We have over 60,000 thoughts a day. That’s A LOT of thoughts to manage, especially given a majority of those are unconscious and skew negative. There is greater neural processing in the brain to respond to negative stimuli than positive so we’re left with “ANTS” in our brains, automatic negative thoughts that cause a great deal of stress and create problems. We will always have mind chatter going on in our head with those thousands of thoughts popping into our mind, and we definitely can’t control all of them, that’s just reality. When you develop mindful thinking you have the ability to clear out some clutter and reduce your stress by mastering how you respond to your thinking.
DEVELOPING A MINDFUL MIND
“The day you decide you are more interested in being aware of your thoughts than you are in the thoughts themselves – that is the day you will find your way out.” – Michael Singer
Mindful thinking is the ability to be mindful and aware of your thoughts — you can’t change what you aren’t aware of. Awareness is ALWAYS the first step to change, just by being aware you are already in the process of altering how you respond to your thinking and feelings. To become aware, you have to listen.
“You are not the one who speaks your thoughts, you are the one that hears them.” – Anonymous
You aren’t the voice of all the thoughts that enter your mind, you are the listener, you simply hear them, experience them and get curious about them. Your job is to become a good listener so you notice what is going on in your mind.
Part of adopting this perspective is understanding that you have two minds. You have your “thinking mind” which is always going – it judges, analyzes, lays out scenarios, tells stories and tries to make sense out of things. You also have the “observing mind” that simply witnesses what your thinking mind is thinking and listens. A lot of stress and negativity is a result of not being able to differentiate between our Observing and Thinking Mind, but it is a skill you can practice and cultivate. You can focus on becoming an observer of your mind, being aware of how you think and noticing your thought patterns. The more aware you are the easier it is to intercept your thoughts and feelings before they create stress and wreak havoc. They will naturally bother you less, your threshold to be around them without them overtaking you is higher.
2. Allow, Accept, Own
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
Accept that the human experience is about experiencing ALL of the things, not just the positive thoughts and happy feelings. Most of us grew up with the idea that we should be happy most of the time, and that leads to a lot of our suffering. Life is about being human, not about being happy all of the time. Being human means accepting life is really more about the 50/50, the good and the bad. You don’t get the joy without the pain, you don’t appreciate the love in the same way without past heartbreaks. You don’t have to love it, but you do have to accept it.
Allow everything. Shameful thoughts. Discouraging thoughts. Hopeful thoughts. Fear. Joy. Pain. Excitement. Trying to fight or avoid your thoughts and emotions is not a long-term solution, they are natural products of the human brain that we can never escape, BUT we CAN manage better. When you pick fights with your thoughts and emotions they tend to fight back and create greater tension, with a stronger ability to have power over you.
“Feel the feeling but don’t become the emotion. Witness it. Allow it. Release it.” – Crystal Andrus
Part of tapping into your power is allowing your unpleasant thoughts to be there and emotions to be felt. When you sit with a difficult emotion you can access the thought that’s causing it. When you pinpoint why you feel nervous, frustrated or angry it has less influence over you. When you can simply be with whatever you are feeling you don’t need to escape from it with food, burying yourself in work, alcohol or anything else.
It’s in taking authority of your thoughts and emotions that you are empowered to release them. You can’t give away what you don’t own, so you have to own them. Become aware of what you are thinking and feeling, then allow yourself to think the thought or feel the feeling. Only then can you let it go.
“It’s difficult to see your thoughts when you are in your thoughts.”-Yong Kan chin
Whether it’s angry thoughts, depressing thoughts or random thoughts that then trigger shitty crappy feelings or angry emotions, your thoughts and feelings are NOT who you are! It’s ok if you have an asshole thought or a depressing thought, you can detach from them knowing it’s the actions you take that matter. Thoughts are just thoughts, they are harmless until you give them meaning. Emotion is a vibration in your body, there is no emotion you can’t handle.
A thought isn’t yours, it isn’t your identity simply because it occurred in the mind. No longer do you have to struggle with whether a thought is true, if it’s really what you think or what it says about your character for having it. Just the way you can feel a feeling without reacting to it. By making small shifts such as saying “I am feeling sad” or “I am feeling angry” vs. “I am sad” or “I am angry” you start to separate yourself from “being” your fleeting emotions, you aren’t your emotions, you are feeling them in that moment.
4. Be Non-judgmental
“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
When you start to judge yourself for your negative thoughts and feelings you are enabling them. When you have thoughts like “I’m a failure,” “I’m not good enough,” or feelings of jealousy or unworthiness, you know they aren’t who you are because you have disidentified with them. You are wise enough to know this is just what the mind does, your brain is imperfect, it has a negative bias and likes to replay old unhelpful thoughts that then trickle down to unpleasant feelings. Some of these unpleasant feelings are naturally part of the 50/50 of life. Nothing has gone wrong because you feel an unpleasant feeling. Rather than just becoming an observer to your thoughts and emotions in step 1, become the compassionate observer, observe without judgment and with compassion. You are a human being living a human experience, any layers of judgment are unnecessary. If you aren’t the thoughts you think or feelings you feel then you don’t need to judge yourself for them.
5. Detach to Decide
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our freedom and growth.” – Viktor Frankl
You can’t always control your thoughts and emotions – but you don’t have to control them, you just have to stop letting them control you and that is what you do have control over, that is what matters. When you are mindful and detach from your thoughts, you create space and get back that power of choice, catching yourself before you react, attach to the thoughts or start a snowball of stress. It stops you from getting caught up in the emotion beneath the thought.
Instead of operating from your preconditioned-automatic-unconscious patterns, acting out of emotion and impulse, you can respond from an unconditioned-conscious-purposeful place. Now that you’re mindful you get back that power to choose, you can decide what you want to do with your thoughts.
One Option….Let It Be & Let It Go
One powerful choice is to do nothing. Yep that’s what I said. DO NOTHING. When you stop trying to control your thoughts and feelings you can harness the ability to choose to let them be, to float on by you like clouds in the sky. A big part of the problem is we are wired to feel like we need to do something with our thoughts to create the illusion of control. When we have a floodgate of unpleasant and anxious thoughts that make us feel discomfort and fear, we become even more upset and stressed if we don’t know how to “fix” how we are feeling, instead of letting ourselves be aware, allow, disidentify, let go of judgment and release them. You can declutter your mind, choosing which thoughts are worth your attention and which ones are not. You can accept an emotion without letting it hijack you, you can learn to be with it without resisting it. Allowing yourself to think the thought and feel the feeling, you can step into your “Compassionate Observant Mind” and watch them pass through you.