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"Realistic" Thoughts

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

From the podcast: Align Your Mind Episode 4

The title of this blog is called “realistic thoughts” as you probably noticed when you clicked on it. I want to talk about this today, because it ties in nicely with the progression of tools I want to offer, but also because I’ve heard this word thrown around a lot and I think it is important to talk about.

We tell ourselves that things are or aren’t realistic all the time. And just by saying that word, we excuse all kinds of possibilities for what we can do in our lives. It can be the reason you take action and put yourself out there or the reason you don’t. This word is an interesting one, and as you’ll learn I am endlessly fascinated with words and how we use them.

Google defines realistic as having or showing a sensible and practical idea of what can be achieved or expected. Now, notice that this definition is full of opinion words - everyone has a different idea of what is sensible, practical, or achievable. Therefore, I think “realistic” is truly an opinion. And what that means is, we get to decide what is realistic for us. We get to take responsibility for telling ourselves that our goals and dreams are indeed realistic. We get to create our own opinion about them.

I want to talk about the flip side also. “Realistic” isn’t usually used to help you become aware of your limiting beliefs, so you can then shape your beliefs to work for you, that’s just for people who know about this work. Most of the time in society, we use it as an excuse. How many times have you heard, “Oh, I would totally do that! But it’s just not realistic for me.” Why would you choose to think it isn’t realistic for you?

The answer for most people, is they’re afraid to do that thing. Saying something isn’t realistic is such an amazing excuse we’ve created in our society. Someone shouldn’t pursue a career in art or music because it isn’t realistic. And if you told someone that, that would be a full stop acceptable answer for most people. Think about that. This word has some serious power in our society.

It is more realistic to get a steady job than to try to write that book you’ve always wanted to while freelancing. It is more realistic to have a 401k and a steady paycheck than to start your own business. But is it? Once again realistic is just an opinion, and you get to decide what you want to believe is realistic for you. No matter what anyone else says is realistic.

I believe that the word realistic has held more people back from fully living their lives than we can ever know. Realistic is a choice. Nothing extraordinary is ever “realistic.” The Wright brothers, for example, was it realistic for them to be out in a field with a large wooden winged contraption trying to literally fly? No!

But what could have stopped them, was thinking that it wasn’t a realistic endeavor. What are you telling yourself about your life that you justify as realistic? This is a great question to answer if you have some time, or if you can just observe your thoughts.

One phrase I’ve heard quite often is “Oh well, maybe in my next life…” usually accompanied by a dismissive chuckle. But here’s the thing, as Glennon Doyle so eloquently states in her book Untamed, “Our next life will always cost us this one.” There is no next life.

Why am I saying all of this? Is it really a problem that people use the word realistic? Well that depends, are you using it as an excuse to not take full responsibility for your life and circumstances? This brings me to a concept called the thought model. This is a coaching tool I use in my practice and it is illuminating.

It breaks down everything in our lives into 5 categories: circumstances, thoughts, feelings, actions, and results.

The first line of the model is circumstances. These are the neutral facts we talked about last week. These are the things that happen in our lives that are factual. Then, we have thoughts about these circumstances, that’s the second line of the model. These thoughts create our feelings which is the third line. These feelings lead to our actions (the fourth line) which compound to create our results The fifth line of the model. When we organize things in this way, we can see that what creates the results in our lives, aren’t our neutral circumstances, it is always our thoughts about them.

Our thoughts are the root cause of everything we experience in our lives. So, if you don’t think something is realistic, you probably feel unmotivated, which will affect your actions immensely, and create a result that fits your idea of “realistic.” When we break it down like this and we can see how our thoughts create our feelings which drive our actions, we can see clearly whether that initial thought is serving us and our long-term goals.

If we have thoughts that make us feel excited, curious, motivated or inspired, we are much more likely to achieve what we want. But when we think of things like “this isn’t realistic,” they can be tricky. Because we think being realistic is responsible as a society. We are told by people to not take risks, to go to college, to get a good-paying job, to have two and a half kids, and a white picket fence. That’s the realistic thing to do. But I want you to challenge yourself when you have these thoughts, even though it seems responsible to be “realistic.” But is it really? Is it responsible to doubt yourself? Is it responsible to minimize your potential based on this word?

Who is it responsible to? To you? I know I’ll probably be quoting Glennon Doyle a lot on this podcast, and if you haven’t read her book Untamed, run, don’t walk, and get your eyeballs on it, because it is full of insight.

She says something to her daughter in this book that is seldom taught to young women. Her daughter was fearful of disappointing someone. And Glennon told her, “Listen. Every time you’re given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.”

This is profound. As someone who has lived in fear of disappointing others, this is just a small reminder that we should value ourselves, our dreams, and our own opinions above all others. There is such a trend in today’s culture to look externally for advice on how to live, what to do, what to eat, what kind of workout routine we should have, our capitalist society thrives on the fact that so many people have decided they don’t know how to live their own lives. So, our society tells us what is realistic, leaving no room for nuance, no room for expansion.

A thought I love to practice, a thought I think is extremely high quality, is: I always know what’s best for me. I always know best. Of course, I can gather information, but I always make the right choice. As a culture, we are afraid of failure and doing things wrong. But, if it gets you to where you want to go, is it wrong? Our brain loves to throw “it's just not realistic” at us as a way to doubt ourselves, to keep us safe from embarrassment and harm. And if we don’t have the tools to observe our thoughts, and decide on purpose whether or not to believe them, we just believe that excuse.

Realistic is an opinion, what do you currently believe is realistic for you? What do you believe is not realistic? I would take some time to truly answer that question. And if you find yourself using that word or thinking that word, reflect on how that thought makes you feel and how you show up in your life when you feel that way. Is that what you want to believe about yourself? About your life?

For some people, making millions of dollars is realistic, for others, making minimum wage is realistic. This is based on what they think is realistic. As a kid, I used to think that intelligence was fixed. I used to believe that it wasn’t realistic for me to get a 4.0 because I wasn’t as smart as a lot of my friends. Therefore, I was discouraged, didn’t study much for the SAT, and decided that I wasn’t the best at school and therefore couldn’t be. I remembered thinking how upsetting it was that I was smart enough to be aware that I was stupid. This would probably shock people now because I love learning, reading, and school and I have a doctorate. But back then I was told I was talented and good at music. So, throughout undergrad, I skipped a lot of classes, thinking it wouldn’t be worth it anyway because I couldn’t get really good grades. Sure, I averaged an A- or B+ average, but I put all my stock into practicing flute because that’s what I was told I was good at. I just thought it wasn’t realistic for me to get a 4.0.

Of course, as soon as I decided it was realistic and possible in my master’s I got a 4.0 every semester. It’s funny how thinking something is possible will completely shift your work ethic and ability to figure things out. So, what are you dismissing as impossible or unrealistic in your life?

I love to remember that someone else is living the life I’d love to have, and for them, it is 100% realistic. Why would it not be realistic for me? And if I have any answer to that question that isn’t -- it’s totally realistic for me, those are some opinions of myself that I need to reflect on, and decide whether to keep them or to just let them pass through your mind.



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