One of the most important steps in mental and emotional health is to be aware of your inner thoughts.
Over the past few decades, we have discovered a great deal about how the brain works, including how trauma, stress and anxiety affect our reality. For example, cognitive bias and burnout color how we feel about ourselves and the world. We really do view the world through colored filters that are created by our experiences.
Your inner thoughts can tell you a great deal about your inner landscape, your emotional and mental health, and where you are on the spectrum between thriving and crisis.
Your Positive and Negative Inner Thoughts
How we handle the stress and pressure that comes with the practice of law is determined by the inner landscape of our conscious mind.
In simplest terms, our thoughts about ourselves are categorized into positive and negative. When I help lawyers shift from burnout to success, we spend a lot of time focusing on the thoughts most prevalent in their consciousness. When thoughts are predominantly negative, it is a sure sign that we may be struggling with the symptoms of burnout.
Imagine that your thoughts and beliefs are like a computer program. Most healthy babies are born with a clean slate. All of our experiences and observations are the data that determine how we think, how we feel, how we behave and how we navigate through life.
Four Categories of Thoughts
I like to divide thoughts into four categories: inner critic, inner child, ego and inspiration. These categories have both a positive and a negative side, and they all affect how you handle stress.
1. The Inner Critic
The inner critic can be helpful or hurtful. Thoughts like “I can do better,” “I need help” or “this is challenging” are examples of the positive inner critic. Thoughts like “I screwed up,” “I am a failure” or “I will never be successful” are examples of the negative inner critic.
2. The Ego
Our ego can also be positive or negative. It analyzes and acts. Thoughts such as “I need to do this” or “I am successful” or “I love my job” are examples of the positive ego. Thoughts such as “I can’t do this,” “Life is hard” or “I don’t deserve to succeed” are examples of the negative ego.
3. The Inner Child
The inner child is that part of our thinking based on our memories and past. If we had a traumatic childhood, our emotional maturity may be lacking because we are stuck in some traumatic memory that prevents us from analyzing our life from a healthy emotional perspective. Inner thoughts such as “That was fun,” “Let’s go play” or “I am enjoying this” are thoughts from a positive inner child. Thoughts such as “I am afraid” or “That was mean” or “I don’t know what to do” come from the negative inner child.
4. Inspired Thought
Inspiration comes from our creativity when unbounded by negative ego, inner child and inner critic. When supported by positive thinking, we allow our inspiration to come up with new creative solutions to the problems we experience in life. When weighed down with negative ego, inner child and inner critic, we lock away inspiration.
Inner thoughts become most relevant when you face unexpected events or adversity. If you are prone to generate negative thoughts from a negative ego, inner critic or inner child, you set the stage for adverse results.
If you think you are a failure, that is the most likely result you will get. If you think you are a success, that is what you will get.
Thoughts Create Our Emotions, Our Emotions Create Our Behavior, and Our Behavior Creates Results
One of the most important step in mental and emotional health is to be aware of your thoughts. Many people don’t analyze their thinking, they just live their lives with no analysis of the nature of their thinking. If you are a positive thinker, great. If you negatively think most of the time, you struggle.
If this sounds overly simplistic, it is.
The quality and character of your thoughts are also influenced by your subconscious mind, trauma, physical health and other factors. The good news is you can change the way you think — your inner landscape, your emotions — and your results. It isn’t magic, it is science. Try this quick quiz to test your level of positivity.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best possible and 10 being the worst possible, rate your response to each question:
- How confident are you that you will get a positive result?
- How much joy are you experiencing in your practice?
- How excited are you to go to work on Monday?
- How much sleep/rest do you get on a nightly basis?
- How do you react to criticism?
- How much self-medication do you take?
- How is your physical health?
- How creative are you?
- How calm are you?
- How often do you think about changing careers?
The higher the score, the more negatively you think. My observation is that once people start thinking positively, their experiences and successes become more positive.
Transform the enemy within into a tower of support and your career and life landscape will shift dramatically.