Disarm your killer thoughts

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“That’s a killer thought.”

That was my tai chi teacher’s response to a new student who said, “This is so hard. I don’t have any coordination. I can’t even do this.”

“Killer thoughts” are thoughts that will kill your practice.

Laughing, our teacher Gregory went on to explain that “killer thoughts” are thoughts that will kill your practice. They discourage you, make you doubt yourself and kill all the fun of it as well.

Gregory recommended that instead of critiquing his ability to do awesome tai chi forms, the student could try to be curious about what his body was doing moment by moment.

So, instead of “I’m uncoordinated,” he could slow way down and get super curious. He could cultivate precise observations such as, “when the pressure increases on my heels, my weight is shifting backward and I feel unstable. What happens if I shift so that my weight feels evenly spread over my whole foot?”

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This got me thinking about the way killer thoughts show up in meditation practice as well. For example here are some thoughts that my students regularly report:

  • “I’m too restless. I can’t sit still.”
  • “My mind is too busy. I can’t meditate.”
  • “I’m not any good at this.”
  • “I don’t have time to meditate.”

These killer thoughts have something in common: They are all judgments and opinions.

How can you work with killer thoughts so they don’t derail your meditation practice?

With a little bit of mind-jiu jitsu, killer thoughts can be disarmed and transformed into useful observations that support your progress instead of undermining it.

With careful attention, “My mind is too busy. I can’t meditate,” can transform into the non-judgmental observation, “My mind is generating lots of thoughts. And now I’m having feelings of frustration. I wonder what will happen if I shift my awareness to noticing the sounds I can hear around me.”

At that point, you can begin to pay exquisite attention all that you can hear.

The goal is not to make your mind less busy. It’s to stop judging your mind for being busy.
Keep in mind, it doesn’t really matter if that makes your mind less busy. Because the goal is not to make your mind less busy. The goal is to stop judging your mind for being busy. Maybe listening to sounds will cause your mind to settle a bit. Or maybe it won’t. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens?

OK, here’s another example of using mind-jiu jitsu on your killer thoughts. You can transform, “I don’t have time to meditate,” to “I’m feeling a lot of time pressure today. What happens to that feeling if I sit down and watch 10 slow, deep breaths?”

Remember, it doesn’t matter if that increases or decreases the time pressure. You are just changing the thought that will kill your meditation practice into a curious observation that will support your practice instead.

Transform killer thoughts that show up in other parts of your life.

Once you are skilled at noticing and transforming killer thoughts during meditation, you can use that same mind-jiu jitsu to transform killer thoughts that show up in the rest of your life.

Ever have this thought? “I’m too tired to go to the gym.”

That’s a thought that will kill your fitness routine. If you notice that idea floating through your mind, you could try to shift it to a curious observation: “My energy feels low. It makes it hard to get moving. I wonder what would happen to my energy level if I go to the gym even though I feel tired?”

Or you could try, “I wonder if I would have more energy if I take a nap.”

Again, it doesn’t necessarily matter what happens, so long as you stay curious and let yourself learn from whatever happens. If you do take a nap and feel great and energetic afterward, that’s good information. If on the other hand, you feel groggy and lethargic afterward, that too is good information for next time.

What about this killer thought? “Oh man, I’m not smart enough to pass this class.”

With a little mind-jiu jitsu this could become, “There is a lot of material to learn for this class. I am feeling discouraged. I wonder how things might shift if I sat in the front of the class or closed my computer during class or used an online tutorial program or studied with a friend?”

The thing about killer thoughts is that they halt your progress. They eliminate the possibility of moving forward and figuring it out. They keep you from trying new things, learning and growing. 

You have to notice your killer thoughts before you can disarm them.

To disarm your killer thoughts you have to notice them first. That takes practice, and the best way to practice is to spend a few minutes a day in meditation. With practice, you will see that no matter what killer thoughts come up, you can disarm them with curiosity and precise observation.

What killer thoughts have you noticed and what strategies have you used for disarming them? Tell us in the comments below .

Photo by Bailey Zindel on Unsplash

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1 comment

  • Killer thought: this guy does not like me and if I email him he might think that I am desparate or slut.
    How I killed it: I thought that if I do not email him just to say hi and continue the conversation we had when we met, I would never find out what he really thought of me. Also, he might turn out to be a good friend in the future. I thought how I met another friend and that at the moment I had met him I could not imagine at all that after a year I would have gained a very very good and close friend and we would have done so many things together. he is a male but no sexual attraction happened, we became great friends

The Mindful Twenty Something by Holly Rogers
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— MIRABAI BUSH, co-founder and Senior Fellow of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

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