The Pebble in the Shoe: How thoughts impact your daily race.

One topic I enjoy writing about is the winning mindset or as some refer to as PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). As a young man I grew up being a student of Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich”. The younger generation may appreciate some of his philosophies in books like “The Secret ” or simply by googling Laws of Attraction.  One famous quote that exemplifies the importance of thought and its impact on your life is from T. Harv Eker’s famous quote “Thought leads to feelings. Feelings lead to actions. Actions lead to results.”

But what if your thoughts are impacted by other external factors that throw your PMA completely out of whack? How do you respond then?  My mother shared with me a story about The pebble in a shoe. The story is about the most anticipated race of the year also known as The Great Race. All the runners are stretching and eagerly preparing to run.  Moments later the entire stadium is silent and turns in anticipation as the champion confidently makes his entrance. The champion was perfection for all to watch as he moved effortlessly in all his races. Nothing ever bothered him as he was built for speed. He had no equal, no peer and no competition. The champion was undefeated as everyone was racing to place second to his greatness.  As the runners prepare in their starting blocks, the champion’s mindset goes from being unwaveringly confident to uncomfortable. He realizes that there is a pebble in his shoe. It’s too late to take it out as the starting pistol fires and the runners explode from the blocks. The Champion sprints to a typical gliding start however as the race goes on the pebble in his shoe becomes more uncomfortable. The champion shifts from graceful gazelle-like strides to a slower average runner’s speed. To the audience’s shock, the Champion loses the race.  Rather than being humble in defeat, he repeatedly screams, “There was a pebble in my shoe! There was a pebble in my shoe!” Instead of celebrating in triumph, all the other runners remained in shock and thought to themselves “He is normal and not a god.”

The lesson to this story is that a single thought can reverse the outcome of any situation, condition or circumstance.

What is your pebble? We have all had a pebble in our shoe.  These are small nagging thoughts that linger in our minds. They are the ones that follow us throughout the day and keep us up at night. As you read this you might even have one or two in your shoe. Each pebble intrudes into our thoughts and can stay hidden for years. Some call them “repressed memories” and can be formed from a single thought, or a traumatic experience that occurred years, months, weeks or days ago. Some of these pebbles hinder you in business, personal life, health or some pebbles appear in every shoe in your life. These intangible pebbles can completely throw you off your race. They are things like Worry, Frustration, Guilt, Jealousy, Anger, Fear, Rejection and Envy.  I am sure we have all felt these feelings at some point in time and to some degree they may even be the cause of relationship breakdown, overeating, substance abuse, lack of focus or anything that clouds your future of happiness.

In theory, removing the pebble seems easy. You simply take the shoe off and remove it. Essentially you can change how you feel by changing how you think.  However this is harder than one might think. The average person has 2000 to 3000 thoughts per day. If there are 86,400 seconds in a day, we have a different thought every 28.8 seconds. No wonder we are like dogs running around in circles. We dwell on the past, worry about the future and are not fully engaged in the present.  Have you ever tried to play a basketball game while thinking about the last basketball game? You can’t. You can bounce back and forth from different thoughts, however you cannot hold a future and past-tense thought at the same time. It is either one or the other.

Our minds are so distracted that we seldom have any given thought locked in the moment. You could be on a date and you can be thinking about whether you left the lights on. Coupling this with the other distractions such as facebook messenger, tweets, Instagram updates, voicemails, text messages, phone calls, new flash, or even a doorbell ringing, it’s no wonder we seldom live in the moment. Don’t believe me? How many times have we missed an exit on the freeway because we were thinking about something else.

The reality is that our thoughts tend to wander to the past tense. As humans it is difficult to simply shake things off that might have caused us stress. If this was the case then every argument I have with my wife would be a piece of cake. Not the case. Some of us are more prone to holding on to this pebble. Personality also definitely plays a role.  My younger brother is very emotional and holds on to thoughts deeply.  He is someone who could be more prone to rumination, which is deeply pondering or considered thought about something. We have all had it. It’s that thought that is eating at us like the pain of that pebble stuck in the heel of your foot. It sucks and it’s all we can feel at the time. Studies have shown that rumination and persistent negative thinking are linked to social anxiety, symptoms of depression, elevated blood pressure and increased amount of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress) in our blood.

These painful or annoying pebbles originate from the past. You can have an experience as far back as childhood that still creeps into your subconscious mind. If not controlled, they can weasel their way into the consciousness of your daily thoughts and actions.  We play the scene over and over again like a bad movie as it weighs on our minds for an indefinite amount of time.  Some of these thoughts begin innocently. Some are based on fact while some are based on assumption. I can’t count how many times a male friend of mine felt that his girlfriend was cheating on him or vice versa.  Some of these pebbles are not true at all as most are based on fear.

As emotional beings, we have either positive or negative thoughts that cannot be experienced at the same time. The good thing is that we have free will to change what our thoughts are. It isn’t easy but it is possible should you choose to focus on a positive thought.

Here are 4 simple tips to fend off negativity from sneaking in.

  1.   Use Socratic Questioning. Most of us give better advice to our friends than applying it to ourselves. Think that your negative pebble of a thought is a friend’s concern and not yours. What advice would you give someone you cared about going through the same problem?
  2.   Change your state. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins always recommends changing your physiological state. Get up and dance, go for a run, hit the gym or change your posture. Physical activity is among the best distractions from dysfunctional thought.
  3.   Count your blessings. When was the last time you counted all the things you are thankful for. The most successful people in the world include gratitude as a daily practice to maintain a positive mindset. A University of California study  by Dr. Robert Emmons revealed that those who expressed gratitude  regularly were more optimistic and had less visits to their physician. Below are 4 ways to express gratitude:
  • Simply write them down and review them when you have a bad day
  • Say “Thank you” more often
  • Think of things you are grateful for and make sure they are the last things before you sleep.
  • Take up prayer, meditation or yoga.

Activate that big brain of yours. I am really passionate about this one. Do things that require brain power. Resist sitting in front of the TV with a bucket of ice cream while watching a Drama flix. It’s tempting but don’t do it. Your brain is the most vulnerable to negative thoughts when you are most comfortable. I am a frequent chess player and enjoy mental exercise. If Chess isn’t your thing, try playing an instrument.

“Like a puppeteer, your thoughts pull the strings of all your actions.”

Don’t let little pebbles become boulders.

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