Be careful how you are talking to yourself, because you are listening.Lisa M Hayes
A new study recently published in Nature Communications from a team at Queens University suggests that we have 6200 thoughts each day. And while this is a radically different number than those of the past which had pegged the number at 60,000 thoughts each day, each of us thinks a huge amount of the time. And few of us are aware of what we are thinking about. Few of us are aware of how much time we spend in the past or in the future.
Few of us are aware that the vast majority of our thoughts are negative and judgemental.
Often I find myself deeply in conversation with myself. I become aware I’ve constructed a conversation built upon layers of how I’d like things to be and not how they really are. I become aware of my attempt to rewrite the past or control the narrative in the future.
Can you relate to the above scenario? Do you see similarities in your own internal dialogue with rewriting the past to make it more favorable to yourself, or coloring the view of the future with rosy shades of winning?
Think about being in conversation with yourself for a moment.
I wonder, how many conversations do we have with ourselves each day? And though these conversations are occurring in our mind how strangely unaware we are of what’s being discussed.
This unawareness is not limited only to internal dialogue, but at times includes daily mundane routines such as walking down a flight of stairs. Often while engaged in one of these routines I become aware of two things. The first is that I’m actively engaged in conversation in my head and secondly, I don’t fully remember walking down the flight of stairs.
Of course I have a faint memory of the descent down the stairs, but most of my energy was directed to the conversation, meaning my awareness was not in the moment, my present moment awareness was absent. And surprise, my awareness was not in the conversation either. My mind was lingering in the past or quite possibly grasping toward the future, but I wasn’t paying attention to the content. I wasn’t working through options to solve a problem.
When I say conversation in my mind I’m not referring to the thinking we all do when we are working through a logistic problem at work, or trying to decided which school is best for our children. What I’m referring to is the mindless (automatic) conversations we all have throughout each day. Conversations that have a life of their own, and generally these streams of thoughts are judgmental or fantasizing in nature. It’s when you are listening that the amount of thoughts being produced becomes clear, and at times somewhat disturbing.
Whatever you focus your attention on will become important to you even if it’s unimportantSonya Parker
Examples of mindless thinking may include telling someone how to live their life, explaining to a friend why another friend is wrong or a myriad of subjects being created non-stop within our mind. It’s these conversations we need to become aware of if we hope to fully integrate with mindfulness and the present moment. If we want to embrace the power of dialogue you need to be aware of your thoughts.
Take a short break (10-15 minutes) a few times each day and listen to your thoughts. Be aware while you listen to the continuous stream of thoughts randomly bouncing around or maybe forming conversations in your head. Ask yourself, am I these thoughts I’m listening to? And also ask yourself if you are the one who is aware of your thinking. These short (10-15 minute) breaks can also be used for more directed mindfulness practice, such as watching your breath
It’s not even necessary in the beginning that you answer these questions. What’s important is to ask them each time you sit to watch and listen to your thoughts. The questions are only a device to help sweep away some pretty thick cobwebs. It’s the questions themselves that sharpens our awareness of these floating thought streams. The questions are like your windshield wipers on your car, and each time you focus your attention by asking a question you pull open the curtain in your mind.
Trust me I know this little exercise and the questions I’ve asked you to think about may seem way out in left field if you’re new to this. But if we have any hope of slowing down or even stopping the internal dialogue crashing around within our skull it’s important that we grow our self awareness. Our mind is populated with bias, assumptions, judgments and a myriad of mazes and tunnels we are not even aware that we’ve created.
Once you settle into sitting and listening to your thoughts try adding paying attention to the space that forms between your collection of thoughts. This space will appear as one thought fades and before the next one takes center stage. When you can let your focus rest within these thought spaces the size of the spaces will grow as will your silent awareness of current reality.
Throughout each day our minds generate thousands and thousands of mostly random thoughts. Current estimates of 40,000 to 60,000 thoughts appear in our mind each day. Most of these seemingly random thoughts escape our notice, they pop into our mind and pop out only to repeat themselves over and over and over each day. We want to become aware of these thoughts, become aware so we can move beyond random thinking.
Whoops! I looked up as I was clicking on publish to realize I was caught in a swirl of thoughts having nothing to do with what I’m trying to convey here. I forgot to include what may be the most important tip about how you are listening.
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”Eckhart Tolle
When you take a break from your busy day to learn more about how you are thinking, the first and most important thing to remember is to not be judgmental as you watch your thoughts. Your thoughts will pour in like a waterfall and our job is to watch but also to be aware of when our judgment side starts yapping loudly about how bad, negative, terrible or even how good your thoughts are. Your thoughts are simply your thoughts and are neither good nor bad, your thoughts are automatically being generated within your brain, you’re not sitting there plotting to do something horrible. However, If you’re worried please talk with someone who can listen and offer help such at the national mental health resource page.
The more you watch the more random you’ll see your thoughts are. As you go about your day and you notice thoughts remind yourself they are only thoughts, and gently go back to what you were doing. When I see myself trapped in thoughts I simply say to myself or at times out-loud “thinking” and return to what I was doing. At times I have to say “thinking” a few times in a row to break the spell the thoughts are casting on my imagination, but mostly I know I’m thinking… Nothing more.
Becoming aware of your thoughts by using the word thinking merely brings your attention to what’s going on inside your mind, this word usage is not a judgement as to the goodness or badness of any particular thought, Our random thoughts will be happy and sad, angry and calm, bright and dark, silly and serious, Our thoughts sometimes may be disturbing and violent, and then turn into joyful and loving. I’m pointing all this out to share with you how random our 60,000 daily thoughts are and to assure you we all think violent and loving thoughts each day, it’s the nature of our minds randomness.
“Thinking” is merely a tool to show each of us how to be aware of your thoughts.
Leave your judgements and assumptions outside in a heap, as you watch your thoughts. This exercise is not about labeling your thoughts as “thinking”, no the act of saying to yourself “thinking” is simply a tool to snap your awareness into focus. I may become aware of having a spirited argument with a friend and instead of attempting to stop or judge the conversation I say “thinking”. Once I acknowledge I’m thinking I turn my attention back to the present moment or at times I’ll imagine the thoughts as balloons that float away and silently pop. Poof, poof, and poof. All this happens in less than a second.
When we don’t paint our thoughts with the big brush of judgement we are waking up our awareness from its distractions. Another benefit to not adding judgement to the mix is we avoid stuffing our thoughts and emotions down deep into our mind.
Acknowledging our thoughts allows you to Be Aware Of Your Thinking, we add nothing to our thinking and nothing will be left.
Here’s An Example
Imagine yourself in the shower, out of nowhere you find yourself having a conversation with a coworker, a loved-one or someone you don’t even know on a street corner. Now imagine the conversation turns into a heated argument, but of course you rise to the occasion and with wit and sparkle you prevail. Your conversation partner changes their mind gleefully adopting your point of view.
Is this a familiar scene? Do you have conversations with others in your mind, or should I say do you debate and lecture others while you are in the shower, in the car, riding an elevator or maybe walking around the block. If you’re like most people you have over 60,000 thoughts a day and many long discussions with other people.
All those thoughts and conversations take place in your mind, not in the physical world. All your thoughts are confined to your mind. What if you called your best friend and started yelling at her for things she said in one of your conversations that occurred in your mind. What do you think she her reaction would be?
Be Aware Of Your Thoughts
It’s simple, all our thoughts streaming through our mind come and go without having much effect on us until we grasp them. It’s the grasping onto our thoughts that creates a cascading ride on our emotional roller coaster. Once we start to connect out thoughts with the glue of belief, we’ve attributed reality to them and we suffer.
Choosing to be aware of your thoughts takes away their power over your emotional well-being. this disconnecting from your thoughts allows you to more clearly see and understand current reality.