Talking Back to White Bears: #2 Self-care for your Mind

January 7, 2021
Reading time: 4 minutes


Ready for more self-care? It’s a good topic for the beginning of a new year, and I think it’s such an important topic that I’m dedicating three articles on the subject. This week, we’ll discuss another equally important (and sometimes overlooked) area of self-care: your thoughts. Self-care begins internally. It’s  knowing who you are, having an awareness of your thoughts, and managing how you talk to and feel about yourself. Confidence and empowerment are just a couple of byproducts of proper self-care. 

One of the foundations of well-being is listening to and honoring your inner voice and being open to what you hear. You know that voice. Sometimes it is empowering and creative. Sometimes it is motivating. Other times it might be fearful, angry, frustrated, demotivating, or downright spiteful. Pay attention to what that voice is saying, especially when the message is negative. Become aware of what is going on in your inner life. 

Your mind is an obedient servant. That means what you think about yourself will likely come true. That is such powerful knowledge: you move in the direction of your thoughts. It is imperative to be aware of what you think and the way you talk to yourself. Your future exists first in your mind. And the more positive the thoughts, the more likely you’ll have happier, more productive days, weeks, and years ahead of you.

“The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.” –Winston Churchill

The Change Junkie in me loves this quote.  

Essentially: if you can dream of something that seems unreachable; if you can see a different world or a new goal; that’s the start toward achieving it. It all starts with a thought… a dream… a vision. Isn’t that the way with every invention or scientific discovery? It is all born from the seed of a thought. And Kabbalah teaches us this is the Creator, speaking directly to us. How powerful is that?

But the reverse is also true. Chronic negative thoughts, especially fears about an unknowable future, can inhibit our dreams and growth. Those self-defeating thoughts are sneaky. They exist to protect and keep us, namely our ego, safe. Of course, nobody wants to get hurt or be in danger. At their best, they keep us from making dangerous mistakes.

Negative thoughts can also just as easily instill fear of the future and the unknown—something we have no control over. We all know shutting down that voice is not that simple or easy. It’s hard to push those thoughts away. Next to impossible, actually.

I love the example of white bears. Right now, do not think about white bears. Don’t think about them at all.

I know what you are all thinking about: bears. White ones, to be precise. Thoughts are powerful, maybe even at their most powerful when you are trying to ignore them.  All of us have been in situations where we want to get something off our mind, and we keep ruminating about the same idea over and over again–especially when we wake up at 4:00 AM, and our mind is running the same thought over in a loop. 

The white bear meditation actually springs from a theory. Psychologists have identified something called the ironic process theory (also known as the white bear problem). It is a process where the mind attempts to avoid certain thoughts, and by avoiding makes that thought all the more intrusive. Telling yourself not to think about white bears will create the opposite: you’ll only think of white bears. And as the author, Eckhart Tolle said, “Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and whatever you resist persists.” 

So become aware of those thoughts that don’t serve you. Don’t run from them or try to ignore them, acknowledge them, and then reply to them with their opposite. Reply to the thought “Nothing ever works out for me.” with “I am lucky. Things happen easily for me.”

Let’s consider some hypothetical changes you may want to see in your life in this new year and how to practice mindful self-care.

Like so many, you may have made a new year’s resolution to get in better physical shape. You even signed up for remote yoga classes and nutritional counseling. You’re motivated at first (you paid for the support, after all), but after a few weeks, some doubts sneak in. You might be discouraged by the time it’s taking to reach your goal (and your sore muscles). That voice keeps whispering… it’s too hard… it’s taking forever… you won’t ever get fit. Instead, when you hear that voice, acknowledge it as your frustration. Then, envision what it will feel like when your muscles grow stronger, when you gain more energy, and fit into your clothes more easily. Replace the thought with “How I do anything is how I do this.” In the words of Glennon Doyle, Jennifer Nettles, and kindergarten teachers everywhere, “We can do hard things!” Keep going.

You may have set a goal for advancing your career in 2021 but are frustrated by your career trajectory.  In fact, your job may appear to have little growth potential. I say “appear” because we all know businesses grow and evolve, sometimes in ways we can’t foresee. If you lose hope and become discouraged, you might conclude you’ll never get promoted. Even though you’d like more responsibility at your job, you’ll just do the bare minimum every day. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, take on more assignments, and set a goal, and when that voice inside protests that it’s thankless, or hopeless, or pointless, you reply back, “This is when change happens.” 

Rethink Moment: We all have changes we want to make in the new year. As the days go by, keep your eye on the goal and recognize those white bears that might derail your plans. Wave to them. Smile at them. Then tell them how it really is!

Next Week: Self-care for your spirit


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