because writing is clarifying

because writing is clarifying

Subbu Allamaraju’s Journal

Thought Spirals

Have you been in situations where you are in a thought spiral and stay on for hours or days? It happened to me recently, and that was not the first time. Since I’m of the same species as everyone who might be reading this (except those bots that pretend to be human) and that it is a common source of made-up human misery, I decided to write down my observations.

Recently, I felt less in control due to how I had been processing various events at work and in my personal life. Everything was and is okay, but my processing mechanisms malfunctioned, and I entered a few thought spirals.

I feel less safe and anxious when I go through one of those thought spirals. I make up stories about what is happening. I then begin making up plans and telling more stories about how I might be able to gain control of those situations. Those plans lead to more stories about gaining control, what and who might sabotage those plans, and attention turns towards judging myself, others, or circumstances. Those judgments keep me going in the thought spiral.

While meditation and journaling help, I recognize that the way to exit such thought spirals consists of three timeless recipes. These recipes have been known to us for thousands of years and appear in different ancient philosophies dealing with human consciousness. We need to seek them — more about those later. Here are the recipes.

Recipe 1: Be self-aware when you enter a thought spiral. Learn to observe your thoughts and emotions. Viewing your thoughts and emotions as an observer might sound puzzling or even delusional, but that ability is nothing but self-awareness.

Recipe 2: Remind yourself that there is nothing for you to control. The desire for control leads to anxiety. Observe instead of controlling. Reflecting on my behaviors, I influenced and dealt with situations the best when I took an observer position instead of a controller position. Being an observer does not mean watching on the sidelines and keeping quiet. It means being present and processing the proceedings around you.

Recipe 3: Turn your attention towards improving the situation and helping others. Doing so shifts your focus from anxiety to action. Clarity and success follow when you turn your attention from yourself to others. Again, this idea might sound defeatist and letting go, but it is the other way around. You have little chance of influencing others when you make any issue about yourself. Your chances improve when you make it about others.

Essentially, these recipes remind us that the best way to lead yourself is to take yourself out of the picture. That sounds hard initially, but it unlocks clarity, purpose, and joy. I’ve been told time and again that I lead with a steady hand. Some friends called me Yoda. I worked with some fantastic leaders who excel at maintaining a steady hand. I also know that I fail at it some times. I now know the secret.

These recipes not only help you gracefully exit those thought spirals, they help you gain the power to influence situations and others. My realization began nearly two years ago when I posted a tweet and pinned it to my profile:

The secret to power in leadership is detachment. Not detachment from the outcome or others, but detachment from yourself and your way.

The essence was that the best way to lead in difficult situations is not to make it about yourself and gain control. Dealing with such situations requires self-awareness, observation over control, and making it about others, not yourself.

If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing for future articles.