Darria Long Gillespie is the author of Mom Hacks: 100+ Science-Backed Shortcuts to Reclaim Your Body, Raise Awesome Kids, and Be Unstoppable. In addition to writing the #1 new release in the motherhood category on Amazon, Darria is an ER doctor, a regular featured health expert on CNN and The Dr. Oz Show, and a mother of two! We are delighted to bring you an exclusive excerpt from Darria’s new book, in which she shares the kinds of mama life-hacks that help her juggle it all.
Choose Your Thoughts
The Buddha once said, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” Our thoughts and emotions are creations of our brain. Maybe you’re thinking, “That sounds pretty new agey. . . . I thought this woman was a medical doctor. . . . ” But go with me. We take our thoughts and emotions as truth. But what if they’re not? What if they’re more a result of our interpretations? Don’t believe me?
Well, did you hear a Yanni or a Laurel? Was it a blue dress or a gold dress? See what I mean?
Our subconscious brain takes in millions of bits of information in a second—but our conscious brain can only process a fraction of that. So our subconscious brain determines what gets through to conscious thought. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation—and error.
That’s how one person can walk through Manhattan and see exciting activity and shopping and the bright lights of Broadway, and another come away commenting on the smells, the garbage, the crowds, and the noise.
The science is clear: our thoughts and emotions are affected less by our circumstances and more by where we focus our attention and interpretation. In a study by positive psychologists Ed Diener and Martin E. P. Seligman of more than two hundred undergraduates, they found sharp differences in levels of happiness—but no connection between happiness and life experiences. In fact, students in the top 10 percent for happiness had the same number of positive life experiences as those in the bottom 10 percent.
Primitive (Fast) Brain Versus
Wiser (Slow) Brain
For our earliest ancestors, the unknown could be deadly: an approaching tiger or an enemy warlord. The secret to survival was to assume the worst and ask questions later, a response driven by what researchers like Dr. Daniel Kahneman call the “fast brain.”
Over millennia, our brains also developed the “slow brain,” the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which holds our executive functioning and reasoning. Think of the PFC as Pinocchio’s Jiminy Cricket (or David Spade, as I mentioned in the nutrition section): a wise, slower voice.
The fast brain reacts first, with a Ready! Fire! . . . Aim! mentality. By the time the slow brain chimes in with reason, the fast brain is already off to the races.
That evolutionary response was useful when any potential threat could be deadly, but when our threats are a tone-deaf e-mail, traffic, overpacked schedule, or potentially hurtful comment from our child or spouse, our automatic fight-or-flight response is counterproductive and exhausting. But, just like Pinocchio learned to listen to Jiminy Cricket, you can learn to listen for your slow brain by intentionally choosing your thoughts. As Amit Sood says in The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, “When you choose your thoughts, you’re more likely to think positively; random thoughts are more likely to be ruminative and negative.”
Automatic negative thoughts. Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are the outcome of your fast brain’s quick response plus your brain’s tendency to create habits. They occur when our fast brain jumps to conclusions, creating patterns that we reinforce every time we think them. They’re our negative inner monologue on replay. Even though ANTs are more based on our insecurities than actual facts, we automatically believe them—unless we learn to challenge them.
So you can choose: Where do you focus your attention? It’s simple driver’s ed: if you suddenly see an obstacle in the road (such as a wooden box that fell off a truck), your brain’s tendency is to fixate on the negative—in this case the box (see Primitive [Fast] Brain Versus Wiser [Slow] Brain). But driver’s ed teaches us that, to avoid an accident, you must do exactly the opposite— you must override that tendency to stare at the box because you will drive right into where you’re focusing your attention. Instead, you have to look where you want to drive. Fixate not on the negative you want to avoid, but on where you want to go.
- Learn to recognize your ANTs. The key sign of an ANT is when you suddenly feel your mood shift negatively. Also, look for the following red flags:
- Thoughts that include “always” or “never”: A statement from your spouse triggers “He always criticizes me, our relationship will never work.”
- Black-and-white thinking: Feedback on your presentation leads to “My entire presentation was a disaster.”
- Mind reading: “They didn’t say ‘hi’ to me this morning. They must be upset with me.”
- Catastrophizing: “I’m going to damage my relationship with my children. I’m an awful mom.”
- Remember that you can choose how you experience every single moment. Julia Rogers Hamrick suggests using the phrase “I choose easy world” in her book, Choosing Easy World. It’s not Pollyanna; it simply means that you’re making the mental choice that when things get tough, you choose the drama-free interpretation. Try it the next time you start to get frustrated. It works.
Identify Your Inner Critic
For most of us, the strongest ANTs are those we direct internally, via our inner critic (IC). Of our 50,000 thoughts every single day, 80 percent of them are negative, with an average eight self-criticisms a day.
Drs. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term “impostor phenomenon” after studying hundreds of successful women, and found, “Despite their earned degrees, . . . praise and professional recognition . . . these women do not experience an internal sense of success. They consider themselves to be ‘impostors.’”
Again, we believe what we tell ourselves. But your inner critic is nothing more than another ANT. She’s not the truth. She’s the mean girl who knows all your emotional buttons and goads you with them. In fact, if anyone actually verbalized what your IC says, you’d slap a restraining order on her. She wouldn’t even be allowed on Real Housewives, which is why it’s time to give her a good “girl, bye.”
- Recognize what your inner critic sounds like. The IC is that nasty voice telling you that you’re screwing up. You forgot your child’s costume party and immediately think, “I’m a failure as a mom, and my child will never forgive me.” When your outfit is a little too tight, you think, “I’m disgusting. I’ll never lose weight.” Your inner critic is a b***h; and she’s not worth your time.
- Label her. To start, just label the voice. The next time you hear the IC, say internally or aloud, “That’s my inner critic.” That alone can remind you that it’s not necessarily the truth
- Ask yourself whether would you want someone to talk to your child that way. Even if we don’t voice our inner critic’s messages verbatim, our children can internalize them. The words we choose to describe ourselves today will be what our children someday use to describe themselves. If you wouldn’t want your own daughter to believe it about herself someday, don’t let yourself believe it now.