Feeling under pressure and wondering how to handle it? As individuals working in high-stress environments, we have been conditioned to think that the answer is to improve our ability to cope. Today, our guest proposes that the simplest way to beat stress is to not do anything about it! Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But this method can actually help you work happier by allowing you to focus more on the present.
In this episode, Dr Giles P. Croft joins us to discuss how our thoughts and emotions trigger stress signals. He shares his controversial approach to tackling stress, and why most of our efforts to cope better don’t really help at all. We also delve into the importance of pausing to allow yourself to calm down and letting go of the things you can’t control.
If you want to know how to find peace of mind, beat stress and work happier, stay tuned to this episode.
[12:20] ‘Everybody’s experience of life comes from their thought process from inside their own little thought system, moment to moment.’
[16:07] ‘We’re operating from that default place of peace of mind, calm wisdom. That’s when we’re actually connected to good ideas, creativity, wisdom and compassion. All that stuff’s always there, because that’s part of our connection to life and our connection to others.’
[25:11] ‘[I]magine our default state as human beings is calm water: when it’s calm, we’re able to think clearly. We’re able to come up with good ideas and be intuitive and listen to our wisdom and the good stuff. And then this stone gets thrown into the water. There are ripples, but those ripples, they die down of their own accord—we don’t need to try.’
[29:49] ‘It’s all about awareness and understanding of what’s going on for us. Understanding how the human operating system works. In the middle of a dreadful day, it’s to see that you only ever experiencing the present moment.’
[36:43] ‘When we let go of the need to try to control everything with our intellect, we find that we can move through life with ease and grace.’
[39:07] ‘I guess there’s a difference between wisdom or fear. I think it’s, when fear talks, it’s “chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter”. When wisdom talks, it’s that still small voice, that quiet in the storm.’
[53:53] “There’s nothing to do. As soon as we turn it into a doing, we’ve created a problem where we’re investing in that left brain narrative. We’re buying into it. We’re making it worse because, “Oh, there’s a problem and it needs dealing with”. There is no problem.’
Want to learn more about his work? Check out his website. You can also connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter.
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Dr Giles P. Croft: Don’t get me wrong. The thoughts that we’re having, they make total sense. They’ve evolved to make total sense. 75,000 years ago when we split off from the chimps or whatever, and we evolved this ability to think about our own thinking, it’d be no good would it if we had this thought, ‘That might be a sabre-toothed tiger? Is it a sabre-toothed tiger?’ Do I believe my thinking there and had a debate about whether or not we believe our thinking? It’s evolved. It’s evolved to look so, so, so real and so true.
Dr Rachel Morris: Welcome to our new season of You Are Not A Frog. We’re kicking this year off with a hard and perhaps, controversial truth. Do you believe that other people are the sole cause of your anxiety and stress? Or might there be something else going on? Are our thoughts always accurate and true even if some of our deepest fears and worries might be real? And does dwelling on these thoughts in the present actually makes any difference to our future? How would it change the way you’ve experienced work in life if you were able to choose which thoughts you believed, and which ones you didn’t?
In this episode, our first of 2022, Dr Giles P Croft is back on the podcast to discuss his take on resilience, how to beat stress and burnout, and live happier by not doing anything about it at all. It’s really difficult to accept that our thinking about events is causing all our stress. It’s a truth that might seem inconvenient and frustrating, but actually, it’s quite liberating. We discuss how recognising what’s going on is half the battle. Once you’ve done this, the rest is easy.
Giles believes that like a snow globe, we are programmed to find resilience homeostasis where the snow will settle of its own accord if we just give it time. In these really difficult times in which we’re going through right now, you may feel skeptical about this approach, particularly if you’re working in healthcare with its daily challenges and overwhelming workload. But I think that Giles has a very important and profound message. This is good news. If our stress is down to our thinking rather than down to other people, we actually stand a chance of being able to do something about it.
In this episode, Giles, and I discuss how to apply these insights and think about what we can do to tackle stress at its root rather than just dealing with the symptoms. Listen to this episode if you want to start off 2022 feeling more empowered and hopeful about the year ahead, if you want to find out how their programmes returned to resilience homeostasis, and then how this simple insight can change the way you live and work, perhaps forever.
Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals who want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris. I’m a GP, now working as a coach, speaker, and specialist in teaching resilience. Even before the coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been described as frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water. We hardly noticed the extra-long days becoming the norm and have gotten used to feeling stressed and exhausted.
Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two options: stay in the pan and be boiled alive or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. It is possible to craft your working life so that you can thrive even in difficult circumstances. And if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job.
In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues, and experts—all who have an interesting take on this. So that together, we can take back control and love what we do again. If you’re a doctor who is feeling strung out and overwhelmed right now, and you want to find balance in your life, beat burnout and work happier, but find it almost impossible to find the time to make this happen, then let us help make it easier for you.
Dr Caroline Walker and I started the Permission to Thrive online CPD membership for doctors a year ago giving overwhelmed doctors the tools they need to thrive in their work and lives. It’s a wonderful community to be part of, and we’re continuing this year with brand new content, and loads more suggestions, coaching tips and resources to help you thrive, not just survive at work. We run monthly webinars with accompanying CPD coaching workbooks so that you can kill two birds with one stone, invest in yourself and claim CPD time.
If you can’t make the live webinars, you can access the recordings in our Online Resources Center, as well as other bonus content. If you want to find out more, then do sign up for a free webinar called How To Give Yourself Permission To Thrive on Wednesday the 19th of January at 8pm. If you sign up and can’t make it, we’ll send you a recording. We’d love you to join us. Just sign up through the link in the show notes.
It’s fantastic to have with me back on the podcast — third time lucky I think — Dr Giles P Croft.
Giles: Hopefully, I get it right this time.
Rachel: The other two was so bad. I’ve got you back again just to see if we can sort it out. Giles is a coach and a trainer. He’s a former surgeon, he specialises in resilience and well being. Giles, welcome! Seriously, great to have you back.
Giles: Thanks. Always a pleasure having these conversations with you.
Rachel: The first one you were on, it was called Default to Happy. Give us a one-line summary of that.
Giles: That’s all about on natural default state is calm peace of mind, well-being, and it’s only our misunderstanding about how we’re experiencing the world that ever gets in the way of that.
Rachel: Okay, controversial. We’ll come back to talk a bit more about that. The next one was on about alcohol, wasn’t it?
Giles: Indeed, it was. It was us having a discussion about alcohol. We both read a book, haven’t we? My experience of giving up was very different from how I imagined my experience of giving up.
Rachel: That has definitely led me — that conversation — led me to drinking less alcohol. I’d love to say none, but my friends and family will testify that it’s definitely not happened. I think it certainly changed my relationship to alcohol. That I think is really important and change the mindset about it. There we are — moderation in everything.
I got us back on to talk about victim-blaming — resilience victim-blaming — which I think can be going on right now, particularly with everything that we’ve seen through COVID, with all the well-being stuff, with all the resilience training, etc, etc. I am quite often asked to come into organisations and do some resilience training with them because people are burning out, they’re going off sick with stress, and people are thinking, ‘What can we do about this?’ I know some training — that’s the answer. Let’s put that in.
Whilst I 100% think that training is essential and helpful, I can also see that it is not the only answer. It can be quite annoying for people that are working in a system that seems to be completely broken and causing all the problems to be told that if you’re suffering because of a broken system, it’s because you’re not resilient enough. Let’s get your resilience skills up, and then you’ll be able to cope. It’s almost victim-blaming, saying, ‘If you’re not coping, it’s your fault. It’s not what we’re doing to you.’ I’ve experienced this myself, and I’ve actually experienced this with several coaches recently. People I’ve been coaching have been almost broken by the system, by what’s expected of them. They know it’s impossible, but they are often weeping.
They are not coping. They are burnt out. They are often physically ill, and they say ‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I cope? I never thought I was that weak.’ I just looked at it and thinking, ‘Why are you blaming yourself? Why are you thinking you’re weak because this is the way you’re reacting? You are having a normal physiological reaction to the stress that you are under to the demands that the system is putting on you.’
I know that you’ve got some very interesting thoughts about resilience that maybe slightly different from other people. I thought, ‘Let’s just ask Giles what he thinks about this.’ Because I know from Default to Happy, it was all about, ‘We can just default to this. We’ve got this inbuilt sort of reset which defaults and we can go back, and we don’t actually need to do that much apart from applying the reset button. But that’s not my experience of having worked with these people, so I’d love to unpack that a bit.
Giles: I suppose the first question that comes to mind is, ‘What do we think is the mechanism behind that system — breaking people?’ Because to me, if the system was churning out stress, if there was stress inherent in the system, then wouldn’t it be affecting everybody the same way?
Rachel: I think it does.
Giles: There’s literally nobody who has a good day at work anymore, and there’s no there’s nobody who is not suffering with stress and crying.
Rachel: When you put it that way, of course there are some people. I would say, if I look at my colleagues in the GP world at the moment, it is very rare. I said to someone the other day, ‘How’s work?’ And she says, ‘It’s great!’ I’ve not heard a GP say that for a long time. It’s generally — it’s just about, ‘I’m coping. I’m just about surviving.’
I think that, actually, the vast majority of people are stressed at the moment — I’m describing the stress — and many of them are on nearing burnout. However, you’re right. There are some people who aren’t.
Giles: I know people who aren’t. I know people who love the GP job. But for me, this is absolutely the starting point. It’s got to be. We’ve got to look at, ‘What’s the experience we’re having here?’ If the stress were inherent in the system, then everybody would have to feel the same way about it because that’s where the feelings will be coming from. But they didn’t. They don’t.
I’m sure even the most stressed person, we all experience busy times and situations that we don’t like all the time. Yet, we can see that our own experience of thought fluctuates from moment to moment. Just an example, I was running a session the other evening. I did an hour and a half session on my anxiety, and it’s my Wellbeing Wednesdays. Essentially, it’s me. It’s a live stream, but it’s me sitting in front of a camera on my own live streaming to a camcorder. It was all about anxiety.
Well, blame me if I didn’t wake up that morning feeling really anxious. This isn’t like me at all. I literally felt nauseous. I was so anxious. Yet, 10 minutes later, I knew what to do, because I knew where it was coming from. I knew that it wasn’t coming from the evening session. It wasn’t coming from all of the prep that I had to do. It was coming from my thought processes in that moment and the whole experience of life.
Everybody’s experience of life comes from their thought process from inside their own little thought system, moment to moment to moment. Waking up, having those sensations was quite dark in the room — it was early. So they didn’t really have any visual stimulus or any auditory stimulus. It was just like, ‘Oh my God! My heart’s racing and I feel a bit sick.’
The mind will quite happily go off and find whatever it likes. It’s rifling through my diary. It’s like a, ‘Well, Chelsea. We got Wellbeing Wednesdays tonight.’ That’s what you’re anxious about, ‘Oh, right. Okay.’ Then, all of a sudden, I’m anxious about Wellbeing Wednesdays, and that’s not the case at all. That’s simply not the case. That’s not the way that the mind works. To just let that go, we’re talking about default to happy the first time around, weren’t we? Because I’ve seen the way that the mind works. I don’t have to believe a single thing that it comes back with. Whether it’s doing its best trying to keep me safe, trying to find problems it can solve was to just — leave that alone. Leave that alone completely.
10 minutes later, I was singing Duran Duran in the shower again like I normally. Happiest Larry getting really excited about Wellbeing Wednesdays in the evening. It’s why, for me, t’s so important, before we go anywhere with any of this stuff, to really look at what’s the experience that we’re having. We’re all human. We all work in exactly the same way. When it comes to stress, when it comes to work situations, we need to look at what is the experience that we’re actually having.
Rachel: That’s interesting. I totally agree that it’s our thinking that causes us the stress. Even if our thoughts are, I guess, true. ‘I need to get to the end of my patient list, and that’s going to take me a very long time, and I’m going to be here late.’ Well, that is probably the truth. Then, I guess the story you’re telling yourself, ‘And it’s not fair. I’m going to be really tired, and I’m going to make a mistake.’ Then, that’s then causing you complaints.
You just said we’re all human. We work in exactly the same way. I don’t think we all work in the same way. Because I was on the train with a very good friend of mine the other day. Her other half is a really nice guy, and he’s the most laid-back person you have ever met. She thinks she’s seen him stressed maybe twice in his life. He doesn’t seem to ruminate about stuff. He just deals with stuff. Even he runs a really significant business. Stuff comes up, he just goes, ‘Oh, that’s a bit rubbish, isn’t it? Let’s deal with it and then sorted out.’
Does his brain work in exactly the same way as ours? Or has he just learned — is it something genetic about he manages to control his thinking and not dwell on stuff?
Giles: When I say everyone works in exactly the same way, every single one of us is experiencing our thought system in the moment. In terms of behaviour, we’re always going to do what makes sense, given our understanding of that one simple fight.
Now, our behaviour and — we’ll see changes in ourselves as well. We’re fluctuating because our moods fluctuate all the time. When we’re in a low mood, we tend to believe our thinking. We tend to really invest in it. We identify with it. We think it’s us and we take it seriously. Our behaviours come from that place.
When we’re in a much more lighthearted mood, we’re not taking our thinking seriously at all. We’re operating from that default place of peace of mind, calm wisdom. That’s when we’re actually connected to good ideas, creativity, wisdom, and compassion. All of that stuff’s always there because that’s part of our connection to life and our connection to others.
It’s only ever getting invested in that little left-brain narrative, ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. This means this, this means that. I’m this, I’m that. They mean that. This is going on…’ It’s constant. It’s what it is to be human.
The actual mechanism by which we experience life is exactly the same. The difference between your friend who doesn’t get stressed about stuff is that it simply doesn’t make sense to attach to that narrative that’s going on whether or not that’s something that he’s seen. For me, I just do better in life. When I attach to the jibber-jabber in my head, it’s like I’ve seen through it. I’ve seen through its illusion. It’s not truth at all.
Rachel: Do you think he’s having the same jibber-jabber in his head, and he’s not attaching to it?
Giles: I think — you’ve got kids, haven’t you? When there’s some bad behavior going on, we don’t tend to reinforce it, do we? When the light of attention is no longer on that bad behaviour, then it tends to die out. From what I’ve seen with myself and in clients is, the less attention we pay to it, the less it’s there.
I’m human, so I fall for it. Especially if I’m tired, or hungry, or something, it’s more likely that I’m going to fall for it. I guess just knowing deep down that that’s the way it works, and that even really looks like I’ve got a whole load of problems. Essentially, all problems are created by the mind. All problems are created by this narrative.
There’s no other way to experience a problem than in the narrative in our heads. The more that we can see through that, the less insistent it becomes because it just — again, you’re not shining the light of consciousness onto it, so you’re not growing it essentially. What is it they say? What we resist, persists. If we pay a whole load of attention, it’s going to stick around if we don’t pay attention, it’s not.
Rachel: Maybe, he has just absolutely trained himself to pay attention to these thoughts, and not the other ones. Then, they’ve gradually gone down. I think we can all do that to some extent, can’t we? The issue is when I talk to people about this, you’re thinking about this thing that’s causing the problem. I do get that and I do believe that.
The problem is, it’s then the consequences of them saying ‘no’, of them saying, ‘enough is enough’. Because yes, when you’re saying, ‘Is every single GP burning out?’ Of course, not. Of course there’s not every single GP that’s burning out. Is every single GP that’s a partner running a practice burning out? Of course, not. There are some that are doing really well. There are some that aren’t. They’ve all got a lot of pressure on them — some more than others.
I do think that if you put someone in a difficult situation for long enough, and they do nothing about that, eventually, no matter how resilient they are, having the resilience skills, eventually, their physiology with the chronic stress will cause a problem. But I don’t know. When you actually do have this stuff, you say, ‘Don’t pay attention to those thoughts.’ But what if those thoughts are true? ‘If we don’t do this, we are going to lose the business potentially. I won’t be able to feed my family.’ All those sorts of things.
There’s consequences, actually. We say that, ‘Probably won’t happen.’ But actually, you can see that if she made that decision to protect yourself, that would happen. You do choose to carry on doing what you’re doing so that you can still feed your family, etc. People feel then they’re trapped, and they have no choice. What do you do then when the thoughts that you’re having actually make a lot of sense?
Giles: Rachel, don’t get me wrong. The thoughts that we’re having, they make total sense. They’ve evolved to make total sense. 75,000 years ago when we split off from the chimps or whatever, and we evolved this ability to think about our own thinking, it’d be no good would it if we had this thought, ‘That might be a sabre-toothed tiger? Is it a sabre-toothed tiger?’ Do I believe my thinking there and had a debate about whether or not we believe our thinking? It’s evolved. It’s evolved. It’s evolve to look so, so, so real and so true.
To take a step back from the situation — I agree with you. Honestly, I would never do this ever to any of my clients. If they’re shook up, if they’re in the middle of a ‘Thought Storm’ — If I’m in the middle of a ‘Thought Storm’, I’ve got a seven-year-old daughter who will quite happily tell ‘Daddy, it’s just your thinking’, and I’m like, ‘That doesn’t help now!’ It’s not going to help at all in the thick of things.
Then, what we’re talking about here is taking a step back, and really having a look at the nature of thought and the nature of experience and, ‘It looks real. It really looks like — I’m running my own business.’ I have days where it’s like, ‘Oh my god! I’m not going to be able to feed my family in several months.’ It’s all just a mind doing what a mind does.
I think of it as sort of ‘a computer filing system’. It’s using what it already knows. It’s using old, stale data. It’s trying to make predictions on the basis of — that such rifling through its little filing system, it goes, ‘Well, I know this, and I know this, and I know this. Okay, Giles. Well, the best prediction I can come up with here is this is going to help you and keep you safe from the modern version of a sabre-toothed tiger — is you need to panic now because you’re not going to be able to feed your family in two months.’
Because I’ve seen through that. I know it’s not helpful in any way. It’s all completely made up. It’s 100% made-up. It’s 100% fiction. It’s just a mind doing its thing. I know that if I don’t pay any attention, if there are problems — I’m not saying there aren’t situations to be dealt with. Those situations aren’t going to go anywhere. They’re still going to be there when I’m in a much better state of mind to actually deal with them. I know from experience that I’m in a better state of mind when I am in my default state — calm, clear-minded, connected to my wisdom, connected to common sense, I’ll be doing nothing in particular, and a good idea.
I’ll have a good idea. I don’t get good ideas when I’m all stressed and believe in my thinking, and acting out of a place of fear, and lack, and insecurity. I do best, and we all do best. Again, this is how we’re all made. You can look to your own experience and see the truth in this is that we do best when we’re calm and clear-minded. That’s when we have good ideas. That’s when we solve problems.
Rachel: There’s some good neuroscience behind that, isn’t there? When your amygdala is flared up, and as soon as your ‘stress zone’, your ‘fight, flight or freeze zone’, when you’re in your ‘hyper adrenaline zone’, your ‘sympathetic zone’, your blood is diverted from your prefrontal cortex, goes into your muscles. You literally can’t think straight. It’s become very black and white. You’re not creative. The broaden-and-build theory says that, ‘If you’re in a positive state of mind, if you’re calm, you can be creative. You could think out of the box.’ Which is important.
What do you mean by the Thought Storm? How do you talk about snow globe which I think have been quite helpful. Explain a bit more about that.
Giles: If you magine our default state as human beings is calm water: when it’s calm, we’re able to think clearly. We’re able to come up with good ideas and be intuitive and listen to our wisdom and the good stuff. And then this stone gets thrown into the water. There are ripples, but those ripples, they die down of their own accord — we don’t need to try. In fact, if you tried to make the ripples go away, you’d make things worse.
It’s a bit the same with the snow globe. Something happens to us — for instance, going back to my example, I wake up in the morning, and I’ve got racing heart, and this is bad podcasting, isn’t it? Because I’m holding a snow globe in front of the camera shaky because it’s on my desk.
Rachel: Imagine a snow globe and Giles shaking it in front of a microphone.
Giles: I wake up. My snow globes shaken up. The only thing I need to do is identify that a snow globe is shaken up. I don’t need to do anything else because the mind will come up with an infinite number of reasons why I feel the way I do.
But all those feelings are telling me — that racing heart, the slight nausea. First thing in the morning, I had a full bladder and I was a bit dehydrated. That’s a good enough reason, so I have a racing heart. But, no. My mind knows better. It’s straight off into my diary — into its little filing system. It’s like, ‘Right, what can be the reason for that?’ But it could have been anything else. It could have been —
Rachel: Patient complaints?
Giles: Patient complaints. It could have been a call that I’ve got later. It could have been a project I’m working on that I haven’t come up with a solution yet — boy, does my left brain not like having solutions. It likes to try and figure it all out, and get it all down on paper and everything.
Just seeing that I’m shook up, I can see that I’m disconnected from that state of calm, and common sense, and wisdom. If I want to see those people in the snow globe, what I have to do is to stop shaking it, is to stop entertaining that thinking, is to stop jumping. It’s like thought trains come into the station, I can either watch the thought trains come and go, or I can jump on that thought train and see where it takes me.
Well, if I jumped on the anxious-about-Wellbeing-Wednesday’s thought train, before I know it, I’ve neglected the actual important work of the day that I’ve got planned because of running around like a headless chicken. It’s not complicated. It’s not sexy. It’s not all, ‘Let’s do this and do that.’
All I do and help my clients with is just to see the way that our minds work because the more that we can see exactly how we’re experiencing everything, then the less frightened we are of it, and the less invested we get into trying to fix things mentally when actually that’s what’s getting in the way of us having solutions to our problems.
Rachel: How do you let it settle down, and how do you get the snow to settle when you’re in the middle of a dreadful, dreadful day?
Giles: Well, I suppose seeing at the level of principle, there’s no such thing as a dreadful day. Seeing that dreadful is a concept. That’s all part of that left brain experience. What’s actually happening as human beings is that we have one moment after another, and we’re experiencing whatever we’re experiencing inside our perception, inside our thought system. The more that we see that, the less it makes sense. It’s always going to be about doing what makes sense. It’s always going to be, ‘When I woke up with those anxious feelings, it didn’t make sense to me to entertain them.’
It’s all about awareness and understanding of what’s going on for us. Understanding how the human operating system works. In the middle of a dreadful day, it’s to see that you only ever experiencing the present moment. One of the questions that I encourage people to ask themselves is, ‘Where does it look like my feelings are coming from right now?’ Because if it looks like my feelings are coming from the next patient, or the list of patients I have to see, or something else in the future. Well, that’s not true.
The thoughts are coming from the narrative that’s going on around that. The thoughts are coming from the perceptual process here and now in this moment. That reminder — from experience, that’s something that people see insightfully. It’s not something that they necessarily have to practice art because this is just the way that we work. We’re built to have insights around this stuff. We’re built to have insights. We’re built to have realisation. It’s like, ‘Oh, yeah! That’s what Giles was talking about. Oh, crikey.’
For me, the penny dropped in a very normal situation with my own daughter where she didn’t respond to a situation in the way that I was expecting. I had a whole load of emotions came up in that moment. Because I’ve been looking in this direction, and doing a little bit of reading about it, all of a sudden, I just — completely unasked for — had that insight in that moment. Oh, my word. My feelings aren’t coming from what she’s done, or said, or not done, or not said. The feelings are coming from thought in the moment. The feelings could only ever come from inside us. There is no situation, scenario, person that can put a feeling inside of you. Just doesn’t work like that. The more we see that, the easier it gets.
Rachel: That is a really important insight. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve said, ‘You’ve made me feel like this.’ Or he said, ‘You made me feel like this.’ Clients say, ‘they made me feel like this’, or ‘she makes me feel like this is like —’. No, they don’t. It’s your thinking makes you feel like that. You’re thinking about the situation makes you feel like that.
I was thinking, if you bumped into a stranger on the street, and they said to you, ‘You’re a dreadful person.’ You’d go, ‘Whatever!’ Walk off. If your sister turns around and says, ‘You’re a dreadful person.’ You’re like, ‘Oh, so upsetting.’ Same thing that’s been said to you. Exactly the same thing. But your action is completely different, isn’t it? By the thinking around me.
Giles: Here’s one. Imagine if that narrative was in a language that you didn’t understand. You wouldn’t pay any attention at all. It would just be noise. Still function. There are some things to let go off when we’re on this exploration of the nature of thought. There it’s like a greatest hits that the left brain comes up with as to why this shouldn’t be true, and why this isn’t going to work for me. One of them is that, ‘Well, hang on. If I don’t listen to my thinking, how am I going to function in life?’
Again, that’s just been conditioned into us. We’ve just been conditioned to listen to this — to value into that. I mean this, there’s some absolutely fantastic work done about the differences between the left and the right hemispheres. I mean, Iain McGilchrist book, The Master and His Emissary is a superb read because we revere the intellect to the point that we’ve completely lost sight of our intuitive nature. We’re making decisions and moving through life successfully.
Probably 90% of the time, we are completely on autopilot. Then, we get stuck with that little 10% thinking, ‘This must work differently’. I’ve really got to listen to that chatterbox in my head, because for some reason, it’s going to sort this out for me. Again, it just doesn’t work like that. The more we let go of it, the more we’re in touch with what’s right for us, all the good ideas, the feelings of being connected to our true identity, being connected to other people.
When we see that all that we’re ever up against ourselves is our own thought system and how much we believe in that. When we see that for ourselves, then we see other people as well. Other people’s behavior makes total sense. I know that if that person on the street, that total stranger comes up to me and says, ‘You’re a terrible person!’ I’m like, ‘I’m really sorry that — I don’t know what’s going on for you, but it’s led to you saying that.’ Have real compassion because I know that that’s come out of the thoughts that they’re believing themselves as well. Everything just makes sense when you start to see how the human operating system works.
Rachel: You can look at someone who’s really struggling with their job and overwhelmed with working, they go, ‘Of course, you’re struggling with it. That’s natural human thing to do.’ You do need to pay attention to your wisdom, your intuition. Say there’s something’s gone wrong in what — you’ve made a mistake, you shouldn’t pay attention to that chatter, ‘Oh, I meant to say, I’m a dreadful person. It’s never going to be alright. Everything’s really a disaster.’ But you do want to pay attention to some of that. You want to pay attention to the bit that goes, ‘Okay. How am I going to handle this? This is the best course of action.’
How would you know what the chattery, twittery stuff that you should ignore, and the deepest it really is?
Giles: That’s a brilliant question. It’s what we’re all up against. If you have to ask a question, then it’s probably the chitter-chatter because when we let go of the need to try and control everything with our intellect, we find that we can move through life with ease and grace, and with a kind of a knowing.
I talked about the soft flute in the orchestra. It’s drained out by the din of the rest of the orchestra, and our intuition, and our wisdom. We call it on our gut feeling, don’t we? Because it’s something different from — it’s got a very different flavor from our thinking. I think as humans, we’ve probably become so invested in our thinking. It seems to make so much sense to turn to the chatterbox all the time because it’s very convincing.
When things turn out right, it loves to take the credit. When things turn out wrong, it loves to blame. But the reality is that it’s not in-charge of anything at all. It’s just supplying a narrative. It’s looking at the flow of life. It’s looking at all the things that are happening in our life, and it’s providing commentary — it’s like watching a film with the captions on or something.
Wisdom is like — there’s no debate about wisdom usually. There’s no debate about it. It’s a knowing. It’s like you know when you’re thirsty, and you know when you’re hungry. You don’t have to debate it at all. You can put it off, of course. You can override it. I think that, certainly, what I’ve seen with — I’ve changed careers a lot of times. I left medicine a long time ago, and I’ve done a whole load of different things, and I’ve always just really listened to just feeling. It’s a feeling, isn’t it? It’s what feels right.
Now, the intellect will always jump in immediately, and go, ‘No, that’s a bad idea. Dah, dah, dah, dah.’ Give you all the reasons why you shouldn’t do something like that — why you shouldn’t say ‘no’, for instance. Plenty of left brain activity when your wisdom tells you to say ‘no’.
Rachel: I guess there’s a difference between wisdom or fear. I think it’s, when fear talks, it’s ‘chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter’. When wisdom talks, it’s that still small voice, that quiet in the storm. I guess something that sometimes unlocks the door and the key for some of my coaching clients is say, ‘If you knew that everything was going to be okay, what would you be doing now? You knew it was going to be alright.’
I often think that with my parenting. Me and my best mate often ask each other this, ‘If you knew that your daughter or son was going to be okay in the long run, how would that change how you’re parenting right now?’ Okay, I would be doing that differently because a lot of parenting is driven by fear, isn’t it? Let’s face it. It’s not easy to be a parent right now. It’s nice to be a kid right now either.
Giles: Just before you move on from that, I love what you say there, ‘What if you knew it was going to be okay?’ Well, what I’ve seen is that it is okay. It is okay. Literally, we are well-beings. We lack for nothing. We find our well-being in a quiet mind. If all we’re ever experiencing as human beings is a present moment, you can’t admit there’s not a single person in the history of humanity who has ever experienced the future. It cannot be done. You cannot experience the past, you can only experience the present moment.
When you see that, it just puts a completely different spin on it because it means that, ‘Oh, well. That must mean, just logically, that my happiness, my well-being, my peace of mind — there’s only one place that those can exist. That’s now.’ It’s only ever the mind that’s taking us away from that saying, ‘No, this isn’t good enough. No, I’ll be happy when I need to put this, this, this and this in place in order to be happy.’ It’s a lie. It’s the left brain creating stories again when our peace of mind is what we’re actually searching for. Every single one of us on planet Earth is all searching for peace of mind. We’re all searching for ourselves and exist in the present moment.
Rachel: Our mind is always either pre-living stuff that hasn’t happened, or we’re living stuff that we can’t do anything about. Even when we’re having that dreadful day that I talked about, it’s often, in the moment, it’s fine — but it’s often dreadful because we’re trying to predict what’s going to happen.
Giles: Because the left brain is telling us, ‘It’s my job. I’ve got to do it. It’s on my shoulders.’ And it’s really not. It’s really not.
Rachel: When you sat there, and your snow globe is all shaken up, and you can’t see the wood for the trees. How do you get it back to calmness? I’m afraid I don’t think it’s enough just to say, ‘Stop taking this in your thoughts.’ Because that doesn’t work with some people.
Giles: They’re the people who may stay shook up for a lot longer and end up getting burned out.
Rachel: What would you suggest to people there? What techniques have you got for doing this?
Giles: Problem with techniques is that they’re great, but they make sense when you don’t need them. That makes sense when you don’t need them. When you’re really in the thick of it, and you do need them, they don’t work, or you can’t remember them, or you can’t apply them. That’s why this is the one I’m talking about is — there’s an absolutely wonderful podcast that I love to listen to called Psychology Has It Backwards because this is a total paradigm shift. It looks like we’re feeling the world. It looks like we’re feeling our outside circumstances. That’s fine — but it’s an illusion. It doesn’t work from the outside in — it works from the inside out. It’s a total paradigm shift.
Like I say, it’s something that we see. It’s because it’s invisible and it looks different. I mean, to me — don’t know about you — it really looks like the sun’s going around the Earth every day. It never hasn’t, it never will. But no matter how much I look at a sunset, and try and convince myself that, ‘No. Actually Giles, it’s the world that’s turning.’ I can’t kind of get my — it’s an amazing illusion.
It’s the same with this. It’s the same with how we experience life. It really, really looks like what that guy said has made me feel this, ‘What my daughter’s done is making me feel this way.’ It’s fine to have feelings. There’s no problem with it whatsoever, but it’s when we invest in that thinking. Honestly, the less attention we pay, because it doesn’t make sense to do so, the less of a problem we will have with it.
I think for people who can’t let go of their thinking, it’s simply because it still makes sense for them to try and solve things with their left brain. The answer is — not when they’re in the thick of problems, but when they are in that calm, reflective state of mind — is to explore the nature of thought, explore the nature of experience so that they can have insights. That situation with my daughter, I was really angry. I was shook up. In a way, it was that anger — it was the strength of anger.
In the context of what I’d learn about the nature of thought, that kind of made me pop out of it. I was like, ‘Oh my God! Mine does not come from her at all. It’s crackers. How would that even work? How do feelings get from another person into me? It can’t possibly work like that. It’s not about what you do in that moment. You hunker down. You do what makes sense. You take a deep breath. You do whatever comes to you to do in those moments. But the real change comes from stepping back and getting a better understanding of what’s actually going on for you. An insight does all the heavy lifting for you.
Rachel: I do agree that reflection and insight, and thinking about it in a calm state is really important. I do think, though, that in the moment, there are things that might help. I think that step back — so calm yourself down, box breathing, ground yourself, mindfulness — all those things in terms of pressing the pause button when you… Like you said, you notice that the snow globe has shaken up. I call it being in the corner — recognise you’re backed into the corner, and you just press that pause button. If that’s the only thing you can do is press the pause button, remove yourself from the situation or to sit down, and allow that physiology to calm down, that can be helpful.
Giles: I totally agree with you, Rachel. I totally agree with you. I’ve got a little graphic that I use in Wellbeing Wednesdays, which is traffic lights. Again, what it looks like is that when we’re in a state of high emotion, that’s a ‘go signal’. It really looks like that. When I’m feeling angry, it looks like I’m the cleverest person in the world, that I’m totally right, and the other person is completely wrong. It really looks like that. Again, psychology has it backwards. It’s completely a state of high emotion because we’re only ever feeling or thinking moment to moment. Strong feelings are strong thoughts. It’s just shaken up snow globe.
To see that it’s actually a ‘stop signal’. It’s a step back from this — when I’m shook up, it will occur to me to do a whole load of practical things like go out for a walk, or listen to a piece of music, or whatever. I’ll still do stuff, I don’t just sit there and write, ‘Okay, I’m going to down tools and not do anything.’ Of course, I would do stuff.
I guess, it’s the place that you’re coming from when you’re doing that. My low moods don’t tend to last for very long now because of seeing through them. It’s like, ‘Even though I know I’m shook up, I know it’s my thinking because there’s no other way to experience life. It doesn’t seem to help right now, but it’s enough to know that it will pass so long as I don’t jump on it, and start trying to solve it. There’s nothing to solve. There’s nothing to fix. It’s built-in.’
For me, that is resilience. It’s invisible. It’s like mood homeostasis. We can’t be more resilient in a way that you can’t have more liver homeostasis or something. There’s nothing that you can do that’s going to make your liver deal with toxins quicker. It’s just part of who we are. It’s the same with our moods. If that wasn’t the case — the angriest we’d ever been — we’d still be that angry now, or the happiest we’d ever been, we’d still be that happy. We operate about our needs. The more that we can leave it alone and stop fiddling with it, the more it comes back of its own accord.
Rachel: I do agree, but I do think there are some people who have the snow globe has been taken up so much for so long. Maybe the snow has come together, and it’s not going to settle in the right way, and something has gone wrong because I do think this stress response — it isn’t just the thinking response. It’s physiological. We have high adrenaline, high cortisol, and if you keep going for long enough, you then affect your hypothalamic axis. I do think there is help that needs to be given to some individuals who find that their snow globe is constantly shaken up.
Giles: What do you think switches on the hypothalamic — the HPA axis?
Rachel: Well, I guess it’s your thinking, isn’t it? Absolutely. But then it alters it a bit with the chronic thing. It also is like hypertension. If you have high potential for long enough, you alter the physiology of your blood vessels. I do think that sometimes people do need to access extra techniques, and help, and treatment, and therapy in order to be able to get that snow globe back down.
Giles: There’s nothing wrong with tackling symptoms. Nothing wrong with that at all. There will be stuff that helps — that’s why there’s a whole load of therapeutic modalities out there. But wouldn’t it be brilliant if you could go upstream and to actually turn off the tap, if you can see? People often come to this understanding: when they are at the end of their tether, when they’ve tried everything else, and it’s like, ‘Well, this works and that works, but not properly.’ Or, ‘It used to work and it doesn’t work anymore.’
It’s like, ‘Well, how do you feel about turning the tap off when we go upstream?’ People can get a better understanding of exactly how they’re experiencing the world. Then, you’ve turned the tap off, and over a period of time, again, it just doesn’t make sense. I know people who’ve been helped to see this understanding, and their blood pressure that has been treated for years, and years, and years is just gone back to normal because the taps have been switched off. The misunderstanding about thoughts has been switched off. The future of medicine, Rachel.
Rachel: It’s the future of medicine.
Giles: it’s not just the future of psychologists. No, seriously. It’s the future. It’s that whole HPA axis thing. You know as well as I do that I’ve got the book here, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. The HPA axis and the stress response, the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ responses got its fingers in pretty much every single organ system in the human body. What would it be like if we could switch that off? Because there’s one thing that lies upstream of it, and that’s a misunderstanding about how we’re experiencing life. It’s not seeing that thought, it’s how we experience life. Switch that off. Hey, Presto! That’s all your NHS problems.
Rachel: We need to sort our thinking. I think sometimes people get so mired in particular ways of thinking, particular patterns, particular habits that they do need some help to change it. I needed the help myself, and I find that talking to someone is very helpful because they challenge my assumptions and coaching, and all these various things.
In fact, I just read a book by Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks. Brilliant, isn’t it? It’s brilliant. That’s exactly what he’s done. He’s a productivity guru. He’s been his whole time trying to be more productive, and he’s actually realised that the only way to manage your time and productivity better is to change your entire thinking around time and just go, ‘I’m never going to be able to manage it. Therefore, I’m just going stop getting stressed by it.” Which I love that. Actually, that’s really, really helped me.
But practically, what practical tips have you got for someone right now? I know you don’t like tips and techniques, but we’re talking to people that are driving home after 15 hour days, ‘I’m going to do the same thing tomorrow.’
Giles: You asked me this every time, Rachel and I disappoint you every episode. Maybe, this is why — and it’s not going to be third-time lucky. There’s nothing to do. There’s nothing to do but to see this more deeply. Honestly, there’s nothing to do. As soon as we turn it into a doing, we’ve created a problem where we’re investing in that left brain narrative. We’re buying into it. We’re making it worse because, ‘Oh, there’s a problem and it needs dealing with.’ There is no problem.
All problems are created by the mind. The more that we see that — so if there’s anything to do is to look more in this direction, is to ask the questions like, ‘Why does it look like my feelings are coming from?’ It’s to ask the deeper questions like, ‘Who am I? Who am I without all the labels? Who am I before thought? Who am I before the left brain gets in there, separates the experience of life out into its little buckets that it’s created — slap labels onto every single one of them and made a judgement about it? Who am I before that process happens?’ It’s something very beautiful, and it’s way more than — every single one of us is way more than we think we are.
Rachel: You’ve just given me three very good tips, Giles. I’m sorry to break it to you. Because he’s just, first of all, notices that there’s a problem, right? Notice when your snow globe has gone up. Number two is ask, ‘Where are these feelings coming from?’ And number three is to ask ‘Who would I be without these thoughts?’ I’m really sorry, you’ve ended up giving me some tips.
Giles: You’ve tricked me.
Rachel: I tricked you?
Giles: I’m not coming on again. That’s it, you’ve had your lot.
Rachel: We’ve finally got out of him — nail his colours to a system. Brilliant. That is really helpful. I think this takes a bit of digesting. It’s like, you said, this realisation — I know that some people like to have a very dramatic realisation of this. There’s a lady called Byron Katie who does something called The Work. She literally experienced this when she was along sitting on the bathroom floor I think, just thinking like, ‘All my problems are caused by my thinking. That’s it.’ You obviously had this realisation.
I think I’m slowly coming to it. It’s not been such an epiphany, but it’s really slowly coming to me. I just hope this is going to help some listeners who are feeling really trapped and really stuck, that actually, it’s not a question of having to solve all their problems, it’s a question of looking at things differently.
Giles: I know because, essentially, I was 46 when the penny dropped for me. I’d had 46 years of conditioning. I’d had 46 years of thinking that things worked in a way that simply isn’t true before it happened. That’s fine. We really have to be a little bit easy on ourselves because the way that the world is set up is to reinforce the illusion of where our experience is coming from. All we have to do is open our eyes and it really looks like it works one way when it doesn’t.
I’ve got a little course — a self-study online course that just gently walks people through this understanding. That’s something that people can do if they’re curious. I find that people are either curious, or it’s like, ‘That’s a little rubbish. That’s not going to help me at all. Jesus, I need to sort some stuff out.’
That’s absolutely fine. When I came across this understanding 15 years ago, I just left surgery. I was like, ‘Nice idea. Can’t really see how it’s going to make much of a difference in my life.’ So it’s fine. But if you’re curious, there are plenty of resources out there these days because I think that more and more, we’re starting to see this. I think we have to hit low ebb as a society before we start to truly start to wake up to this.
Rachel: And sorting stuff out I think it’s important. But doing that from a place of wisdom, not a place of fear.
Giles: Exactly. Perfect.
Rachel: Giles, if you’ve got the course, we’ll put links in the show notes. If people want to contact you, how can they do that?
Giles: Just head over to my website. Everything that you could need is over at gilespcroft.com.
Rachel: Brilliant. Thank you so much. I might have to get you back again at some point. We will get five top tips from you, not just three.
Giles: They’ll be the same ones because life — we will still be working in exactly the same way.
Rachel: A completely different problem and see how you could solve it with this system again. Brilliant. Thanks so much for being with us.
Giles: Alright, Rachel. Take care.
Giles: Bye bye.
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