13 May How do you tackle habitual thoughts?
In my work, delivering talks and workshops, I get asked many questions and today I want to cover this one:
How do you tackle habitual thoughts when you are fully aware of them but continue to have them?
To answer this, I want to focus on – what is ‘thought’? Because when we understand what thought is, we can then realise that we don’t need to tackle them, we can let them be, and we can be well, even if they continue to pop up in our heads.
So – what is THOUGHT?
Let’s look at it from the three angle points:
• Content of our thoughts – WHAT
• Our conditioning – WHY
• Mechanics of thought – HOW
Firstly, let’s focus on WHAT – what are you thinking?
Our heads are full of thoughts and many of those are habitual thoughts. Examples of thoughts that people struggle with are: I am not good enough; my work is not good enough, I have to work harder, I don’t have enough time, I am running out of time etc. There can also be repetitive thoughts of worry or fear about the past or future.
When we focus on the content of our thoughts only, it looks like we need to tackle our thoughts to feel better. We need to work hard to get rid of them, or try to think positively or to reframe them to maintain psychological wellbeing and feel good.
The problem is that this continuous thought management process takes a huge amount of energy. Although, it may bring some relief in a short-term, it is not a long-term solution.
That’s takes us to WHY – why do you have these thoughts?
When we consider why, we often look back to our past experiencers or childhood. We think that once we understand our past, we will find THE ANSWER to why, and then we will NOT HAVE these thoughts. The idea here is: when we get to the bottom of our problems, these thoughts will disappear. That’s not the case.
Although, exploring past can be insightful and helpful for some people, it rarely results in getting rid of habitual thoughts. People who have been through many different therapies, often admit that they still continue to have them.
And that’s why we need to consider HOW – how does it happen that you think?
This is a huge and fascinating subject. Here we consider a much wider perspective: the mechanics of the human mind and the nature of thought.
Here we are learning how our mind works, realising that MIND is the space where thoughts arise. It’s a creative and dynamic space. The space of pure potentiality.
Thought in this way is understood as a living function. We think all the time. We have an incredible capacity to think. And that’s how our subjective experience of life is created.
In this mind-space, thoughts come and go. In fact we have around 80 thousand thoughts a day… it happens naturally and automatically for every single person on this planet.
Thought is just a spark of energy or fizz of electricity – nothing more. And it doesn’t last… You cannot think just one thought for prolonged time – try it!
It is not possible.
Unfortunately, what we do, without realising it, is that we PAY a lot of attention to thoughts that are not helpful. Habitual thoughts are the thoughts that we habitually pay attention to. The more we pay attention, the more we see them, the more we notice them, the more we focus on them, the more we don’t see anything else. It is like watching a motorway and noticing only blue cars!
Here is a simple metaphor for you.
Imagine that you are in the beautiful park having a picnic. You are laying on the green grass and looking up-to the sky.
Your mind is like the blue sky – vast and limitless.
Your thoughts are like the clouds … some light and fluffy, some dark and rainy.
Can you see that the clouds are continually moving? They are always changing shape, changing intensity, transparency… they are never fixed. And that’s exactly like your thoughts. Always flowing and never fixed.
You can spend a lifetime paying attention to the clouds only – trying to change them or get rid of them – that’s what many people innocently do but YOU DON’T HAVE TO.
What you need is to open your perspective and see the blue sky – never changing, vast and limitless. That’s exactly like your mind. Constant, creative and naturally clear.
The sky can get clouded! That’s for sure and that’s ok. Why? – because, it can never stay clouded… that’s how the weather system works. And that’s how the human thought system works.
Understanding how our mind works gives us a completely new and much wider perspective. We are able to see thought for it is – JUST A THOUGHT – a fizz of electricity or simply a cloud. With this wider perspective it is possible to develop a completely different relationship with our thoughts. It is then much easier not to get caught up in our habitual thinking. This results in more clarity, more-calm and more wellbeing.
So, the simple answer to the question above is: we don’t need to tackle our habitual thinking. In fact, we cannot. Thoughts will keep popping up and that’s how it works.
Syd Banks – philosopher and lecturer, puts it this way:
“How can we stop negative, unwanted thoughts from entering our heads? We can’t. They come too fast and if you try, you will soon find you are on a fool’s mission. What you can do, however, is realise that your own thoughts have no power of their own, only that which you give them. However, if you can see that they are only thoughts and you refuse to put life into them, they are harmless.”
Lastly, sometimes in our lives we can get caught up in unhelpful thinking. It can happen to all of us. During those times, it is important to reach out for help. It is hugely beneficial to explore this in a 121 setting for anyone who is looking for more wellbeing, resilience, balance, but it is especially important if going through a difficult time or facing a challenge. So, don’t wait – reach out.
I look forward to hearing from you soon,
Wishing you a wonderful day!