Tired of feeling stuck in the same mindset? Or ever catch yourself saying, “Why does this always happen to me?!”
If so, you might be stuck in a stiff thinking pattern—but don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. I fell victim to this too until I found out how to make my thoughts more flexible. I’m Poppy Jamie, and I am a recovering people pleaser, Olympic worrier, highly sensitive Cancerian, former workaholic, and perfectionist. As you can probably tell, that isn’t listed on my dating profile.
Life was one battlefield after the next, and it took a total health breakdown five years ago to make me realize I needed to adopt a different approach to life. My journey to understanding my own mind began by building a mindfulness app (Happy Not Perfect) and creating a podcast (Not Perfect Podcast). I wanted to understand why I was the way I was AND how I could change my mindset for the better. Mental health transplants are not available, but I’ve found the next best thing, and that’s learning to be a flexible thinker.
My new book, Happy Not Perfect: Upgrade Your Mind, Challenge Your Thoughts, and Free Yourself from Anxiety, shares the method behind thinking with bendy, stretchy thoughts. But right now, I’d love to start where I began: learning why my brain was so stiff to begin with.
Our subconscious mind is usually running the show. Research found that we spend 95% of our day being driven by our subconscious mind. For example, when we first learn to drive to work, we really have to concentrate on finding the way, and our conscious brain is in control. Quickly, the route becomes familiar and we can drive without thinking. That’s because driving has become a subconscious habit, something we do without really trying to. This is fine for driving purposes, but when we start to move through our days, every day, relying on our subconscious, we get stuck. Our subconscious mind is the product of everything we’ve experienced, good or bad. So whatever we have individually gone through, our subconscious mind has been shaped by this. If we’re not careful, our past can keep us stuck in auto-pilot interpreting and responding to the world in the same way, repeatedly.
Let’s say a person with pink hair screwed you over and it was really painful. Your pattern-matching mind might then automatically assume the next pink-haired person you meet is also untrustworthy. You feel anxious and you react by avoiding the situation. Here lies the BIG problem with stiff thinking. When we rely on our subconscious brain to pattern-match back to the past, we become stuck in old fears and prejudices, preventing change. The next pink-haired person you meet could be the missing link to you and your wildest dreams. Wouldn’t it be a shame to let your mind stop you from a life-changing opportunity?
I used to do this with men the entire time. One bad experience with someone who works in tech would leave me for years saying things like “Oh, men who work in tech are the WORST!” But as Dr. Joan Rosenberg told me, this is bad emotional mathematics. Once doesn’t mean forever. Like me, most stiff thinkers are victims of bad emotional math. What is now, never means forever. Change can happen at any point.
We are also vulnerable to being stiff thinkers because of our inherent confirmation bias. Our brain likes to be RIGHT even if it’s confirming horrible thoughts like “I’m inadequate.” We all have a habit of turning meaningless events into evidence for our beliefs. If someone didn’t text me back, I’d assume this was because they didn’t like me and thus I was destined to fail. This was because deep down, I didn’t think I was worthy of being liked and thus spent my days looking for evidence to confirm this. How exhausting to allow our minds to run the internal narrative without intervention.
It is not our fault our brain becomes so stiff; it’s only trying to do the best it can. Research found that the brain receives around 11 million pieces of information a second, but the conscious mind can only handle 50. So we are forced to have selective attention and only notice the things that feel most important; otherwise, we’d be even more overwhelmed. But have a think about all the other 10 million-plus pieces of info that are passing us by. We could be missing some incredible opportunities. When we stay stuck in a fixed outlook, allowing our subconscious to run the show, we can be stuck thinking and feeling the same things for an entire lifetime, noticing the same 50 pieces of info every time. But it doesn’t need to be this way.
We are a product of our past, but our future is still under construction. We will not be able to build the future we want if we’re stuck using our stiff survival brain. This is why the discovery of flexible thinking changed my life. It’s a technique that breaks the habit of your past and stretches you into new thinking patterns. It turns your outlook bendy so that you become open to new information. Flexible thinking upgrades your mindset and helps you respond to life using the wise part of your brain instead of being driven by the emotional center.
Our past may be the architect of our present, but it doesn’t need to predict our future if we’re willing to stretch and bend.
I wrote a book to share all the tools to become a flexible thinker, including the FLEX method. The FLEX method is a technique you can apply to anything and everything to create clarity, make better decisions, get out of emotional holes, break through blocks, and create thought habits that empower you. It’s based on the 4 C’s: Connection, Curiosity, Choice, and Commitment.
Step 1: Connection
The ability to accept our emotions and learn to connect with how we truly feel instead of suppressing them. We have the chance to unlock the wisdom each emotion brings. The connection step reminds you that it’s virtually impossible to think your way out of a problem and encourages you to move your way out of it by creating new energy and new thoughts. As the great Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Question: How does my mind feel today? How can I change my energy?
Step 2: Curiosity
This is one of the most important steps. It’s about questioning your mind and investigating before you jump to an assumption or conclusion. This book asks you to consider why you have the thoughts you do, how you were conditioned to be thinking this way, and how your culture and upbringing have influenced the beliefs you carry about yourself today. This step encourages you to think about what your inner critic is telling you and whether these thoughts are even true. Research shows our memory is completely unreliable, and our thoughts are definitely not facts. When you practice staying curious, your awareness grows, and you stay open to much more useful information.
Question: Is this thought even true? Who would I be without this thought?
Step 3: Choice
Humans only have two fundamental emotions, love and fear. Step 3 is about consciously choosing to live a life full of love and optimism. We may not feel like we have a choice to be happy as life has the tendency to challenge us. However, we always have the choice to be kind toward ourselves and to treat ourselves with endless compassion. We can only learn when we feel relaxed enough to do so. Fear doesn’t accomplish anything in the long term, and life is a marathon.
Question: How would I advise a friend experiencing what I am now?
Step 4: Commitment
Things can only change if we commit to responding to life with intention, be the most compassionate version of ourselves, and live a life aligned with our values. It takes wisdom to make good decisions, and the three steps leading up to this one help us tap into the wells of wisdom we have inside.
Question: WHY is this happening to me? WHAT can I learn from this?
We have all been through experiences that have caused us to doubt ourselves and been told things about ourselves that weren’t true but we took at face value. For the majority of us, these moments are followed by the arrival of the mean inner critic who relentlessly chips away at our self-esteem and won’t shut up. But it doesn’t need to be this way. If there’s one thing to take from reading this, I want you to know that you do not need to stay a prisoner. Learning to be a flexible thinker changed my life for the better, and I hope it can change yours too.
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