break to finish up season 1.
Serious shout out to my amazing assistant Lindsay- she’s been helping me organize my business since it’s been challenging for me to do on my own (to say the least). She has helped with my overwhelm A LOT. I’ve also been getting back into therapy, I just bought some health insurance, turned 26, launched Binge To Food Freedom, I’m getting ready to launch Club TYB!
Other than that, one of the things I’m looking forward to is finding someone to create new intro music for me. If you are an audio engineer, are musically inclined, and you feel like you know my vibe, I’m looking for someone to redo my podcast intro music. Whether it’s an original jingle or an instrumental that you think matches my vibe, email me at email@example.com because I would love to work with a listener on this instead of just a random person.
What Is Thought Work?
Most of us go through life reacting to our thoughts with the assumption that all of our thoughts and the assumptions behind them are true. Thought work is the practice of observing your mind, body, thoughts and feelings and engaging with your thoughts on purpose.
Instead of constantly just listening to your thoughts and believing them, thought work is about:
- Consciously engaging with your thought patterns
- Looking at your thought patterns
- Observing your thought patterns
- Analyzing your thought patterns
- Deciding if we want to keep thinking about those thoughts
- Changing the thoughts you don’t want to keep thinking
- Thinking different things on purpose.
It’s about going from being a passive recipient of your thoughts and life to shifting into responsibility for your thoughts and creating your own life as a result.
How Kara Got Into Thoughtwork
Kara has always been really into self-help and psychology. In college, she thought she would major in psychology but ended up on a different career path. Despite that, she’s always been interested in the human experience, communication, and understanding others. That interest led her to therapy, coaching and self-help.
In her work, women will come to her thinking they need to fix themselves, but they instead learn that there’s nothing wrong with them. That was a big part of her journey too.
Thoughtwork & Body Image
Kara found thoughtwork during the final time she intentionally tried to lose weight. While she was discovering body positivity and non-diet culture, the tools from thoughtwork helped her to incorporate those new ideologies into her life. In that journey, she decided to stop pursuing the weight loss part, and just pursue the body acceptance piece instead using thoughtwork.
She describes the journey combining thoughtwork, non-diet culture, and body positivity as a grind. Kara had to practice the thought that ‘this is a human stomach’ about a million times. All of the reasons she wanted to be thin were just thoughts that she was having, and the things she thought being thin would bring her weren’t true. If all she ever wanted was to have a thought and feeling, then she realized she could do that without changing her body.
When it comes to body image, Kara teaches a lot about neutral thinking. Positive thinking can be out of reach for some people, because they’re trying to believe something that they just don’t. Instead of going straight to positive, Kara uses ladder thoughts by going sideways and slowly working up to make it more believable. I call this same idea stepping stones. You can’t go from hating yourself to loving yourself without stepping stones in the middle. If you’re shooting for neutrality, it’s much more realistic.
How To Cultivate Self-Confidence
Confidence is just a feeling created from your thoughts, but we’re taught to believe that it comes from external things. Whether that’s what your body looks like, what you’ve achieved in your career, or anything else. It makes self-confidence an unattainable ideal that is never quite in reach.
It’s not usually helpful to just try and believe that you’re confident. You first have to figure out which areas you don’t believe positive things about yourself and work on those. To Kara, confidence is built through small thought patterns that add up to a whole lot more, but you have to start from the bottom to get there. That is what is going to give you true insight into your thoughts that will allow you to figure things out in the moment.
You’re not born with confidence and it’s not genetic. It always comes from inside of you. You can’t be genetically predisposed to being insecure- that’s a product of thoughts and what you’ve learned from others that turns into thoughts.
‘I sabotaged myself’
You take actions based on your thoughts and feelings. When you think about it that way, there’s no mystery to why something happened or why you self-sabotaged. Instead, you can figure out what those thoughts are and why things happened the way they did as a result.
Wrapped up in the ‘I sabotaged myself’ thought is the limiting belief that makes you think you can’t control it, which becomes part of your identity as something you ‘always do.’ It’s easier and safer to not try and figure out what’s going on, so we don’t.
You’re never going to get rid of those bad feelings. A lot of the time we try to shoot for ‘I never want to be sad/stressed/anxious’ again and that’s just not realistic. The human experience involves feeling terrible at one point or another. That’s not the problem! The problem is that we think we should never feel terrible, so when we do it feels even worse.
People tend to find their negative emotions terrible not because they’re having them, but because they’re resisting them so much that they get amplified. Once you stop that emotional resistance, all of a sudden it’s not a problem at all. You primitive brain will always freak out a bit because that’s what it’s programmed to do, but once you know that’s okay, it’s no longer an issue.
Taking Responsibility For Your Thoughts
I’ve noticed that when I say things on social media like ‘you are in control of your thoughts’ or ‘this is in your power,’ it can make people very angry. I don’t know if it’s that they’re not ready, or maybe they’ve been through so much that they can’t process what all of this means. At the same time, some people are never going to want to hear that they are responsible for their thoughts and that’s okay. This work is not for them.
People are scared when they hear that they have responsibility over their thoughts. We’re afraid of what we think we may say to ourselves. People who are the most judgemental and critical of other people are also the most judgemental and critical of themselves. If you believe something has gone wrong, it must mean that there’s someone to blame. For a lot of people, either that means you’re terrible, or someone else is terrible. There’s no good way out of that. In thoughtwork, you know that your thoughts led to certain feelings and actions. That doesn’t mean you did anything wrong before, but it does mean that you can change it going forward.
It’s also worth saying that just because we are responsible for our thoughts doesn’t mean that your past and hardships are invalid. When people believe that others think their feelings are invalid, what they’re really thinking is that others don’t agree with them about what happened. Kara says she doesn’t care what happened, she cares how you feel about what happened.
Changing Your Past
Trauma exists as you continue to think about an experience. The past is over. The only thing that still exists is our mental re-creation of it. If you change the way you think about what happened, then you can change the way you feel about what happened. So who cares what actually happened? It’s over.
When people are fixated on the event, they’re not going to be able to move forward. The difference is how you think about the experience so that you can forget the part that’s causing you trauma and move on. We are actually changing our past all the time without realizing it. For example, if you’re obsessing about something that happened 5 years ago, you’re making the event worse than it ever was in the first place. We change our pasts all the time, but are you actually doing it in a way that’s helping you?
Our memories are like files that we corrupt every time we pull it up and think about it. It’s not that you shouldn’t be bothered by your thoughts, but you can learn to think about it a different way. We get attached to our trauma and the idea of never getting better and form an identity around that. It becomes the kind of person we are, and we take comfort in that. It becomes an excuse and a thought pattern that defines you.
Humans want a story of why they are the way they are. The thing is, you’re not choosing the right one. You just have thoughts, and if you change them you can be a different person. We’re not taught that, so we think we just are the way we are, but you have the power to make up your own.
Personality Tests & Horoscopes
One thing that listeners of Kara’s podcast got upset about was when she said that personality tests are bullshit. She says that people love these tests and biographies so much because people want to believe they are the way they are for a reason without feeling bad about themselves. If they don’t have something like a test or a horoscope to justify their actions, they just feel shitty about themselves and think they’re out of control.
Personality tests and horoscopes are just a thought. It’s just a way to relate to yourself and a way to see the world. Personality tests in particular are just a snapshot to how you see the world at one particular moment in time. The thing is, people take it to be a diagnosis for who they are and the reason behind why they can’t change. All these traits that people think are born characteristics are just thoughts. And if you change your thoughts, then you will change as well.
If you want to go with what a personality test or horoscope tells you, that’s fine. But there’s another option to change any of those things it says about you and make it your own. It’s all optional.
Is Your Intuition What You Think It Is?
What most people think is their intuition is actually their lizard brain. Intuition is a quiet observing and knowing that has no story or reason attached. Just because you feel something in your gut doesn’t mean it’s a gut feeling- it’s a feeling in your gut of anxiety about a thought that you had. If it’s loud and makes you feel agitation or anxiety, then it’s not your intuition.
Intuition isn’t anxious, agitated, or loud. Especially if you have a certain belief, then you’re always going to be looking for evidence of it everywhere you go. Intuition is being aware of changes in feelings that you’re having and inquiring about those. It has no basis in thinking something went wrong or anxiety. If you’ve never done thoughtwork, then everything you think is your intuition is probably just your lizard brain and survival instincts and anxiety.
Seeing Photos You Don’t Like
What do you do when you see a photo of yourself that you don’t like? Here are Kara’s two strategies for working through your thoughts:
1. REmember your brain is not objective
Your brain is highly subjective. It’s not an objective observer of what is going on in that photo. If you have a certain belief about your hair always being frizzy or your thighs being fat, you’ll automatically zoom in on that and look for evidence of it in the photo. That’s what you’ll always see, whether it’s true or not.
If you have the thought that you look terrible in the photo, that’s not objective. You’re not even accurately perceiving what’s in the photo; it’s all being coloured by what’s going on in your brain. Your brain has to decide what it’s looking at. So when you look at a photo, you are not objectively looking at it. You have primed your brain to see and believe what’s there.
2. Remind yourself that photos are not what you objectively look like.
We tend to believe that photos are what we objectively look like, as opposed to what we see in the mirror. There’s no such thing as what we objectively look like. Anything that’s looking at you is just a lens, whether that’s a human eye, a photograph, or whatever else. So if you see a photo of you and you don’t like what you look like, that’s fine! You can also think that if you took it at a different angle or with different lighting or in a different place, it would be a completely new photo. There’s no objective way you look and a photo is not some objective record of it.
You can look in a mirror and 10 minutes later look at the same mirror and see a completely different view of yourself. If you realize that your perception changes moment to moment, then it helps to detach from believing every thought that you have in a mirror. Your body doesn’t change that much from day to day, it’s just thoughts. Your brain learns to love whatever you see a lot- so it’s important to not avoid your picture or reflection.
Kara Loewentheil is a Master Certified Coach with a B.A. from Yale and J.D. from Harvard Law. In the last three years after pivoting from a legal career, she has grown her life coaching business from 0 to 7 figures. She’s the host of the iTunes top-rated self-help podcast Unf*ck Your Brain, and has been featured in outlets like The Man Repeller, Above the Law, and The Huffington Post. She lives in New York City.
This post was transcribed and edited by Brittany Allison, Intuitive Eating Counselor. You can find her on Instagram @thefoodfreedomlife.
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