Don't Believe Everything You Think: 5 Tips for a Happier Mind

02/09/2015 11:39 am ET | Updated Apr 11, 2015

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You are not your thoughts.

The average person thinks between 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day. These thoughts range from the mundane -- I need to buy milk, to the significant -- I love you, to the self-destructive -- I'm not good enough. In the moment, our thinking seems logical. But when we examine long patterns of brain activity, it's clear that thoughts can be unstable and often arbitrary, shifting depending on context and contradicting our better instincts. Yet humans usually form our personal identities around the things we think. The result is a scattered sense of self that drifts as the wind blows.

But you are not your thoughts. You are the consciousness (the ocean) from which your thoughts (the waves) arise. The human capacity to think (while great in comparison to other living creatures) is incredibly susceptible to error. Cognitive bias, false assumptions, misinformation, Ego and limited beliefs are just a few patterns of unhealthy thought that interfere with our judgement.

"I think, therefore I am," René Descartes said in the 17th century. But modern science and psychology have revealed a deeper truth about the way we think: "I am, therefore I think."

Controlling your thoughts is the first step to a happier, healthier mind. Below are five tips to maximize productive thinking and minimize mental clutter.

1) Don't identify with mind. Be the observer.

Instead of reacting to everything that you think, become an unbiased observer of your thoughts. When bad thoughts arise, say, "It's interesting that I think that." When good thoughts arise, say, "It's interesting that I think that." As an unbiased observer of your thoughts, you remain in control and non-reactionary. Don't identify with the waves. Be the ocean: still, unmoving.

2) Meditate. (No, really.)

Meditation isn't just for monks or gurus. Businesses executives, entrepreneurs and artists are using mindful nonthinking to achieve higher levels of creativity and success. Twenty minutes of meditation each day helps other aspects of your life and business fall into place. Leaving the house without meditating is like leaving the house without shoes or your iPhone, only worse.

"Meditation, more than any other factor, has been the reason for what success I've had." -- Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater hedge funds

3) Focus on the narrative you want to live.

Whether we realize it or not, every single person has an important mission to fulfill in life. Mental clutter distracts us from our personal mission. Because what you focus on for a sustained period of time becomes your reality, it is essential to decide the purpose you want to fulfill and direct your mental focus toward this narrative.

4) Your mind is a garden. Keep the animals out.

Thoughts are a virus and many people are sick. It's important to protect your mind from negative opinions and misinformation, especially in stressful offices and heavily populated areas. Your mind is a garden. Without a strong fence, animals will get in and destroy your crops. Avoid the destructive influence of negative opinion and misinformation. Keep the animals out.

5) Know the difference between Ego and Higher Self.

Your Ego is your lower animal nature. Its mantra is fear and survival. The Ego talks very loud and is hard to ignore. By contrast, your Higher Self is your wisdom, creativity and intuition. It is Universal creative consciousness channeled through you. The Higher Self speaks very quietly and can be difficult to hear. Listen closely to the Higher Self (and edge out the Ego). It will create a healthier, happier mind. Bottom line: listen more, react less.

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