I have been listening to people tell me about their struggles, fears, insecurities, insights, hopes, and wishes for as long as I can remember. First, as the friend whom everyone loved to confide in. Later, as the neighborhood bartender. Following that, as a social psychologist. And, for the past fifteen years, as a professional coach and teacher.
I’ve had thousands of private coaching conversations, run hundreds of group coaching sessions, and lead an online school and community where I hear from people from all over the world every day.
A funny thing happens when you hear the innermost thoughts and feelings of that many people, that often, over that many years. You see that we’re all the same.
Demographics, childhood, and life experiences don’t make us fundamentally different. Those might impact what we talk about, but they don’t impact the fact that our mind talks, just like everyone else’s. Beyond the surface layer of always-shifting story and opinion, we all work in the same way.
Our minds spit out repetitive stories. They love to replay the past and predict the future. Our minds have strong opinions that feel solid and meaningful, but are always changing and contradicting themselves. Our minds love drama and exaggeration. They relate everything back to the person they inhabit—our mind’s world revolves around us. Minds love certainty and efficiency. They create our identities and then work like crazy to protect their creation. When we see how our mind works, it becomes easier to not take it so personally or seriously. Its habitual stories, complaints, fears, and criticisms move to the background. Our awareness shifts from the content of our moment-to-moment experience to something quieter and deeper that lies beyond our moment-to-moment experience. We live less in the stories and details of what our mind is saying and more in the recognition that a mind is talking. And a whole new world—beyond the habitual hum of thought—opens up.
Years of day in and day out listening has shown me that, without exception, we’re all the same. Only the details are different, and the details aren’t nearly as relevant or meaningful as we think they are. It’s shown me that, without exception, we are all fundamentally well. When we think our mind’s stories mean something solid about who we are, we suffer. When we see the truth—and we glimpse the space that lies beyond those thought-created stories—we suffer far less.
One of the phrases I find myself saying most often is: “That’s just what minds do.” Minds compare and worry and project and judge. They label and categorize and fear and complain. All eight billion of them. Different details, same process.
When we see that the machine in our head is just doing what the machine in a head does, everything changes. Habits and anxiety begin to fall away. Insecurities and self-judgments look less real. Problems and limitations appear far less solid. As we wake up to the psychological, repetitive nature of the mind, we also get to wake up to who and what is there beyond it. We get to know who we are by knowing what we’re not.
Who You Are and What You Are Not
You already are full of all the confidence, health, creativity, connection, and peace you could ever wish for. The only things that ever seem to get in the way are thoughts and feelings—psychological experience—that look like who-you-are, but aren’t.
In the spirit of waking up to who-you-truly-are and living with peace of mind, free of self-doubt and insecurity, there are two things to see.
First, what you think, feel, and do doesn’t mean anything about who-you-are. The habitual, insecure, ego-based, critical, me-me-me thoughts that run through your mind all day, every day, are not “you,” and they are not “yours.” They are the output of a machine brain. They are just what minds do.
The feelings those thoughts bring aren’t you or yours either. The dread, pride, shame, desire to shrink, loneliness, smugness, or superiority…those are the felt part of thought. The felt part of what minds do. We feel thought. So, like thought, those feelings come and go. They are not lasting statements about who-you-are.
Our behavior follows from what we think and feel. Thoughts, feelings, and behavior make up our human psychology, and you are infinitely bigger than any passing-by psychology.
Second, who-you-are beyond your psychology is, well, words can’t describe it. Your default, never-changing essence, is endless love, peace, and wisdom. It is endless confidence, creativity, resourcefulness, and common sense. Everything you ever wanted is who-you-are by nature, already. It’s just temporarily hiding behind the psychology that’s moving through.
You aren’t insecure. You aren’t a worrier. You aren’t full of self-doubt, a shy person, an angry person, a resentful person. Our mind simply tells us we are these things, and we believe it.
Things like insecurity, worry, doubt, and anger are psychological experiences, not stable traits of human beings. They are labels that may characterize your in-this-moment experience, but they don’t say a thing about you.
You might not believe this yet, but there’s nothing wrong with you, no exceptions. You aren’t lacking or broken. You are well as you are, in everything you may or may not be feeling, right this minute. The only reason you may not feel full of confidence, peace, and clarity is because you mistake what you think, feel, and do for who-you-are. We all do.
It’s a simple misunderstanding. A clear-cut case of mistaken identity.
Amy Johnson, PhD is a psychologist, coach, author, and speaker who shares a groundbreaking new approach that helps people find lasting freedom from unwanted habits, anxiety, and self-doubt via insight rather than willpower. She is the author of Being Human, The Little Book of Big Change: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Habit, and Just a Thought: A No-Willpower Approach to End Self-Doubt and Make Peace with Your Mind. In 2017, she opened The Little School of Big Change, an online school that has helped thousands of people find freedom from anxiety and habits and live a more peaceful life. Amy also shares the no-willpower approach in her top-rated podcast, Changeable, and she’s trained over 70 coaches in her Change Coach Training Program. She has been a regularly featured expert on The Steve Harvey Show and Oprah.com, as well as in The Wall Street Journal and Self magazine. Connect on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Visit dramyjohnson.com.
Pre-order Just a Thought on Amazon and wherever books are sold.