As I type this article, I’m in my pajamas and a sweatshirt, sniffling and sneezing from a cold I picked up on my flight home from Greece last weekend. This cold packed more of a punch than usual – I’ve had to lie down in bed between client sessions this week (good thing I do almost all my coaching work online!) so I could have the energy to support my clients as best I can.
I’m not gonna lie: it’s not been pleasant. But in between sneezes, blowing my nose, dealing with the fountains flowing from my eyes, and the aches and tiredness that have been my companion the past few days, I’ve marveled at the incredible intelligence of our body and our physical immune system. Early on in my career, I remember hearing how these symptoms that we often view as a nuisance are in truth are a sign of healing taking place, a signal of our body’s natural movement towards health. I recognized the truth of that; how a fever is actually our body’s way of burning off toxins, and how vomiting and diarrhea, while nasty, are simply our body’s way of ejecting toxins and other harmful things that are hindering our body’s wellbeing. Our body even naturally springs into action to heal cuts on its own. It’s pretty incredible to see not only the genius, but the kindness of our design – that our body has a built-in intelligence that is always looking to get us back to the “default” state of health when something takes us off track.
I don’t think it occurs to many people that the same is true for our mind; that it also has a built-in intelligence moving towards health - a psychological immune system, if you will. Honestly, it wasn’t until I started exploring the principles behind the human experience that I share in my work now that I even considered this possibility. But as I more deeply understood some fundamental truths about how our mind works, it became obvious to me: why wouldn’t our mind have the same intelligence our body has?
I realized that because we live from the inside-out – meaning, our feelings are a product of our moment-to-moment thinking, not our circumstances - then that literally means we feel our thinking. Not us, not what we can or can’t do, and not how something will go. In other words, our feelings aren't a barometer of the quality of our life but instead a barometer of the quality of our thinking. When we feel more settled, peaceful, or clear, our feelings are letting us know that we’re in a good flow of thought and seeing things more clearly. And the feelings we tend to think of as “negative” aren’t confirming that we suck or things are going to go terribly wrong, like we’re often taught. They are instead alerting us to the fact that we’re drifting away from “home” and we aren’t seeing ourselves or circumstances clearly. In other words, our feelings let us know how well we can trust our thinking or not in the moment.
But somewhere along the line, we very innocently learned the opposite - that these “negative” feelings were a sign of disorder or flaw within the design. We learned to see our anxious, depressed, fearful, or stressful feelings as a sign that something was wrong with us or that we were fundamentally broken in some way. And from that perspective, it makes sense why people work so hard and employ so many different means to numb, fix, control, manage, or change their unwanted feelings.
But what if we’ve had it backwards all along?
Let’s go back to the body for a minute. If you were to touch fire, your hand would immediately feel a painful sensation that would cause you to pull your hand away. We get that the pain isn’t telling us anything about ourselves. The pain is part of the deeper intelligence within the body letting us know that the thing we’re touching is dangerous. In other words, our body makes us feel a little pain in order to protect us from feeling much more pain and potentially creating lasting damage if we leave our hand where it is.
But with the mind, we’ve been taught that our uncomfortable feelings are an invitation to leave our hand on the flames - to dig deeper, analyze and investigate the content of our thoughts further, and get to the root cause of the feeling. The problem is, we do that not remembering that a noisy mind is never a great place to look for insight and wisdom and not realizing that there’s only ever one root cause– Thought taking form in the moment.
Again though, if our body is designed with this intelligence, why wouldn’t our mind be, too? To me, these feelings we’ve learned to fear and numb at all costs are actually our psychological immune system alerting us up to the fact that we’re touching hot thoughts and we might want to step back. They aren’t a flaw in the design, but a reassurance that the system is functioning perfectly– that our mind is trying to eject the toxic stories, narratives, and beliefs that we’ve created through Thought and get us back to our default setting of peace of mind, clarity, and wellbeing.
In the same way that we can trust our physical immune system to naturally begin healing cuts or help us rebound from colds we picked up in Greece, we can trust the foolproof, built-in intelligence of our mind to take care of the the occasionally toxic thinking that obscures our perception of reality. Our noisy thoughts will all settle and pass on their own if we let them. Our awareness of the true nature of feelings attunes us more to the “fake news” detector in our mind so we can step away before we jump down the rabbit hole of our Onion-created stories about us and our lives. And when we’re not trying to do our mind’s job of fixing our thoughts and feelings, we’ll more easily and naturally settle into a space of clarity, wisdom, and wellbeing where we can thrive more and struggle less.
Curious about the things I share here, and interested in a fresh perspective on mental health and performance psychology? Follow me on Instagram!