GUEST POST BY SUZY ROSENSTEIN
What would you think if I told you that your thoughts needed supervision? That, when left on their own, they don’t always steer you in the right direction?
I was taken aback when I first heard about this concept in Thomas M. Sterner’s book, The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in your Life.
We all need more mindfulness, right? Especially in midlife.
It seems like a perfect fit with becoming older and wiser. I see now, though, that it’s a powerful concept at all ages and stages.
It’s also a concept that can give you a bit of a jolt.
You might be thinking, “I supervise everything in my life, including my thinking.” Or, you might have a different take on it. Perhaps it never occurred to you that thoughts could be reined in, as if your thoughts have a mind of their own.
After all, most of us aren’t aware of what we’re thinking most of the time, let alone to think we have the ability to supervise our thinking.
First, let’s clarify what a thought is, in really simplistic terms. There are thoughts and facts or circumstances. A thought is merely a sentence in your mind. It is what you think about facts and circumstances going on in your life.
In contrast, facts and circumstances are things that happen or have happened in the past; you often have no control over them. They are provable. If you have 10 people in a room, everyone would agree on a fact. Not so with thoughts. Thoughts are YOURS, like opinions; they are subjective; they are your ideas about the facts.
For example, I live in a house. Everyone would agree on the address of the house. Another fact would be that there are four bedrooms upstairs. However, people would think many different thoughts about where I live and what it means to have four bedrooms. The same 10 people would have dozens of thoughts about these facts. Thoughts are not facts.
What this all means is that thoughts are optional. Facts are not. I’ll understand if you have to read this sentence a few times to really let it sink in.
We think thoughts a mile a minute.
Most of my clients are new to the practice of mindfulness and find it quite surprising how many thoughts they actually have.
The next big realization is when they see the extent to which there is thinking going on BEHIND the thinking they know about. I would suggest that MOST of us are like this.
Brooke Castillo, founder of The Life Coach School (where I was trained) asks the question, “what is your mind doing without your permission?”
I love this question. What typically happens is that if you DON’T give your brain a problem to solve, it will go look for one…without your permission.
I’ll give you an example.
I challenged myself to write this blog before noon today. It was in my schedule yesterday so I was geared up and ready to go this morning. I even tweeted about my plans for the day.
However…I didn’t sit down at my computer right at 9:00 am. It was 1:03 pm when I actually started writing. What happened?
To figure this out, we need to get at my thinking. Even though it looked like all of my ducks were lined up to have a productive morning, my morning wasn’t productive at all.
I noticed something different about my energy, the way I was feeling this morning. I was kind of in slow motion, relaxed.
I know that my feelings are produced by my thoughts. So I needed to be thinking some thought that was creating this feeling. What was it?
I had expected to feel excited, hyped up and motivated. But I didn’t feel this way at all.
What was going on inside my head?
It took me awhile to figure it out, but there it was. This thought: “I can do it later because I have no appointments today.” This seemingly quiet, little thought was mucking up my productivity. This thought made me feel relaxed. Super chill. I actually thought that this was a fact. But facts are neutral. The fact would be a calendar without appointments. My thought relates to what I made this fact mean.
Now, gentle reader. Don’t get me wrong. Writing blog posts is EXHILARATING and EXCITING! Well….sometimes.
As fun as it can be, it’s still something that’s on my “to do” list and like we all know…those “to do” lists don’t always get done. And that’s what happened to me this morning.
As soon as I caught on, got to work and started supervising my thoughts. I saw what was going on inside my brain. This thought had been running amok without my permission!
Just because the thought is there doesn’t mean it has a right to be there.
That’s where YOU come in. Once you have the amazing awareness – this unbelievable meta-cognitive skill if being a watcher of your thoughts – you can supervise your thinking and create the results that YOU WANT.
This example is a small one but I hope you see the point. It’s been estimated that you think approximately 48 thoughts a minute and over 60,000 thoughts a day. Armed with this information, it becomes more and more possible to accept that there’s some renegade thoughts floating around in your mind too.
Here are a few ways to practice becoming more mindful:
- Practice staying in the moment. If you catch yourself thinking thoughts that are full of self-doubt and judgement, you are not in the moment.
- Practice asking yourself “why” way more than you currently do. First, catch yourself thinking something and then ask why you’re thinking it? Sometimes you might have to add a little “so what?” question, just for fun. That will really help you get to the good stuff.
- Practice connecting your thoughts to your feelings and notice that when you change your thoughts, you also change how you feel. Some of us are better at noticing a feeling than a thought. That’s fine too. You can work backwards. What am I thinking that’s creating this feeling?
- Understand that thoughts are just sentences in your mind. They are not facts even though they feel this way sometimes. They are what you think about the facts. You can change your thoughts. Just like you change your underwear.
Our thoughts need our supervision. This is good news because it means we get to decide how we want to feel and what results we want to create.
This blog originally appeared in Suzy’s Empty Nest Blog.
About Suzy Rosenstein
Suzy is a Master Certified Life Coach and holds a Masters Degree in Applied Social Psychology. As someone who wasted too many years feeling stuck herself, she loves helping working moms who are afraid of having regrets about what they didn’t do with their lives. She helps them get clear about what they want, start taking action and create a life they can get excited about.
Suzy is a proud dual citizen currently living in Canada. When not working with clients or engaging in particularly humorous dialogue with her three teenage sons, Suzy enjoys her slobbery Newf and talking parrot, whale watching, photography and practicing the art of living without regrets.