Ep #97: When You Realize Your Thinking is Repetitive and Unhelpful

by | Podcast

I’ve had two conversations on social media these past few weeks that have been tricky. The other day, I had a Facebook exchange with an old neighbor that was really, really surprising to me—and totally relevant to what I talk about in this podcast.

You can listen in to hear more of the story.

Between Covid19 and racial justice, many of us are having these sensitive, but necessary, conversations. During this recent one with my neighbor, it struck me how we can all get stuck in old, repetitive ways of thinking that are no longer helpful—and fall into the trap of “confirmation bias.”

Our beautiful brain is super efficient. Its main goal is to save energy while it looks for danger and tries to save our life. This means our brain loves to think the same thoughts over and over again and stick with those thoughts, no matter what.

I don't need to tell you that we're at a time in history where the world will benefit greatly from us exposing ourselves to new information—and to raise up our voices for good!

In this episode, I share three specific things we can do when we notice that we our thinking is repetitive and our thoughts are unhelpful so we can access our freshest, most helpful ideas.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How to recognize when your thinking is repetitive and your thoughts are unhelpful
  • Three things you can do to access your freshest, most helpful ideas
  • The importance of really listening
  • Recognizing “Confirmation Bias”—and actively working to go beyond it
  • Expanding beyond extremes in position—the breadth and depth of various ideas and ways of thinking
  • Where to find the seeds of connection
  • The power in connecting with those who hold different beliefs and being wide open to new ideas
  • How to have more positive and productive in person and social media conversations
  • A new perspective on personality tests
  • Seeing that we are much more dynamic and fluid than we make ourselves out to be and how beautiful it is to hold our “identity” lightly.

Listen to the Full “Thinking is Repetitive” Episode

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Full “Thinking is Repetitive” Episode Transcript:

In that process. I am, yes. I'm learning about their thinking and where they come from to whatever degree that is being expressed and being expressed honestly, and openly. And I'm learning a lot about my own thinking, my own repetitive thinking, my old stale thinking. And I'm really learning about my unhelpful thinking.

Welcome to the Brilliance at Work Podcast, where we shine a light on where great work charisma and growing a thriving business you love really comes from. I'm Michelle Barry Franco. I've been a speaker of thought leadership coach for more than a decade from TEDx stages to world famous conferences. And I've helped some of the most beloved business leaders grow their businesses and serve in the biggest way possible through their business and through their thought leadership. I love that. I get to share the best of what I've learned with you here on the Brilliance at Work Podcast.

Hello? Hello, my beautiful,brilliant friends. How are you in the midst of layers and layers of newness in our world and deepening and lots of, I think, growth and difficulty, and I'm sure moments of inspiration, at least if your life looks anything like mine? So, I just actually am coming off of a Facebook exchange with an old neighbor that was really, really surprising to me. And it turns out that it's relevant to what I want to talk about today on the podcast. You’ve probably heard me say, and I've been talking about this, racial injustice and how much I believe that we need to take a stand for the fact that black lives matter and all of those things. And I've been doing that publicly as some of us are doing. I know not everyone. And I know that it doesn't necessarily mean anything about what you actually believe, but that's just been the case for, for, in my world and on my social media channels.

And I had posted, I think it was the new frame I put on my profile picture that said black lives matter. I hadn't heard from this neighbor in so long, though she had recently friended me and we just knew each other kind of lightly in the neighborhood and we'd had some good conversations. It was fine. Like one of those things that we had kids that were similar in age, and this was probably, you know, many years ago. And anyway, so she friended me. We've been friends and then she posts in response all lives matter. And I have seen this exchange, and I also understand that a big part of what many of us are doing right now is listening and learning. And even dare I say it, practicing, sharing our ideas. And I will say, I am learning so much about how I want to say things, things that I really mean.

I'm learning things about thoughts and beliefs that I've had that are actually shifting and changing. So I do believe that we can change. I have seen and felt myself change, and I've certainly seen it happen. And others, even on topics that many argue are really difficult, like political topics or racial belief systems. And anyway, so we had had this exchange, she replied with her all lives matter. I replied, I don't actually, I don't remember if it was that I replied with that article. I think I did that someone else I had seen someone else share recently that talks about why all lives matter is a hurtful response or what's not helpful about it or something. I can't remember all the details of that, but it was a response to that statement. Again, this is all happening on my wall, on my Facebook wall. And so that just sat for a while.

And then I got a video, a tag, you know how on Facebook, you can get a tag, somebody tags, you and says like, Hey, this is for you. And it was a video of a person who was very strongly stating the position that all lives matter. And this was a black man stating his position that all lives matter. And I watched the video and I've watched, actually, a lot of videos. I've read a lot of things that are, quote unquote, outside of my current belief system. And I replied to her privately and said, I'm wondering why you tagged just me in this video that you've posted to your wall and why you're putting it or trying to put it on my wall with no commentary, but just your name. I mean, just my name and the video. And anyway, so it starts this exchange.

It doesn't really matter. I know many of us are having these kinds of conversations. So, I just wanted to kind of take you into the real life back-and-forth of this. And we went back and forth a little bit and I said, I would love to, if you want to have a conversation about this, I'd love to get on the phone and have a conversation about it. I think we're friends, and I genuinely wanted to hear her. And I genuinely wanted to share where I come from on this too. And we are both white women, by the way, in case that's interesting to you, and white women who have, I have no idea, I don't know the details of her background, but right now our lives seem relatively similar socioeconomically and that kind of thing. Although again, I do not know the details of hers and she doesn't know the details of mine.

And isn't this the case with us, right, with these kinds of conversations that are going on right now, when people's belief systems and our old pattern is stick ways of thinking mine too, all of ours are kind of showing up primarily and being questioned by us, by others, not always by us and depending on how much we're saying it out loud may or may not be by others, right? Or who we surround ourselves with. So, this is what I'm going to talk about today. I want to talk with you about, and really it's kind of more of an exploration, but I want to talk about when you realize that your thinking is repetitive and unhelpful, because one of the things that I'm realizing as we go through this public discourse around many things, so it didn't start with, first of all, we know that this, the racial issues did not start in these last months or in this last month, it's been 400 plus years.

And the more I dive into how little I knew, how little I was exposing myself to the more aware I am of that and all of this missing information, but the public discourse has certainly risen up at a, at a much higher level in the last couple of weeks and month. Well, before that there was COVID, COVID-19 coronavirus, whatever you want to call it. And so many strong feelings about that. And I again have had some tricky conversations with friends and family members around some belief systems I'm telling you on social media and I'm at social media, it'll get you. And in that process, I am, yes. I'm learning about their thinking and where they come from to whatever degree that is being expressed and being expressed honestly, and openly. And I'm learning a lot about my own thinking, my own repetitive thinking, my old stale thinking.

And I'm really learning about my unhelpful thinking. Now, in both of these examples that I'm sharing with you, it's not like I came out the other side and went, “Oh my gosh. Now I see. And I know I agree with them.” Not exactly, but I did. I have learned a lot about the way that I think and what it's taking for me to really listen, to really open myself up. Not because I am trying to be convinced to head on over to the other side, quote unquote, of whatever the issue is. But because in all of these scenarios, what I'm noticing, especially the ones where it's for, it's my neighbor friend, who I thought, thought we liked each other, whereas my family and I genuinely think like, wow, I care about them. And I know they're good smart people in there. And yet their beliefs or what they're outwardly saying feels really, quote unquote, wrong to me.

I would, I definitely in my mind make things wrong and make things right now. The reason I want to talk about this on the Brilliance at Work Podcast, in the context of leadership and thought leadership and speaking is that your most powerful impact, the greatest difference you can make in the world is when you can access your freshest thinking when you are able to take as honest and open of a look as possible. And that's hard for all of us at what we're currently thinking and especially things that are really, really repetitive that possibly you've been thinking your whole life, or you've been thinking since you were in college or since you moved to a certain area or joined a certain group or whatever, we start to just get this, patternist-stick thinking. Now I'm not here to say you need to do that so that you can change all of your beliefs and become a better person, although that might happen.

And that's cool. I dunno. Is there such a thing as a better person, I guess there is? Yeah. Like you can definitely hurt people and not hurt people, for example, knowingly. Anyway. So when I think about these two conversations and I know this is happening everywhere, I hear my clients talk about it. I watch it happening on social media. So, I know there's something for us to see here. And it is easy. I think for me to get really caught up in my line of thinking about whether I think you should wear masks and stay six feet apart, especially when there's someone in the household or nearby who is immunocompromised. For example, I have pretty strong feelings on that. I've read a bunch of things that have confirmed my beliefs. And this is also where I think this is the first area where I think we just want to notice.

We just want to get an eye on this. You've probably heard of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is where we look for unconsciously, subconsciously, whatever. It's not usually overtly, overtly consciously. We look for information to confirm what we already believe. And, in fact, what we know is that we will deny or sort of like ignore and even not see, not register information that contradicts what we're currently believing. And Oh, wow. Do we see this right now in the political arena? And I find this a tricky one because I know that one of the things that I have tried to do, and it is not easy. It's not, it's not, I don't find it easy. And I imagine it's why many of us don't do it. Although I know I'm not the only one who does, I try to listen to people who believe very differently than I do.

Part of that is motivated by the fact that some of the dearest people in my life believe opposite of me politically. And I almost don't know what to do with it. Like my heart and mind does not know what to do with it. So, I'm continually kind of looking for where are the seeds of connection? Where are the seeds of where we can find some kind of common ground. And I think that has really served me. And honestly, it's been motivated by an almost desperate desire to stay connected to these people. So, I'm grateful for that. But I do notice when I don't proactively surround myself with information that does not confirm what I already believe, I can get so steeped in the rhetoric of my current belief system and I can get so steeped in those thoughts, those grooves in my brain that have been playing for years and years, and that are echoed by the people who believe similarly to me, which is who I tend to surround myself with.

I think that's true of most of us that we just tend to want to hang around with people who have similar values and beliefs. And so we end up doing that and while it can feel more comforting and can feel certainly less confronting, which is more comforting, it does not foster fresh thinking. And I'm not saying this just meaning, then you can't start to, then you won't have the ideas that allow you to create a bridge with the other side of whatever the issue. I'm not just talking about politics, I'm talking about anything you might be in disagreement, or there are two sides to an argument here when we consciously seek out information, ideas, really ideas, information, people that we, that we respect or see as smart and thoughtful and caring, whatever words are most important to you to describe the people you want to be around.

When we seek those people out and those ideas out. We also get to explore our own ideas in a much richer way. I have found this to be incredibly useful for my own flourishing of my ideas. Even if they stay in the same camp or on the same side, you can see I'm dancing around this because I don't actually, I don't even want to dance around this. I feel like it bridges so many different topic areas. This is inspired by conversations that I have had around black lives matter, racial injustice, and what's going on right now. So, that started this, but a very recent one was around COVID. And I think there were some political kind of crossovers here because we have gone back and forth around those things as well. And so I do think these just come up in a lot of different domains.

It can happen around nutrition and wellness because I've worked with so many holistic health experts. There are, I see this come up all the time between traditional medicine and holistic or  naturalistic medicine, as if they have to be on one side or the other as if any of these have to be right. But when we can see, this is really the second point I want to make. So, the first is confirmation bias shows up.  It's one of those things that we coined the term, we made up this concept because we've seen it repetitively so much in the communication world and the psychology world, and that it contributes substantially to things like stereotyping and other things that are damaging relationships and our society. But, it's also, I believe,  can be very damaging, limiting to our own freshest ideas, our freshest thinking, because you have so much richness in you, so much ability of course, to have totally new ideas, ideas you've never had before and not ideas that you're going to get from anywhere else.

Meaning, I'm not saying go to the other side, listen to what they have to say. And, and you'll probably find some that you want to pluck in use. Oh, I like that idea. I'll take it maybe, but that's not really what I'm pointing to. What I'm pointing to is when you see ideas and thoughts and concepts and, and even arguments that seem to have two sides more like they're happening across maybe a spectrum, and maybe it's even like a big circle and you happen to be on two furthest sides right now in this moment. I don't know if that's helpful to think of it that way or not. It's the first time it's come to me like that. But when you see that there's all this room in between, you have so much more room for exploration without your brain saying, Oh no, no. With old thinking, by the way, with old unhelpful thinking, Oh no, no, that's not who we are.

That's not what we believe. So when you can, just, when we all can, me too, this is what I'm seeing in my own life. The most as I was having these conversations that were not comfortable. And I'm sure there'll be plenty more of them. I was just asking myself, where can we find a real conversation here? And in one case, the person I was talking with actually suggested that and took the conversation into a more personal medium. And in another case, I brought up the idea and it didn't sound good to that person. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to do it because I still, I genuinely meant it. And I'm seeing more and more that opening up to hearing, to just seeing the whole breadth and width of the ideas around things that matter to you. I'm not saying do this about everything.

Of course not. You have important work in the world to do, and you have meaningful relationships to cultivate and connect and nurture. So, this is about things that you really want to have your freshest thinking about that, you know, will serve your life and your work in the world. And in the biggest way possible seeing that we have confirmation bias and then actively seeking things that we would otherwise naturally just kind of shut out or pretend isn't there. And then seeing that the kind of broad spectrum or the big old circle between us, that you could kind of move, move together on a little bit, just to hear each other. And that there's a bunch of stuff in the middle that you may, or that's fresh for both of you for all of you, that's fresh. This is what we're looking for. A fresh new way of seeing things, because change does not happen.

Change doesn't happen, genuine new beliefs and new actions. They come from our own internal understanding. So, oftentimes it comes in the form of like, “Oh my gosh, I hadn't seen it that way before,” or, “Oh, that's interesting.” Or, “ha there's something about that.” Right? So, sometimes it's small. Sometimes it's like funk, like it just hits you and you go, “Oh my gosh, I just can't. I don't see it that way anymore at all.” I watched a leader and one of the programs that I'm in as he's been navigating the black lives matter movement and having really difficult conversations as a white man leading a very large community, I watched him have an incredible, and I experienced him as, as really trying to do a great job of listening. And, but he was, he had people share with him ways in which what he was saying was hurtful.

And I watched him have a really powerful insight. And, he basically said – now this didn't happen all in one moment – but it was like the next day. And he said, “I will never say that again. It doesn't make sense to me anymore. I won't say that again.” And this is kind of a weird connection, but that's what happened for me when I quit drinking. Now I still say, I will never drink again. Just always feels kind of big and dramatic, although I can not imagine it. I have no desire. I think I'm nine years in. We have some of that is kind of old tapes from some 12-step programs that I have been to before, around one day at a time. And I liked that and it has felt really helpful, but I remember that day, I remember standing in that kitchen and I remember knowing in a way that I did not know the day before that I just couldn't do this anymore.

And that's what an insight feels like. It comes in all different forms, right. And then, so there's often this insight and then there's kind of this inward process of seeing it more deeply. Again, it's different for everyone. It happens very personally for everyone, but I'm just bringing this up to say, I think the outlet conversations are so important and I'm doing my best to have them and doing them imperfectly and being nervous about them and being not sure what to say. And so afraid I'm going to hurt someone just like so many, or hurt more than one person, just like so many other people are saying, especially as a white woman who has been steeped in bias. And I like, I don't know what, I don't know what I can't see because of my own experience. And, but I do notice that the more I practice it, the more I realize I can handle it.

And that's really what it comes down to. Right. So I think this is really the last thing I want to touch on is recognizing our own resilience around new learning, new growth, new ideas, this episode, really talking about where fresh ideas come from and thinking about this in the form of when you realize that your thinking, the thoughts you're currently thinking when you're thinking is repetitive and it's just unhelpful. Well, the other side of that, or somewhere over on the other side of that is seeing that you can have totally new thoughts, including thoughts like, “Oh my gosh, I have no idea what I feel right now. I have no idea what I believe. I have no idea what I want to say,” and you can really be okay. So, hearing someone else a part of, I think why we deny learning from someone who believes very differently from us is that we make up this static thing called like an identity.

And we don't always call it an identity, but we say, quote, unquote, this is who I am, but we are so dynamic. We are so dynamic all the time. This is why I get nervous about all the personality tests. I used to love them. So, I've taken all of them. I'm a seven on the Enneagram. I’m an  INFP on the NBTI on the Myers Briggs. I could probably tell you other ones, but I can't remember what they are right now. And sometimes they're fun to just kind of see what they are. I even have a process called your expression Alon, which is a naming of your style. But I have come to really see that when we hold our identities lightly, like this is who I am, we actually get to show up with our freshest, newest ideas for what to do, what to say, how to think all of it.

And there's so much richness there for your leadership, for your thought leadership, for your contribution in your work, in your home, in your life. When we just hold our identities much more lightly and see just how dynamic and fluid we are. One day I'm someone who speaks up and, believe me, plenty of days, I'm not. I notice that people kind of make this assumption about me, that I'm someone who is a kind of a regular speake- upper, but that's not true. It's not true. I'm often the last one to contribute in a group conversation. And this isn't again, not always, right? So, but we are just so much more dynamic and in flow than the words and old thoughts and old tapes, unhelpful tapes that we play in our minds. And I'm just hoping if we can point to this, but can just look in this direction that, that we do that confirmation bias tends to show up.

It's a thing our brain does, by the way, it makes sense with brain science, right? Because our brain is always continually trying to save calories. And so if it has to think all new ideas and create whole new grooves and process stuff, that's going to expand a lot more energy. It's much easier to play the old thoughts that we have been playing. Our brain is just really super efficient. But once we know that, once we know that we have this tendency toward confirmation bias and playing these old thoughts, we can just notice when it might be happening. And then if it feels like a good idea to you, you can think like, “Oh, well, I wonder what a person who thought the other thing might be saying right now, or I wonder what the in-between is.” I mean, you can play with this any way that you want, but just recognizing that old tapes, those, the confirmation bias that actually just makes those grooves deeper in our own brain can really get in the way of your best ideas.

And then, of course, just talking about that, that exploratory possibility in between two absolutes, like me and the people that I'm having these social media conversations with. And just me just really recognizing that. And I'm not even judging that they're happening. I'm sure I'll be having more of them, but wow. I can just learn so much more. I'm seeing if I can just learn from the conversations, ask questions, come to the conversations with genuine curiosity and see what comes up for me and my own learning and in my mission to serve with my voice for good and the way that I really want to. And then of course, just that recognition that we are so fluid and dynamic. That's the amazing thing about humanity, about being human – so much texture within us. So much texture to our ability to think and feel, especially when we see that we have way more options than our brain is normally gonna play for us.

If we're not paying any attention, so much room and freedom, and then so much learning, so many fresh ideas, so much sort of like the next thing to try as available to us there. And I'm hoping some relationships with people out in the world that could be good. I'm not talking about all of them. I'm not here to say you gotta be friends with everybody, believe me, but there's just, there are riches in this and I could feel it and I'm exploring it. And I wanted to offer it up to you as a place to explore as well. Because my mission has always been to help you tap your greatest expression, to help you tap the place in you that's even underneath what you currently know, what you currently believe, your current expertise, because your brilliance, my friend, is endless. It's so big. And I know that I know that, but I know we just need to be reminded me too, because my friend, you were absolutely made for this. And I know that because you know that.

So, I hope this is helpful to you as you get out there and explore your freshest ideas this next week. And I already can't wait to be here with you next week. Take good care. Thank you so much for being here with me on the Brilliance at Work Podcast. If you want to know how to tap your own most natural charisma as a business owner, leader and speaker, you can download a free copy of my book Beyond Applause, Make a Meaningful Difference Through Transformational Speaking. This includes a free short course that helps you get crystal clear on the message at the heart of your work. You can get a free copy of this book and that short course at brillianceatwork.com/freebook. I hope you'll love it.


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