If you think you're being held back by negativity, then Dr. Will Baldry has a different perspective. He believes that these thought patterns all served some purpose, at some point in your life… but are no longer useful. In this episode, he shares how to identify (and eliminate) them.
Will, tell us about your life…
- There's been quite a few fairly drastic left turns through my story.
- From an early age, I was very passionate about performing.
- I used to do card magic and show tricks to anyone who would have me. I'd represent the school in public speaking competitions.
- At some point music took over, playing in bands and things.
- In my first year of University, I found DJ'ing and realised I could do gigs without relying on other people.
- I spent my student loan on some turntables, which turned out to be a really good investment.
- There's been a few times in my life where I've made objectively bad decisions which turned out well.
- DJ'ing and music production became my life, especially turntablism (playing turntables as an instrument). I became totally focused on that and did some high profile competitions.
- At some point, my childhood interest in magic and mystery entertainment resurfaced, with more of an interest in mentalism and stage hypnotism.
- Most recently, I started Courageous Training and try to help people improve their mindset and develop a more positive outlook on life.
If you had to identify the worst moment in your life, what would that be? And what did you do to overcome it? What was the lesson from that?
- The lowest moment was connected to performing as a DJ, performing in the ‘scratch battle' scene.
- I entered some competitions that I really wasn't good enough to be in yet, and it's a very high pressure environment with months of practise leading to 6 minutes on stage and big TV cameras pointing at your hands.
- Through that, I taught myself to be fearful around performing, which is a real existential crisis for me.
- Performing was the only thing I'd ever been really good at and now I was scared of doing it.
- I realised this fear was something I had learned and figured I could probably unlearn it.
- That became my new obsession; working out how to unlearn that new belief that performing was scary.
What is it that causes negative thought patterns and what is the knock-on effect that they have on our lives.
- I don't particularly like to frame things as negative.
- I think the conceptual frameworks that we place around things direct our thoughts in particular ways.
- Usually these patterns of thought are things that have been useful in the past.
- I prefer to refer to them as patterns of thought that are no longer helpful.
- In my case, this is very true. The anxiety I felt at events and competitions was trying to protect me from the realisation that the thing I'd worked so hard at just wasn't good enough yet.
- I like to recognise that these things had a purpose and were useful to you at some point, but aren't anymore.
- The knock-on effects are many and varied, but I believe that all stress, anxiety and worry is caused by attachment to patterns of thought that are no longer helpful.
Why do you think that people suffer from these thought patterns that are holding people back and stopping them from chasing their goals and dreams?
- I think that a lot of it is evolutionary. It turns out that evolution by natural selection can be a fairly cruel way to design a conscious mind.
- If there's a mental system that is good for survival, but bad for well-being and happiness then survival is the mechanism that won out.
- For example, a lot of people go through this cycle where they're constantly believing that their next achievement is going to be the thing that sorts everything out and brings lasting happiness, only to find that the pleasure of accomplishing that thing is quite fleeting and then they're onto the next thing.
- We get told at school to get good grades and then you'll be set up for life. Once you've achieved that, you now have to get a good degree to be sorted. But then you have to get a good job, then there are targets to hit.
- This makes sense within natural selection, because if you were constantly striving to achieve the next thing (and believe that it would be everything), you'd be motivated to, say, build a shelter for your family. If you were then totally happy with that outcome and didn't move onto the next thing, that would be bad for survival.
- It also makes sense, in evolutionary terms, for this to be quite opaque to the individual. If at any point they realise they're on this ‘merry-go-round of life', that would not be beneficial within natural selection.
- I think a lot of these systems were beneficial at one point in time, for the survival of a species, but designed with survival in mind, rather than well-being of happiness.
I guess the key is to try and find happiness in the question for a thing, rather than in the thing itself, right?
- You need to try and find ways to be happy in the present moment. That's more productive – and we do better at things if we're enjoying them.
- Another example is negativity bias and our propensity to pay more attention to negative things.
- Again, it makes sense in evolutionary terms. If you always think that a rustling in the bushes is a predator, then you activate this fight or flight response.
- 99 times out of 100 that might be totally unnecessary, but the 1 time that it saves your life, that confirms the survival benefit.
- Transpose that cognitive system to modern society, where we're basically safe, and we have maybe outgrown the need to pay so much attention to negative things.
How can we spot these thought patterns that aren't serving us in a positive or empowering way?
- I think it's a really useful technique to imagine things from a third party perspective.
- Ask yourself, ‘What advice would I give to a friend who was experiencing these thoughts and feelings?'. It helps to get more objectivity.
- You should always stop and ask yourself, ‘Is this useful?', ‘Is this helpful?', ‘Is this serving me?'.
- Look at how a particular way of thinking influences your behaviour, thinking about whether it's productive, or whether it just causes psychological suffering.
Often the people we surround ourselves with hold us back, even if they think they have our best interests at heart. How does this affect us and how do we improve our interactions with others so that we can avoid being weighed down by the things they say or think?
- It's really interesting, because if you talk to one person about something they might say ‘Ooh, that's scary don't do it', but if you speak to someone else and they might say, ‘Yeah, go for it.. that's amazing'.
- Thinking about that, you can question how much that first person's reaction tells you about you as a person… and the answer is absolutely nothing.
- The reason that people have for passing comment on the plans that you have or the things that you talk about are very often nothing to do with you. It's how they are making up the world to be and how they are making up their own values and beliefs to be.
- It's important to reflect that often the way people react to you tells you nothing about yourself at all.
If someone feels like they're constantly being trapped and pinned down by this constant negativity, and that this won't work for them, what can they do to force themselves to question these negative thoughts?
- That desire to force yourself to change things can actually be part of the problem.
- We can be so desperate to get away from something that it can actually be a barrier to properly investigate it, understand it and get a new perspective.
- I haven't always been an upbeat, contented person and one of the greatest realisations for me is simply that you can change things, because without understanding that you have the capacity to change, why bother putting any effort into it.
- You need to begin by realising that there are certain cognitive and emotional skills that can be practised and improved.
- We can start from a place of believing everything that is going on in our minds and then maybe get a little more awareness, to see that some of it isn't helpful, some of it isn't true, none of it is definitely true.
- The very next trap that you can fall into is beating yourself up for having those unhelpful thought patterns in the first place. Don't blame yourself or put yourself down for engaging with a particular way of thinking. That's just another story that isn't helpful.
- I'm a big fan of the work of Byron Katie. The questions that she asks that are really useful:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it's true?
- What happens and how do you react when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
- That idea of believing a thought is really important, because thoughts aren't facts… they are just mental events in your brain.
- If you can recognise them as such, they lose their power.
- It's like waking up from a dream and thinking, ‘Oh, it was just a dream'.
- You can recognise a particular way of thinking and realise, ‘Oh, it was just a thought. Just some stuff happening in my brain'.
What are the top things that you'd recommend people do, to start making tremendous changes in their life?
- Reflect on the experience of dreaming and waking up from a dream. Realise that in a dream, we accept everything that's happening as totally plausible and real. It's only when you wake up and look back on it that you realise it was bonkers. Realise that being awake isn't all that different. Our mind tries different things and we're believing it all.
- Make a decision to pay attention to how your conscious experience feels, rather than what it means. Often, particular states of emotion will arise and we often jump to what that means, like anxiety and embarrassment. Instead pay attention to how it feels and that can be a much more grounded and resilient way to be in the world.
- Set an intention to be non-judgemental about what you find. Imagine how it might feel to welcome anything that might arise in your conscious experience. Not trying to get away from anything but neither trying to hold onto anything. Experience the passing of those phenomena.
And into the quickfire round…
What is the best self-development advice you've ever received from someone else?
- Doing Sally Edwards' Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course was the most transformational experience of my life, in terms of my well-being and how I engage with the world.
Can you give us a personal ‘habit’ or personality trait that you think contributes to your success?
What does success mean to you?
- Continually learning, experience love and compassion, feeling proud of my abilities to help people and be a positive force in the world.
Where can we find out more about you?