17 Common Thoughts That Are Holding You Back

“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.” – Gandhi
(“And so, with all due respect to Gandhi, is a woman, ahem.” — me)

thinking womanYou can be doing all the right things for all the right reasons, but if in your mind you are berating yourself, or doubting yourself, or distracting yourself, you won’t get the results you’re seeking.

This is why I became a mindset coach—because I know that when you start to re-write some of the petty, scared or downright mean thoughts that are likely running rampant in your mind, all parts of your life start to change.

(And because my 20 years of studying and practicing yoga and meditation taught me that thoughts aren’t necessarily true or even helpful—but it wasn’t until I hired a coach that I used all that insight to start taking different actions. And voila, mindset coaching was the perfect combo.)

I put together this list of the most common thoughts I see—both in my own experience and in my clients’—that keep people swimming in the same circles, like a one-legged duck.

And while I know that awareness is an incredibly powerful first step in changing the way you think, I’m also including some alternate thoughts that you can start trying on for size when you notice yourself falling in to same of these familiar mental patterns. Because, hey, I don’t want to leave you hanging!

I can’t promise that you will ever stop completely thinking these thoughts.  I certainly still notice them cropping up in my mind when I bump against some old triggers. You can, however, take away its megaphone and turn down the volume on their power to hold your attention and give yourself a different experience—which is the key to transformation.

Here’s the list:

1) “I don’t have time for that”
Time is finite, yes, but each of us gets the same 168 hours per week. Even if you work 50 hours and sleep 56 hours (8 hours a night), you still have 62 hours a week to play with. That’s no small helping!What you’re really saying when you say you don’t have time is that whatever it is isn’t important enough for you to allot some of those 62 hours to. Instead, try telling yourself, “That’s not a priority for me right now.” Better to call a spade a spade.

2) “I can’t afford that”
There is also a limited supply of money, particularly in your own bank account at any given moment—I will grant you that. But there is always more where those dollars came from. You can earn more, sell things you own, borrow it—if you absolutely had to find the money, you would do it.

Here’s an alternative for you: “I’m choosing not to find the money for that.” It empowers you, whereas saying you can’t afford something reinforces the idea that you’re somehow lacking.

3) “That was a waste of time”
I had a steady boyfriend through most of my college years. When we broke up after graduation, my grandmother said to me, “What a shame you wasted all those years on him.” It may make you flinch to think that someone I loved would say that to me (she was of a different era, when women went to college in large part to meet husbands, bless her heart), but we tell ourselves this level of hurtful things all the time.Try this on for size: “We are all always getting what we need.” What I needed in college was a steadying influence, because at that time I felt a little untethered from all that freedom. At that point, I didn’t need a lifelong partner. So I got exactly what I needed.Although time is finite, there is always more of it. There’s more right now, in fact. And right now. And right now! And if you are getting exactly what you need in that moment, how can that be a waste?

4) “What if this is a waste of time?”
This is similar to number 3, yes, but it’s more paralyzing. It suggests a need to be right—otherwise, why would you be worried about wasting your time? You could only do that if you made a wrong choice.Being right all the time is impossible. So if you have a need for something that’s impossible, you’ve got yourself in a situation where you’re going to suffer.Try saying, “I’m doing the best I can based on the information I have right now. I trust that by staying connected to what’s true for me I can’t make a bad choice.”

5) “This thing is so important, I need time to think about it. So I’ll do it later.”
This thought has a good intention behind it – I want to give this some good thought. But it also has a sneaky self-sabotage angle to it too. Because that time is not going to magically show up unless you create it. It keeps you in a mode of waiting instead of in a mode of moving forward.There’s a little perfectionism in here too – if the conditions aren’t just right, I’m not going to do anything. When you catch yourself thinking this, say, “This thing is so important, I’m going to spend five minutes right now writing down the thoughts that are occurring to me about it right now. They don’t have final and they don’t have to be perfect. Once I do, I’ll be able to see better what the next best step is given the time and resources I currently have available.” That’s kind of wordy, but you get the idea, right?

6) “I’ll remember that later”
Mmm hmm, yeah. This one’s just an outright trick of the ego. You are not going to remember later. As a writer, I can assure you, I’ve had many fully-formed ideas plop into my head when I’m driving home from the grocery store and I will even jot down a couple words about it in the Notes on my phone, and when it comes time to sit down and write this newsletter, I have no idea what “Are you a Sylvia or a JoAnn?” means.Here, you can either call it like it is, and think, “I may remember this later,” so that you don’t have an occasion to beat yourself up when you have no recollection of what you were so excited about. Or, you can say, “If it’s important enough to know later, I’ll take some time now to jot it down.” Then allow yourself a few minutes to write some complete thoughts about whatever idea is pinging you at the moment.

7) “I’ll think about that later”
This one is a blend of “I don’t have time,” “This is too hard,” and “Whatever.” Basically, it’s denial. And denial can be an effective coping mechanism, up to a point. But after a while, not thinking about something that needs your attention takes way more of a toll than simply facing it.Rather, try telling yourself, “I admit that I don’t really want to think about this right now, but I’m staying open to insight on this matter.”

8) “It’s not my fault”
You are always co-creating your experience—as is everyone else on the planet. When you notice yourself either saying that something isn’t your fault, or blaming someone else, you are hiding from the fact that you do, in fact, have power in this situation.I know this can be hard to hear, but blaming others—or circumstances—for why you aren’t happy is about the lowest level of energy there is. It’s a very depleting place to be. And a lot of us are so familiar with this place – you probably learned it from a master, as in your mother or father, who learned it from their mother or father— that it has come to seem comfortable.Here’s an alternative: “As upset as I may be, I know I played a role in what happened. If I helped create the problem, I know I can help create the solution too.”

9) “Why me?”
This is a sign you are taking things personally. I mean, yes, you want to look at any given situation and be open to see how you have played a role. But sometimes things just happen.

Kids get cancer. The out of control driver plows into you. The tree falls on your house. There is only so much reflection of what you may have done to invite this circumstance in to your life that’s helpful. After that, you’re focusing on what’s going wrong, and what you focus on grows.

Instead, ask yourself, “What’s right about this situation? What opportunities does it bring?” This may be a challenge, but you want to do things differently, remember?

10) “Whatever”
This is basically the same as “I’ll think about that later.” It signals that you are you are not allowing yourself to really feel your feelings, and you’re trying to dismiss them.The kicker is, the surest way to help difficult emotions move along is to make some space for them. Emotions carry messages in them, and you want to receive those messages. Otherwise, the feelings don’t go away—they get repressed, and they get weird. Facing them is what helps them transform.Here’s an alternative: “What am I feeling right now? If I can name it, and let myself feel it, I trust that it will move along a lot faster than if I try to wave it away.”

11) “Maybe some miracle will happen”
Hey, I’m all for letting go and letting God. But this thinking suggests that you’re throwing up your hands, as if there’s nothing you can do. Little ole me, what could I possibly do to make things better? Trust me, there is always something you can do.

Try the one of these that feels more right: “I know I’ve taken care of my end of the deal; I’m going to surrender the outcome. In the meantime, I’ll keep taking good care of my business.” This, of course, assumes that you have taken good care of your end of the deal. If you haven’t yet—do that!


“I choose to focus on what’s going right and look for the opportunities, and if I do that, I know that things will work out.”

12) “If it’s not one damn thing it’s another”
Geez, I know: Some times things—good or bad, happy or sad—feel like a slog. But getting frustrated about them suggests that you’re starting to take it personally. Like you’re getting punished. It’s a sneaky way of feeling sorry for yourself.This thought is also a sneaky form of magical thinking, because it intimates that you are expecting there to be a time when everything is peaceful and smooth and you’re kind of getting ticked off that that time is not now.

Here’s something different to try: “All these things are happening because life knows I can handle them. I trust that taking care of them will teach me things I need to know and create opportunities I can’t even imagine from where I stand. I also choose to do the things I need to do to feel good, even though my life is totally getting lit up with things to do.”

(Unless, you’ve made peace with the fact that there is, in fact, pretty much always something that needs tending to, and you say this phrase with a genuine level of acceptance, perhaps even chipperness.)

13) “Who am I to do this thing?”
This one’s all about the fear of doing something new –what if you fail? Or are mocked? Or worse, mocked for failing? Maybe if you had some letters after your name, or more years of experience under your belt, you’d feel better about the whole endeavor. Maybe you should go back to school, or work for free.I mean, maybe those things would help. But what will be most illuminating is actually doing the thing in whatever capacity is available to you at the moment. (And that may mean working for free, but don’t assume that. It’s OK to find a situation where you get paid to learn.)Try this: “If I’ve got the sincere desire to do this, I’ve already got everything I need to get started. It’s OK to do things awkwardly. I trust my integrity to tell me when I need to up my game.”

14) “This is too hard”
If you find yourself thinking this, be mindful of feeling sorry for yourself. I know in my family it was common to show someone you loved them by worrying about them and feeling sorry for them. That’s actually not loving. It’s saying, “Maybe you can’t handle this.” It’s an easy view to internalize. But not only is not true, it’s paralyzing.You can do the hard stuff. And you can always ask for help.

Instead, try telling yourself: “I’m feeling really challenged now, but I know there’s a way through. I’m going to stay open to possibilities and ask for help when I need it.”

15) “I wish I had done/said it differently”
You can learn a lot by looking back at a situation with the benefit of hindsight, and pinpointing things you could have done differently. But a little of this is all you need (and a coach or a brave, loving friend can be really instrumental in keeping this a helpful exercise).

Too much looking back and regretting is just handing your inner critic a microphone. It’s punishing. Remember, what you focus on grows. If you only see the way you fell short in the past, you’re going to increase your awareness of the ways in which you fall short every day. And we all fall short every day. In this, you’re not special.

Here’s an alternative: “I see the ways I could have risen to the occasion better, and I forgive myself for them. By being gentle with myself, I help myself stay open to ways of doing things differently in the future.”

16) “What will people think of this?”
Hello, little people pleaser, nice to meet you. JI am absolutely wrestling with this one right now! I have a book idea that I know a lot of people are going to think is total crap. I know those people aren’t my people, and that my people will get a lot of value out of it. But, wow, do I not want to say goodbye to the haters. It feels sad, even dangerous, because I grew up believing that if I could just make everyone happy, everything would be OK. I’m having to do a little grieving for that part of me, because she’s not needed anymore. So I am very present to the fact that this particular thought can go DEEP.So I’ll tell you what I’m telling myself (hey, we teach what we need to learn): Wanting to make everyone happy, all the time is, of course, impossible. Not only that, but it keeps you from growing. Because to have a bigger impact, you have to matter more to your people. Not to everyone—to your tribe.

Reframe this as: “How can I deliver the most value to just the right people?” That’s really your only guiding principle.

17) “Who does he/she think she is?”
The people who drive you crazy have so much to teach you about yourself. You can get hung up in judging or hating them—you certainly wouldn’t be alone if that’s the route you choose! OR, you can take a closer look and see just what it is about them that triggers you so.

Chances are, it’s one of two scenarios. You either share a trait with them that you don’t like very much, and it’s easier to hate it in someone else than it is to admit it in yourself. Or, they exhibit some trait that you have never allowed yourself to develop, because you learned somewhere along the way that it was “bad.” And you have to demonize that person for it in order to justify why you’ve never allowed it for yourself. Tricky, right?

Instead, try telling yourself: “What is it about this person that gets me riled?” And then, bless them for it, whatever it is. Being OK with people just as they are is the best way to be OK with yourself just as you are. And that’s the best way to short-circuit every thought on this list.

What thoughts have I left off the list? Leave your suggestions in a comment and I will create an updated version in the future.


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