One of the greatest skills we can develop as people who wish to live more empowered lives is the ability to observe our thoughts. We think hundreds of thousands of thoughts every day and most of them are automatic and unnoticed. This is not a process of rejecting thoughts or observing them and pretending that they are not there. It’s a case of noticing them with a sort of detached interest or curiosity. Sort of like “oh look, there’s a thought…now what is it saying exactly and is this thought/ belief working for me?”
Generally the first thoughts that become noticeable are the most painful ones - the reoccurring critical ones. I have come to see them as old acquaintances that are no longer helpful and probably never were. Like the primary school teacher with bad teeth who pointed you out in class and told you that your efforts were “disappointing” or that family member who was trying to be helpful but actually just caused decades worth of damage to your self-esteem. Not helpful and no longer welcome. That’s how I see those thoughts now.
The beauty of this process is layered. The first benefit that comes from learning to watch your thoughts (rather than be automatically absorbed in them) is that you start to become aware of that fact that you can choose to BELIEVE them or not. For example, if you are feeling anxious. You can start by trying to listen to the thoughts that are associated with the feeling of tightness and contraction in your body. Generally anxious thoughts can be reduced down to a belief in lack. A lack of time, money, safety, love or your own abilities for example. Try to identify the thought patterns. Perhaps you are saying something like “there just isn’t enough time”. Then ask yourself if that is really, deeply, true. Do you actually believe that or are you just on the “there is not enough time train”. If there genuinely is not enough time and someone is going to get seriously hurt then by all means, use the adrenalin and hustle! But I am willing to bet that 9 times out of 10 – everyone is going to be just fine and you can give yourself a break. Take a breath and choose to think differently.
Self-damaging thoughts such as “I’ll never be good enough” or “I don’t deserve to do what I really want to do” run deeper and can be slightly more difficult to pin down. Often these thoughts bring a sense of heaviness to the body and can even leave us feeling a little paralyzed. If you can identify these thoughts, try to work out where they came from. Who was it in your life that told you that you were not capable or deserving? Who was the first person or what was the first event that made you feel that way? If you can answer these questions then you would have taken a big step towards realizing that these thoughts or beliefs – whilst in your head – are not necessarily your own. The value in that is that it can lead you to question whether or not you actually believe the thoughts to be true or not.
This is the next benefit that comes from observing your thoughts. Once you have identified the thought and where it came from you can make a CHOICE. Ask yourself, “Do I choose to believe this as true or can I decide to think differently from now on?” The thoughts that were once automatic and damaging will start to take on a new and less powerful quality as a result. If you observe the thought and decide, “Yes, this is true and this is serving me” then that’s great. If you decide that the thoughts are not true and no longer serve you then you can begin the process of unraveling them or simply letting them go.
I do not mean to suggest that this is always a simple process. Core beliefs can take a lot of work to understand and uncover. However, once you begin to shine the light of awareness on your mind and see it as a tool rather than an authority - you begin to bring your fears into the light and out from the shadows. That’s where real, lasting and sustainable change for the better can begin.
I hope that this is helpful for you. If you feel like you would like some support with making changes in your life for the better, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.