Take Authority over Your Thoughts

Pivot Your Way from Momentary Distress to Being Back in Charge


Today’s reflection is focused on effectively handling a moment of highly reactive thinking that has us feeling powerless, overwhelmed, and stuck, and offers a four-step process that not only takes us out of being caught in a negative emotional state, but also allows us to regain our sanity, reclaim our power, and create an optimistic and positive view going forward.


A few weeks back I was discussing with a psychologist friend of mine how we get caught in thinking patterns that do not serve us, and he suggested I google “Learned Helplessness” — a term coined by Martin Seligman in 1965 to explain why individuals who have “learned” (or come to believe) they are helpless based on their environmental conditioning tend to stay caught in that patterning. What I learned revealed the context of why I personally became entangled in negative thinking patterns, but my research also revealed a way out of this misery. I adapted Seligman’s step-by-step process (below) for us to TAKE back our power and reclaim the clarity of our true Self. When we become consumed in a highly reactive moment in which we have lost control of our thoughts, (and sometimes even our behavior), we need a way to respond and regain our sanity.


From my life experiences I have come to believe that in order for a person to change thinking and regain Personal Power it is fundamentally and first necessary to know and claim having authority over their thinking. My own journey in this regard has taken some time, but I have now come to own personal responsibility for choosing the way in which to direct my thoughts. And while I still get confused and sucked into downward spiral thinking and feeling from time to time, I know that it is up to me to pull myself out of it. By choosing to believe I am in charge of my thinking and in any moment can determine what I choose to think gives me the power to climb out of those holes that I may unsuspectingly fall into.  Only by each of us owning our power in this way can we take charge of our lives and not remain victims to outer circumstances.


My own journey has raised to consciousness certain beliefs I held (interpretations from childhood experiences I thought were true) that affect my response to life’s opportunities and possibilities in a limiting way (not fully expressing my potential). I have previously written about managing these limiting beliefs and offered ways of reclaiming control over these “pesky demons” held in our subconscious minds. I have often referred to our need to “pivot” into a different mindset when we become aware of these underlying beliefs and choose to not let them dominate our conscious thinking and behaviors. But the process is somewhat different than the one I describe below which is more about what to do when we experience a temporary drop into a reactive hole in which our flight or fight response is in control rather than our true and powerful selves.


An example of a temporary a situation in which we might experience such a reactive moment might be as follows: another driver cuts us off, we become enraged, and out of anger we start cursing that individual, or worse yet, start following so we can get back at that SOB. Basically we are stuck in our anger, our reaction is revenge, and we’re not about letting that guy get away with it. We are consumed by a moment of insanity! Another example: our reaction to someone asking us to stand up and address a large audience might overwhelm and terrify us, causing our hearts to beat twice the normal rate. Fear of criticism, based on feelings of unworthiness, haunts many of us, and is something to be avoided at all cost!


To “pivot” out of these temporary moments of “craziness”, however, first requires an understanding of what pivoting is and how it can be a powerful strategy for taking back control over our “thoughts run wild”.  (Pivoting, as many of us know, is a term often referred to in basketball, and describes stopping forward movement with one foot grounded in place and turning in a different direction.)  In a scenario relating to thinking, pivoting is “moving from overwhelm or defeat to an optimistic view through a step-by-step process that helps us release negativity by claiming a more factual understanding of what happened. This, then, enables us to reclaim Personal Power and regain sanity. The result of pivoting, in this regard, is typically gaining positive energy that enables one to move forward in a clear and creative problem solving mode.”


Here’s the four-step process I recommend to TAKE back your power and regain control—control that may have been “hijacked” by your brain’s amygdala. (“Amygdala hijacking” is a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence.)


Take authority over your reactions and beliefs by first accepting, feeling, and releasing the negative emotion. A few breaths will help do this. If you are having trouble pulling yourself out of the negative feeling context, interrupt what is going on by making some physical change, like standing up, turning around, or practicing an imaginary golf swing (my favorite!). If you are driving in a car, maybe try making a lion’s roar, or even stopping and getting out of your vehicle. This action will distract you from your temporarily induced reactive state of mind.


Accept what happened as a result of outside circumstances, not a personal deficiency. Assert your power by claiming a reversal of helplessness and feeling of doom — ‘it will last forever’ into ‘this is only a temporary setback’. And rather than internally blaming yourself, take a perspective that the cause may have come from outside yourself. (I sometimes, quite jokingly, blame the slope of the green for causing my putt to miss the hole by three feet! And as I laugh about that, I release internal blame and self-judgment, and am thereby better able to think about the next shot.)


Keep the process going by claiming a compassionate rather than judgmental view. Think of counter evidence like, “maybe that guy was dodging traffic and cut me off because his wife was having a baby and he needed to get to the hospital fast!” Compassion is as simple as trying to imagine the other’s action arising out of a different condition than what was apparent to us. Like, “maybe that guy was caught in his own ‘amygdala hijacking’ and was having a really bad day.” Compassion does not absolve the other from the behavior, but it will make you feel better and help release the grip on whatever emotion you are caught in.


Energize yourself with a pat-on-the-back after pivoting and getting to the other side! (“Great, Jim! That was a good reversal you just made! Doesn’t it feel wonderful to be centered again?”) Give yourself a “high-five” after getting through the situation—having taken ownership of your reaction, released your negative energy, and turned your thoughts around to feeling centered and optimistic once again. This quick celebratory expression will actually help cement the process and remind you of what to do next the time you feel temporarily trapped in a moment of negative reactivity.


Try out the process any time you feel powerless in a situation. Remember, no one else can change your thinking for you— it’s up to you to claim full responsibility for your thinking and your life.


If you can’t remember all the steps, just try saying to yourself, “I am not a victim here; I am powerful and have authority over my thoughts!” None of us are meant to feel powerless; and you aren’t meant to be stuck in a situation over which you have no control. You are here to be a powerful creator on your way to fulfilling your heart-felt dreams. So, whether in a reactive moment or being caught in a limiting belief, TAKE back your power that puts you in charge of your life!


About Jim

Jim’s innovative and influential style of coaching and facilitation stems from over 15 years of Management experience in Human Resource and Organization Development. He has written two books, and has coached others in the area of Personal Development for the past 20 years.