Why Being “Neutral” Works For Us
It has been estimated that an average brain has anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 thoughts a day and 70% of them are believed to be negative. Learning this really surprised me! I pride myself on being a positive person. I attempt to control my inner dialogue and do my best to stay positive. However, learning and understanding that our internal narrative is mostly driven by our childhood experiences, I felt compelled to learn more and make sure my boys were given every chance to consistently have a positive internal verbal dialogue.
I’ve always felt that speaking to ourselves and what we say has a tremendous impact on our behavior. If the majority of our thoughts are negative it made sense to me that negative outcomes would be the result. So I practice and practice and practice catching my inner dialogue and changing negative thoughts to positive thoughts as often as possible throughout my day.
It makes sense that we have negative thoughts. Ever since the caveman days we have been designed to predict what negative results can happen to protect ourselves. Back then a decision as simple as which way to walk could be the difference between life and death. So humans were always evaluating and predicting the potential negative outcomes as a matter of life and death.
Now we live in a time where we don’t have the exact same worries as the neanderthal man but it’s really difficult to get rid of a thought process more than a million years in the making. So out of the womb we are working against negative thoughts. Interestingly enough, it’s what happens in those early childhood years that frame that dialogue more than any other time in our lives.
My understanding is that when we are young and our brain is developing we struggle to separate our emotions from our thoughts. So we associate and correlate the two together. So when our parents are mad at us we think that must mean that we are not good enough. If your parents or siblings only said it once you could recover but if they say it multiple times it becomes ingrained in your internal narrative as you grow older.
For most of us, we don’t notice our internal narrative. We just think we are living our lives taking on the challenges each day presents. However, if you take the time to listen you will almost hear the person or people in your lives who have said negative or positive things within this dialogue. Especially the things you heard throughout your childhood. This is why childhood trauma is so significantly correlated with delinquency.
Learning all this I was compelled to teach my boys positive self talk as a necessary skill in their lives. The more I attempted to teach them this skill the harder it became. I noticed how hard it was for them when negative outcomes occurred and how they were emotionally setback and at times really turning negative.
I didn’t know there was another way until I read Trevor Moawad’s book “It Takes What It Takes”. In the book Trevor describes how it takes neutral thinking to be successful. I was feeling optimistic because this is consistent with one of our family principles: BE GRATEFUL, STAY PRESENT. I was interested in why being neutral was the way to go.
He described a core truth: each moment has a history and a life of its own. It’s important, it matters, you’re responsible for it but it has nothing to do with what happens next. Neutral thinking is a high performance strategy that emphasizes judgement free thinking, especially in crisis and pressure situations. The cornerstone of what he teaches: it’s real, it’s true, the past cannot be changed with mantras or platitudes. Neutral thinking shuns all attempts at illusion or outright self delusion which are often the foundation of motivational strategies. Neutral thinking strips away the bull and the bias both external and internal.
I thought that if my boys controlled a feeling of success and promoted it into their thinking that it would give them the best chance to achieve success with the next decision. However, I learned that is not true. We don’t want to feel any emotion because that would be passing judgement on our previous behavior and that would put us at a disadvantage with the next decision.
What is the truth in the moment? Many times it’s not as bad or as good as we think it is. We think how we feel is a true representation of the moment but it’s almost always wrong. Most people will let that feeling creep into the execution of the next decision.
I’m doing my best to get my boys to not judge their previous decision. Our brain is a perpetual motion machine. It’s used to being in drive or reverse. I’m teaching the boys to downshift their brian into neutral. This takes practice but once you get used to shifting your thoughts into neutral you can go to the truth on a dime.
They then are able to deal with the facts at hand:
- Where are we?
- What can we do next?
- How can we best do it?
They feel more calm and aware of the situation as it unfolds moment to moment. Any person who is more calm and more aware generally succeeds.
The truth is not negative or positive when you remove judgement from it, it simply is. With this strategy the next behavior remains consistently in our control.
Next blog we will discuss the truth and why teaching the real truth to my boys helps them more than anything else can.