Getting control of the constant stream of thought is something that I find fascinating and remarkably difficult.
I find that being direct with interacting with the mind is most effective. The thought stream is like an unbridled stallion or surging river. It takes assertiveness.
We have more than the traditional five senses of taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. Your thoughts are also a sense. Instead of being externally driven like the previous five, your thoughts are internal. Your memory, intuition, and emotions are internal senses as well. The problem with internal senses as opposed to external is that internal senses are experienced subjectively. You are the only one who experiences your thoughts and they never stop. Just like your eyes never stop seeing or your ears never stop hearing (even when you are asleep), your mind never stops thinking. That is what that sense is designed to do. It is narrating your life in the language that you were brought up in. That’s it. That’s all that thoughts are doing: narrating. The only problem - and I do mean only - is that your emotions and behaviors are linked directly to the thoughts that you are having. Otherwise, you would just be experiencing words in your head. It’s only when an emotion or impulse to act is created by that thought that gives that thought any kind of meaning (good or bad).
Like behavior, thoughts are also highly repetitive. This can be seen in habitual thoughts that you should be thinner, stronger, smarter, richer, etc. None of those thoughts are actually true as in based in the present. You’re not thinner than you are right now, stronger than you think you should be right now, smarter in some area right now that you’re not, or have more money in the bank than you do right now. So any kind of thinking that is in the “should” category is irrelevant. It’s the mind doing what it does best: judging the past and fearing the future. The narrator is trying to protect you from repeating something in the past that didn’t benefit you or peering into the future to attempt to prevent you from doing something that would bring you discomfort.
The goal is to practice not fearing your mind and the thoughts that are produced there.
They are sensing your internal experience. Let them. Don’t be afraid of them. That being said, get assertive about the direction that your thoughts head. Since they are built to protect you, they will, by design, focus on negativity and perceived discomfort in order to generate emotions and then behaviors to move you away from that discomfort. This is also a simplified explanation of a behavioral addiction: repetitive patterns of behavior to move you away from discomfort (loneliness, intimacy, etc).
We also often get stuck in repetitive thinking about an issue and the resulting negative emotions that come from that thought instead of doing something about it. Practice taking action and behaving versus remaining stagnant in the rehearsal of the thought. Having a judgmental thought about Susan at work? It probably feels mild to moderately satisfying in thinking negatively about her. Underneath that snarky satisfaction though probably feels dark and gross. That’s your body telling you that continuing to think thoughts like that aren’t in your best interest. Leave Susan alone. Stop thinking she should be doing or saying something different than she is. That’s none of your business - that’s hers. If there’s an action that can be taken professionally as in a conversation to have with her, then do it. But negative thoughts about her are useless. Tell your mind: “No!” Or, “Stop!” This can be done with any judgmental thought about someone else or yourself. It takes practice and time.
Think you should have more money in your savings account? In thinking that, do you feel fear about something that hasn’t even happened that you wouldn’t be prepared for without more money? Do you feel guilt about past behavior about purchases you now wish you hadn’t? All useless thoughts. And you know those thoughts aren’t in your best interest because they don’t feel good. Start doing something about it. Automatically put $25 in your savings account each week. That’s $100 a month and $1200 in a year. If you can increase that to $100 a week, that’ll be $5200 in a year. In four years you would have over $25,000 in your savings account. If you’re able to see that thoughts like that feel much more optimistic and hopeful, then you’ll be able to see that that is your body telling you that it wants to think like that - not from perspectives of judgment and fear.
Cultivate and rehearse thoughts that feel good. Over time they will become habituated. Negative thoughts will never completely go away, but, with practice and time, you will be much more in the driver’s seat of the direction of the sense of thought and will have much more control of the intention of your mind. Then, just as you direct your nose to smell a bouquet of flowers, direct your ears to hear a symphony, or direct your eyes to feast on a magnificent sculpture, you will learn to guide your mind to detect beauty in yourself, others, and in the world around you. And in that place, there is no need for any kind of fear of the mind. You will see it for what it is: a sense that, just like all the others, can bring you tremendous peace and joy.
This will become a tool that you can learn to rely on.
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