Ep. 211: The Compassionate OBSERVER

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Today I’m sharing the PRACTICAL STEPS and FOUNDATIONAL IDEAS that will get us to the goals we set for ourselves.

My friends, have you ever wondered what impact your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings have on the RESULTS you get in your life?  Can your state of mind🧠 really affect your outcomes?

In today’s episode of the Fitness Matters podcast, we are peeling back the onion🧅 and I’m sharing the PRACTICAL STEPS and FOUNDATIONAL🧱 IDEAS that will get us to the goals we set for ourselves.

In today’s episode of the Fitness Matters podcast, we are peeling back the onion🧅 and I’m sharing the PRACTICAL STEPS and FOUNDATIONAL🧱 IDEAS that will get us to the goals we set for ourselves.

Tune in📻 now to find out all about it.  Let’s GO!

NOTE: Next Sunday, November 28th, is our Pahla B Book Club episode! This month, we’re reading The Menopause Manifesto by Dr. Jen Gunter and new Chirp audiobooks users can get five dollars off (making the book FREE!) with the code PAHLA5.  This code will take you directly to the book and apply the discount:  https://bit.ly/PahlaBChirp

(Don’t wanna listen? Download the transcript here)

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Ep. 046: Wanting MORE for Yourself

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The Compassionate OBSERVER (Full Transcript)

Last call before this month’s Pahla B Book Club. In partnership with Chirp Audio Books, we are reading “The Menopause Manifesto” by Dr. Jen Gunter this month. Next week, Sunday, November 28th, will be our book club episode. New Chirp users can get $5 off their first purchase with the code Pahla5, that’s P-A-H-L-A-5 with no spaces. Plus there’s a link in the description box or show notes that will actually take you directly to the book and apply the discount. If you’re not a new user though, no worries. The book is on steep discount right now through the month of November. So you can pick it up for just $2.99. Either way you guys be sure to tune in next week, wherever you listen to podcasts, to chat about the book. And now let’s get to today’s episode. You’re listening to the Fitness Matters Podcast with Pahla B. And this is episode number 211: “The Compassionate Observer.”

Welcome to the Fitness Matters Podcast where every week we talk about the fitness matters that matter to you. I’m Pahla B, YouTuber, certified life and weight loss coach, soon to be author, and your best middle-aged fitness friend. Are you ready to talk about the fitness mindset that matters to you? Me too. Let’s go.

Well hello, hello, my friends. How are you today [singing]? I don’t know why I’m singing that. You guys, I mean it’s kind of related to where we’re going to go with today’s episode. I am channeling my inner preschool teacher apparently to just sing my greeting to you as I sometimes do. So here’s where I want to start with today’s episode:  thank you. Thank you for clicking on this one, because I happen to know that the title, “The Compassionate Observer,” is probably not clear, or if it is clear, it’s probably not all that exciting or interesting for you. And it might be just one of those things where you’re so curious about what that even is that that’s why you clicked. But here was my entire thought process, because I went around and around on this one.

I have two minds about how I title a podcast. This is also weirdly foreshadowing for what we’re going to talk about today, but I very frequently try really hard to create a title that I know is going to be enticing for you because it’s a problem that you have or something that you’d really like some help with or a topic that you are curious about or something like that. And then sometimes I title them like this one is. I find this to be a very practical title because I happen to know that I will be referring to this episode several times in the future. This is one of those foundational episodes that I’m going to put at the top of my YouTube channel. And I know that I’m going to be referring you to this one in the same way that I refer you to episodes like “What is a Thought?” (Ep. 084 What is a Thought? https://getyourgoal.com/podcasts/84-what-is-a-thought/) or “Facts Vs. Opinions” (Ep. 009 Facts Vs. Opinions https://getyourgoal.com/podcasts/9-facts-opinions/) like some of those other really foundational episodes that you need to understand the concept of to get the most out of the work that we do together.

So for me, this is just really practical and pragmatic. At some point in the future, you could just search for this and the title is very clear what we are talking about. Because sometimes when we talk about some really specific issues . . . I’m trying to think of a particular episode. Well, actually, because I have not made an episode that is titled the Two-Step Tool, I don’t actually remember which episodes we have talked about my two-step tool, where you find your thoughts and decide if they’re helpful. And so I’m probably at some point in the future – probably the very near future – going to create an episode that is literally just titled the Two-Step Tool so that I can refer you to it in the future because I know I’ve talked about it numerous times in numerous ways, and I know that I’ve explained it pretty well, but I don’t remember which episode it is.

And therefore it’s really nice to just have a title that I can remember that you can search for that covers exactly what we’re going to talk about. So thank you for clicking on this one. And if you are coming back to it at some point in the future, when I have referred to this episode, thank you for that too. So you guys today, we are talking about – dun, dun, dun – you already knew because I told you in the title, “The Compassionate Observer.” This is a state of mind that is essential for mindset work. And there are a couple of things that I wanted to talk about before we dig in, which is to say how we get into this state of mind of being the compassionate observer.

But if you know me at all – and if you don’t, hi, I’m Pahla B. Welcome. I’m super glad you’re here – I always want to know why. Like when in doubt, I want to know why we do things, why we want to know something, why we think things. I just want to know why. And here’s why it’s important to cultivate the compassionate observer in your own mind for your mindset work.

The thing about observing your thoughts is that it creates self-awareness for you. Now you have the ability to think about your thoughts all the time. It’s something that we actually do very naturally and don’t necessarily think about what we’re doing. So this is a skill you already possess that maybe you haven’t honed or practiced on purpose. And the reason why we would practice it on purpose is because it makes us more aware of ourselves. Now I know that that can sound selfish and self involved. Like, do you really need to pay attention to yourself anymore than you already do? Yes. And here’s why.

It has been scientifically proven. And I love this. I was just reading, because I was actually doing some research before creating this podcast for you today because I wanted to talk to you about specific psychological principles that have names and things like that. And one of the papers I was reading was talking about how it has been proven that self-awareness in this sense of being the compassionate observer of your own thoughts and behaviors and feelings – that it is associated with outcomes, aka results, which is what we talk about all the time around here. Like happy relationships, job satisfaction, and even physical health. You guys, I tell you this all the time and I love that it’s actually been proven, not just because I tell you, but because people way smarter than me have actually done experiments and discovered that when you are self-aware, you are happier and healthier.

I mean, come on. Come on. This is what we talk about all the time. This is why your fitness matters and your mindset matters to your fitness and health and happiness. It made me so happy to read that. So being self-aware is honestly a goal in and of itself because being self-aware can help you with all your other . . .  I’m going to call them superficial goals. And I don’t mean that as any kind of a judgment. I know the word “superficial” sounds like a judgment, but just bear with me here. I think of physical goals, like I want to weigh such and such, or I want to make such and such amount of money or I want something for myself.

If you are not new around here, you know that I want you to want things for yourself. In fact, I have an entire podcast episode called “Wanting More for Yourself” that is related to this (Ep. 046 Wanting More for Yourself https://getyourgoal.com/podcasts/46-wanting-more-for-yourself/). Wanting things for yourself – like material things or emotional things for yourself – I truly believe that it is part of our journey here on Earth. And in fact I would even call the most important part of our journey here on Earth is wanting something for yourself and creating it for yourself. I think that’s why we’re here, but here’s what I’m going to say about that. Wanting something for yourself sometimes falls into categories of wanting to make a lot of money, or to be married, or to drive a certain kind of car, or to weigh something, or to fit into certain kinds of clothes. Those are things that I would consider external and therefore superficial, meaning like on the surface of. And again, not in a judgemental way, this is opposed to something that you might want internally, such as a feeling of success or a feeling of satisfaction or a feeling of connectedness.

When we talk about goals of wanting to feel a certain way . . . and yes, you will feel a certain way with physical goals and superficial goals also. And coming really off to the left here is that the reason why we set goals is to create a certain feeling for ourselves by doing these sometimes physical/superficial things and sometimes doing the mental and internal work of creating these feelings for ourselves. Anyway, that was kind of to the side, but it’s an interesting thing to think about – why you have physical or external goals and superficial goals or why you might have internal or – what would that be called? –  subdermal, inside-your-own-skin goals. That’s such a funny thing to think about, but I’m going to make a little note of that. Think about subdermal goals in the future. But my friends, having self-awareness, observing your thoughts and feelings and behaviors compassionately is the mechanism by which we get our goals, and it’s been scientifically proven and I love that.

Okay. So what is this compassionate observer? It is a state of mind, and this is where we’re going to get into a little bit more of that ephemeral “how does this work” kind of thing. And this is why I’m creating this podcast, because I do want to offer you practical, step by step, this is how you get into this mental state. Because I know that even though it is something that we do naturally, it is the way our brains work. We have a subconscious brain and a conscious brain. We think and we observe our thinking, and it is not 100% uniquely human, but it’s fairly unique in our world. We have some evidence that some other animals can observe themselves and be self-aware – not exactly the way that we do because of the complexity of our language and how we can express our self-awareness – but we have some evidence that some other animals have self-awareness also.

But the thing about this self-awareness and being the compassionate observer of yourself is that it is a state of mind. It is a thing that you do in your brain that requires the development of the skill. You are born with the innate ability to do it. But that doesn’t mean that you are even aware or self-aware of your self awareness. I know, we’re really peeling an onion here today when it comes to how meta this gets. In fact, there is even a scientific word for it called metacognition where you are . . . meta means above or beyond, which let’s go off into left field again really quickly. Did you hear that Facebook is trying to rebrand themselves as Meta because it means above or beyond? Or as some of us would say above and beyond. “Because there’s always another way to evolve” was the official line.

I thought that was really funny for a lot of reasons. I like Facebook. I mean, I like the ability to talk to one another on Facebook, but I understand that Facebook as a company is problematic. I just think it’s really interesting that they’ve waited this long to rebrand and that they’re rebranding with a word that I don’t know that everybody knows. Or that I don’t know that everybody would see as the way that they’re trying to rebrand. And so I just think it gets kind of funny, kind of meta of them. Anyway, metacognition or self-awareness or the compassionate observer self is a state of mind that some people – and I don’t disagree with this – associate with meditation. The reason I’m hesitating here is because I find meditation to be very difficult. I find self-awareness to be very easy because it is a skill that I have practiced, but I don’t find meditation to be easy.

And that’s why I want to throw this out here. You don’t have to meditate to observe your thoughts. And if you already meditate and understand that, then you have already come to this skill from that direction. If you know how to meditate, how to observe your thoughts and let them float through and observe your breath and observe your body, the way I talk about self-awareness might come easier to you. And if you are like me and struggle with meditation, you can still come to this self-awareness. You can still be self-aware and use this skill, even if you don’t like to or think that you can’t meditate.

So you guys, how do we get there? How do we get into this compassionate observer role? I want to tell you right now that even though it is a skill that you are born with, it might not feel easy and you might, like any skill, and I really want you to approach this as though it is a skill because it is. But thinking about it as a skill that you can develop can help you be really patient with yourself when it doesn’t come easily to you. And even though you have the innate ability and it doesn’t come easy to you, you get into that mental state or to hang onto that mental state. Even though it’s not for very long, you can get much out of it.

If you are new to compassionately observing your thoughts and your feelings and your behaviors, this is something that’s going to take a while to develop, and that’s completely normal and it’s completely okay. And offering yourself the grace and the patience might not come easily to you as they don’t often come easily to me. Although it will come more easily to you the more you develop the skill of self-awareness.

I’ve got to be honest. I’m veering off to the left. Hang on. I’m coming back, but I’m veering off to the left here again. One of the things that I notice, I used to describe myself all the time as a not very patient person. I feel so much more patient with myself, the more self-aware I am. I don’t feel impatient anymore because the more I have developed difficult skills, like self-awareness, the more I understand that being patient is part of that process. And the more skills that I develop, the more I want to develop more skills. And the understanding that being patient with myself is part of developing a skill that I want, means that I am more willing to be patient.

Okay. Let’s come back to it. How to get to a space of self-awareness. You might, if this is something that is enjoyable to you, learn how to meditate. I don’t have a lot of practical knowledge for you on that one. I don’t have a “step one, sit down; step two . . . ” I mean, I do, I guess, focus on your breathing. Step three, “notice that you are thinking and come back to your breath.” I mean, these are steps that I have heard so many times. I cannot tell you how often I have tried to come to meditation and don’t find that it resonates with me in a way that I can sustain. I think I’m actually really capable of meditation and yet I don’t necessarily want to be capable of meditation. And therefore I have not practiced it any more than I do. Which is to say that sometimes I find myself in what I think of as a very meditative state when I am walking or running. Because it’s such a repetitive physical motion that it allows my brain to go wherever my brain wants to go and I can observe where my brain is going.

But here’s what I’m going to tell you from my perspective of thinking about coming to self-awareness practically. I find the most practical and easiest way – for me – to observe my thoughts, my feelings, and my behaviors is to journal. I find that writing things down on paper helps me physically see my thoughts. And I want you to really kind of absorb that for a second. When you write your thoughts down on paper, you can see them, you can observe them physically with your eyeballs. That, to me, is the most basic. And I mean that in a nice way. I know that the word basic over the past couple of years has taken on a kind of different flavor than maybe it used to before that. I mean, I know that some people actually use the word basic as an insult, which I think is kind of funny. But when you can come to the basics of thinking about observing with your eyes something physical that is outside of you, journaling makes the most sense.

That is, writing your thoughts down in some manner. I mean, I call it “on paper” because that is how I journal. You can journal into a voice recorder. You can journal onto the computer with a typewriter. You can journal any way you want to. And you can journal in your own mind. I don’t discourage you from this because for some people, it is kind of like a kinder, gentler way. I know that some of us really have some real resistance to writing our thoughts down on paper. And I do think that is worthy of you exploring. Like, why does that feel difficult? Why do I resist that? Why wouldn’t I want to write things down? And I encourage you to listen for the answers. I mean, the act of being a compassionate observer of your thoughts is asking yourself a question, which by the way is step two.

I mean, I always get ahead of myself, you guys. I’m always so eager to give you all the information that I give you spoilers. But that is the other part of the practical part of it. Journaling in general and the way we journal is to ask yourself a question and then write down whatever comes out of your mind. You can do this in your head also. For some people, I’ll be honest, I think of journaling in your head as a more advanced version of being the compassionate observer. And simultaneously I think that it is easier than journaling on paper. And so therefore might be the thing you do as a pre-journaling on paper act. I will tell you that I am more successful with observing my thoughts in my head and not on paper because I have observed my thoughts by writing them on paper. And because it is slightly easier because there is less of a barrier to entry, it can be the first thing you do.

So it’s almost like a mind journaling sandwich. Where the mind journaling (not on paper) is the bread. So you can start by simply thinking about your thoughts in your own head and letting that be where you do this compassionate observer work. And then I think the second step is to write things down on paper. And then after you have written them down on paper, you can come back to journaling in your mind and or use both of them as equal opportunity observations. Here’s what I want you to understand. There’s no wrong way to be the compassionate observer if what you are getting out of it is noticing your thoughts and being compassionate. I mean, it’s right there in the title. When you are compassionately observing, then you are doing it correctly. How you get to that state of being the compassionate observer doesn’t matter nearly as much as the act of being compassionate and the act of observing.

From another practical perspective, because I often find that when really specifically, when I’m coaching somebody and I’ll say “Do you notice that that’s a thought? Or “Do you notice your thoughts about this topic?” Whatever it is that we’re talking about. I think that there’s a meta level. There’s another version of thinking about your thoughts, and some of it is being compassionate, but some of it is the real deep awareness and understanding of a thought as a thought. And this is where it gets harder for me to explain, which is why I’m kind of slowing down here. This level of not just observing your thoughts, but being deeply aware of, and therefore I’m going use the word “unattached,” but it’s not a complete detachment from your thoughts, nearly as much as it is, again, this state of mind where you are not in your thoughts.

Sometimes we can observe our thoughts and still be in them in a way where we’re feeling the feelings. We’re feeling caught up. We’re feeling that they are the truth. We’re feeling that we believe them, that we’re still not just observing the thoughts, but really having the thoughts, really being the thoughts. And that is where I think of the compassionate observer in an even more meta way, which is to say that we are unattached from the feelings that our thoughts create. And this is where not just being compassionate or not just being an observer, but by being the compassionate observer, is more than the sum of its parts. It’s more than just being compassionate about your thoughts. It’s more than just observing your thoughts. It’s coming to an even higher state of thinking where you’re not in the thoughts.

And the way that I personally come to this compassionate observer position is based on my own experiences in life. And so I’m going to offer you this as sort of a practical way of thinking about it. And it may or may not resonate with you. Because maybe this is not your experience, but I will tell you, as a preschool teacher and the mother of formerly young children who are now grown adults, I noticed in myself when I was teaching preschool, an ability to be patient that was beyond my normal ability to be patient. Again, I really did used to think of myself as a very impatient kind of person until I started practicing this compassionate observer on other people, really specifically on very tiny people, on children who were the ones who came to my preschool. They were three and four years old. And being able to help somebody else’s child, for me, was a really different skill than helping myself or even helping my own children.

When you know you can give them back and you know that they can talk about you, I think that this brought out in me a different side of my personality. I wanted to be a better adult. I wanted more to be a better human being for somebody else’s child than I wanted to be towards myself. And I mean, I know that sounds really terrible to think that I didn’t want to be that good of a mother to my own children. I did. I still do. But again, knowing that I was handing these children back to their parents and I had no control over what they would say about me at home, made me want to be my best and highest self in a way that other situations just didn’t occur to me. I mean, speaking of not having any control of what you think about me, you can take that however you want to. I promise I was good to my own children. I was also impatient with my own children. I’m fully able to admit that, and there’s Blossom jingling in the background.

Here’s why this was helpful for me and why I present this to you. When you think about yourself observing your thoughts, it will behoove you to get into your highest being, whatever that means for you. That compassionate observer – that position of being your very best and highest self – is the thing that’s going to help you get into this meditative state and or have self-awareness. And the other reason why it’s so powerful for me personally – to think about my thoughts and my feelings and my behaviors as small children – is because honestly, they kind of are. Your automatic thoughts come from the part of your brain that developed before you were able to think critically about it. And I mean that not critically like being critical of yourself, but the way that I always mean critically – that you were able to form any kind of logical or rational thought about what you are thinking.

The fact is most of your automatic thoughts were formed in childhood when your brain was just a sponge and unable to do much with that information. We form our sense of identity; we form so many of our thoughts; we form so many of our automatic thoughts and feelings. So our thoughts and feelings and then therefore behavior patterns form when we are little. When you have ever worked with children (and I don’t know if you have. I mean, that’s why this may or may not resonate with you), but if you have worked with children, I will tell you, they are very much like wild animals. They’ve got no filter. They’ve got no ability to regulate. They’ve got no ability to have any kind of artifice or any kind of anything. They say what they are thinking. They do what they are doing, and they feel what they are feeling. They are just all out there in a way that we, as adults, are not.

And we can observe that and just have so much compassion for the fact that they just don’t know what they’re doing. They’re not logical; they don’t know they’re still being formed. They’re just little spongy blobs. And thinking about your thoughts like that, it’s completely okay that they’re wild. It’s completely okay that they’re overly emotional. It’s completely okay that your thoughts just are. They just are and being okay with them because they are tiny, because they are little, tiny human beings that don’t know better is for me a very easy way to get into that compassionate sense. You don’t know where you are in the world, little tiny human being, and that is completely okay. You’ve got the rest of your life to figure it out.

You can simply allow your thoughts and feelings and behaviors to exist because they exist without judgment and without thinking that you should know better, or you should feel better, or you should behave better. No, your thoughts and feelings and behaviors should just exist as they are because they do. And because they’re wild and innate and in your brain and came from a time in your life when you didn’t have the capacity to do better or think better or feel better. When you gain this skill, you’re going to gain it in very tiny increments at a time. Let me come back to the very practical part of this, in much the same way that you gain any skill in your life. The way that you learn how to knit is by being really bad at knitting. The way that you learn how to cook is by being really bad at cooking. And the way that you learn any skill is by coming at it at a small amount of time in any one session.

Don’t expect yourself to be the compassionate observer for hours at a time. Try being the compassionate observer for one thought at a time, until you gain the skill and get the endurance to be able to be compassionate about your thoughts for several thoughts, for several minutes, for several thoughts or feelings or behaviors at a time. When you are patient with yourself, you will develop more patience. When you are compassionate with yourself, you will develop more compassion. When you observe yourself, you will develop the skill of observing yourself. Coming at it practically with journaling and with thinking about it as something that you are going to develop over time, and thinking about it as though you are observing wild animals or small children – all of those practical things can help you get into that mental state of being the compassionate observer. And being the compassionate observer will help you create the self-awareness that will get you the thoughts and feelings and behaviors that you want in order to get your goals in life, to get that feeling of happiness, those things that you want for yourself and the health benefits that you are looking for.

My friends, I really hope that this was helpful for you today in both a big picture, a meta way, and in a more practical day-to-day way. I hope you’re thinking, “Here’s what I’m going to do today, right this minute to be a compassionate observer of my thoughts and feelings and behaviors.” Thank you so much for listening. I’ll talk to you again soon.

If you are getting a lot out of the Fitness Matters Podcast and you’re ready to take it to the next level, you are going to love the Get Your Goal coaching and accountability group. We take all the theory and knowledge here on the podcast and actually apply it in real life on your real weight loss and fitness goals. It’s hands on, it’s fun, and it works. Find out more at pahlabfitness.com/get-your-goal, and let’s get your goal.

Listen to the full episode here, and be sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts.

Originally aired November 21, 2021
Today I’m sharing the PRACTICAL STEPS and FOUNDATIONAL IDEAS that will get us to the goals we set for ourselves.
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Meet Your Host

Mindset expert and certified life coach Pahla B knows a thing or two about changing your mind to change your weight and your life. She’s the creator of The 5-0 Method, Amazon-best selling author of the book “Mind Over Menopause,” and former yo-yo dieter who has cracked the code on lifelong weight maintenance. Join Pahla B each week for the personal insights, transformative mindset shifts, and science-backed body advice that can help you lose all the weight you want and keep it off forever.