The biggest benefit of exploring your thoughts

10/06/2016 08:12 am ET Updated Oct 06, 2016

How do you relate to your thoughts?

I suspect a lot of us don’t even give them a second thought. We go through life with an inner monologue that’s constantly in the background, on repeat. We’ve listened to it so many times that we may barely even notice it anymore and unconsciously accept it as truth.

For years, a lot of my thoughts came from my inner critic. Every time I contemplated doing something that felt like the perfect blend of scary and exciting, my mind would kill my dreams: That’s crazy! You can’t do that. Who do you think you are?

Which in turn led me to avoid risks and constantly live in fear, often without even realizing what was happening. It felt like there were a lot of rules I had to play by, and I was constantly stressed out.

Sound familiar?

My original approach of trying to ignore my thoughts only made the problem worse. When we try to pretend they aren’t there, it somehow just makes them even louder and more overwhelming... And things can quickly spiral out of control, as each thought feeds the next.

So I tried another approach: to fight them. But whenever I did that, it would only lead to a battle inside my head:

“You can’t do that!”

“Yes I can!”

“No, you can’t!”

“Yes I can!”

“You’ve failed before!”

“This time will be different!”

“It’ll be worse!”

“No it won’t!”

“You’ll f—”

“No I w—”

“Fail! Fail!”

“Stop it!”

That was exhausting. Who wants to listen to that crap?

I’ve discovered that there’s another approach. Instead of trying to ignore our thoughts, or fight them, we can learn to observe our thoughts by simply paying attention to them. In other words, we can face them directly.

Have you ever seen a child trying to get his mother’s attention? Kids tend to get louder and louder until they get what they need. Our thoughts are like that too – they won’t shut up or go away until we give them our attention. It’s usually only after we look at them that we can let them go.

The best way to think about observing our thoughts is to see it like an exploration or experiment. This mindset helps us stay in a place of loving curiosity as we watch and witness what comes and goes in our minds. With practice, we can learn not to analyze or judge or react to our thoughts, and to just allow them to be what they are.

Exploring our thoughts increases our level of self-awareness. The more we observe our thoughts, the more awareness of our thinking we’ll have. We can start to see our thinking patterns and mental habits and how they influence our experience life.

All of the assumptions, interpretations, judgement and stories we’ve been telling ourselves begin to reveal themselves as what they truly are: ideas in our heads, instead of the laws of reality that they were appearing to be. All those rules we’ve been holding ourselves to begin to disappear, along with the chaotic inner experience that comes with it.

The mind gets calmer. There’s more space between thoughts. We start to be able to catch ourselves before going down a negative spiral. We find a new level of inner freedom and literally experience a new level of peace of mind.

And the best part?

We can see that our thoughts are separate from us, meaning, they aren’t us. We are not our thoughts. Our thoughts come and go. We’re the conscious presence observing them.

So all that crap I told you about earlier? It isn’t me. It’s just the voice inside my head.

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