Don’t believe everything you think! People look at you funny when you walk down the street talking to yourself. The irony of this situation is that everyone has a private dialogue with themselves all day long. They just don’t talk to each other about it, so no one else can hear it. You call it “thinking” and refer to the conversation that occurs in your head.
Lost in Thought
The human brain is constantly processing the world around it. It is constantly bombarded with thoughts, questions, and observations throughout each day.
Even when you don’t intend for thoughts to come, you will find that they arise quickly during meditation.
If all of these thoughts were positive, thinking nonstop wouldn’t be an issue! But the thought of it can lead you astray, or could bring you down, or could make it hard for you to accomplish what you care about.
Many types of thoughts make people live lives that are not fulfilling.
- Fear narrows your thinking and keeps you from taking action.
- Stress creates discomfort in the present moment.
- Anxiety creates unpleasant feelings about the future.
- Your attention is diverted by distracting thoughts.
Although you cannot always predict when these thoughts will happen, you can develop strategies for dealing with them in a way that does not hinder you.
You don’t have to believe that your thoughts are always true for this to give you these powers.
Don’t Believe Everything you Think
Even though these thoughts are true, they do not always represent what’s true about the world. Most often, you are simply telling yourself a story to make sense of the world and not relying on some universal truth about reality.
You will experience unpleasant feelings when you take your thoughts for the utmost truth.
To avoid this scenario, you should equip yourself with the tools to cope more effectively with your negative thoughts.
Suffering is Optional (Two Strategies to Let Go)
Some thoughts seem instantaneous. Others repeat and constitute a longer narrative in your mind. Because there are so many different types of thoughts, it helps to have multiple strategies to process them.
- Mindful Noting: Getting rid of temporary thoughts
- I use The Work to release recurring, more significant thoughts that cause suffering
1)Feelings of Attachment to Places of Temporary Thoughts
The next minute, you might be feeling down about a challenge at work, and the next you might be laughing at your friend’s joke. Examples such as this illustrate how all mental states are transitory.
This knowledge empowers you to avoid being swept away by the waves of negative thoughts that arise as they do. Mental Noting is one way to accomplish this goal. It’s a technique derived from insight meditation.
Mental Noting allows one to effortlessly “note” thoughts and sensations as they arise in the mind using a simple one-word description. (e.g. warm, tense, angry, etc.) Noting what arises in your mind has several benefits. It helps you stay present and gain a clearer picture of who you are as a person. This allows you to act with power as you begin to separate yourself from the thoughts you experience.
How to put “Noting” into practice
- Observe the thought or sensation that comes to your mind.
- Interesting. Can I put a one-word description on this thought? (Along the lines of, “Ah, I see: Fear.”).
- In time, the sensation will fade and you can let it pass. Resist the urge to grab on to the thought or feeling.
Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder of Headspace, describes the technique of Mental Noting by brushing a crystal glass with a feather. You are not pushing the thought away, but rather gently acknowledging its presence so that it can end.
(And before we continue, please note that I have compiled some free guided meditations that you can download so you can take them wherever you go. Simply enter your email below to receive the download.)
2) Letting go of Recurring Narratives
All people experience recurring thoughts that cause dissatisfaction from time to time.Typically, these are “should” thoughts. These stresses are persistent. You might feel as if your mind is stuck on this stressful thought, bringing it up over and over again.
Byron Katie proposes “The Work of Inquiry” to help you identify and question the thoughts that are causing you the most suffering. What The Work is about is simple: Believing your thoughts often leads to suffering. This means that suffering is optional because your thoughts are not always true. You can choose not to get carried away by your thoughts.
Or, in her own words:
“When I was convinced the way I was, I suffered, and that when I wasn’t convinced, I didn’t suffer, and that is true for all of us. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. That joy is in everyone, always. That joy has never left me for one moment.”
So, what exactly is The Work?
The approach is straightforward and is divided into two parts:
- Four questions to ask
- Three turnarounds are required.
Part 1: Four Inquiry Questions
Make a mental note of a thought that is harming you somehow. If you’re suffering because of someone close to you, Katie’s “Judge Your Neighbor” worksheet can help you find a thought like this. If you have identified a thought that causes you suffering, then go through these four questions:
- Is it true? (Agreed or not. If no, move to question 3.) As we discussed previously, most thoughts are just stories. They aren’t universal truths of the universe. This question forces you to think about that reality in a specific context.
- Do you know that it’s true? (Yes or no.) You might get the feeling this thought is true but is it as true as you think? You might inquire again. Do you know that it’s true? Be honest with yourself.
- When you believe that thought, how do you feel, what happens to you? Examine the choices you make by holding on to and believing. the thought. Do you feel peaceful or stressed when you think this? What emotions and physical sensations are there when you believe in this thought?
- Who would you be without the thought? Imagine how you would feel if you let that thought go. How would you feel?
Part 2: Three Turnarounds
Turnarounds help us understand how we construct stories about other people that are false and how our judgments are also true or truer for ourselves.
Upon understanding this, it becomes much easier to let go of these disempowering thoughts.
Three turnarounds exist: to myself, to the other, and the inverse.
For this example, let’s say you had the thought “Jane should be nicer to me” while feeling angry with your friend Jane. How about reversing the sentence in three ways and think about which are equally or more true.
- How often do you criticize yourself, tell yourself you should be nicer to yourself?
- To the other: “I’ll be nicer to Jane.” How often do you react in a manner that is not kind to Jane’s actions?
- To the contrary: Could you have acted in such a manner that Jane would understand your actions?
Seeing that your suffering is caused by thinking thoughts that are not the truth helps you let them go, so you can focus on loving what is instead.
Let’s see what your thoughts are.
All thoughts are fleeting, and they aren’t universally true. Although it appears sad or uncomfortable, in reality, it is empowering. This principle gives you the power to decide how you respond to your thoughts as you go through your life. This allows you to let go of thoughts that bring you down, so you can cultivate greater peace and joy.
Begin by making the effort to notice thoughts and feelings as they emerge. When you encounter a more intense thought or interpersonal conflict, use The Work to see things more clearly. When you stop believing whatever you think, you are more likely to live the life you want.
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