The thing that helps me to stop listening to my thoughts is surprisingly simple. Noticing. I notice when I am thinking. Now, to be clear, noticing I am thinking is NOT stopping the thinking. It’s not getting angry at the thinking. It’s not changing the thinking. Noticing, is spotting I am thinking and saying the word thinking. Simple, right? Yes simple, but… also a bit difficult. Practice makes it less difficult.
Noticing, is spotting you are thinking and saying the word thinking.
So how to practice? Well, the way I practice is once a day for 20 minutes I sit in my chair turn on a meditation app and following the instructions. After a few years of doing that (yes, I know it would be so much better if it was faster… but it’s wasn’t) one day I realised I was thinking. Ok so I know that might sound weird but I really didn’t hear my continuous thinking. I did hear it while I was sitting down in my armchair practicing but not during the rest of the day. When I first started to notice it I wanted to stop it. When I couldn’t do that I was annoyed and frustrated at myself, at mindfulness at mean things I was thinking.
This thinking was going on all during the day and whenever I woke at night. Mean and unkind thoughts going round and around in my head about myself and even thought I wasn’t aware of it consciously, it still has the ability to make me feel miserable. Eventually I realised I had to do the noticing thing I had learned from the app. Every time I noticed I was thinking I say the word thinking.
All the 20 minute practice during the meditation time paid off and I started to become aware that I was thinking, while I was thinking. Sometimes I am so surprised by noticing that it makes me laugh because in that moment reality is so much nicer than my thoughts. The noticing or awareness had made me realise these thoughts, these unkind thoughts are not real.
These unkind thoughts are not reality.
You see, the thing about our thoughts is that they convince us they are REAL. That this thought inside our heads is more real that what’s happening outside our head. I am real, says every thought. But it’s not!
Our thoughts do an amazingly good job. The thought, You are a mean-spirited person! makes you believe you are a mean-spirited person. With a little practice you experience a minuscule moment of awareness in which to say the word Thinking and the realisation that it’s just a thought becomes the actual reality. Good, right? No, not just good – this is GREAT! Holy God I can’t tell you how amazing this is! It’s the difference between going around all day feeling like a block of misery incarnate and going around all day feeling your actual feeling in this moment.
This is important – a block of misery can last for hours but an emotion only lasts 90 seconds.
In any moment you might feel cold, hot, tired, energised, sad, happy, angry, frustrated and that’s grand because emotions make you who you are, we get to connect with each other because of our emotions and the really fantastic news is that they only last for 90 seconds. Wait 90 seconds and they’re gone. No problem… except for when the emotion is caused by repetitive thinking. Repetitive thinking can last all day and more disturbing, it can last all night.
It’s because your thinking, my thinking (the man at the next table’s thinking, the woman in your gym’s thinking) is stuck on repeat. The emotion created by thinking keeps repeating on and on and on and on in 90 second cycles fuelled by the next thought and the next thought and the next… you get the picture. And although my least favourite thoughts are the mean and unkind ones the same rules apply to the lovely thoughts. Lovely thoughts going round and round and round in your head are exhausting and tiredness will eventually turn them into mean thoughts… well at least it does for me.
So how do we stop the thoughts? We can’t (sorry) but just noticing can disrupt the repetition.
That doesn’t mean we can’t do something about them, we can. We can notice them. Any time you notice you are thinking say the word thinking to your self. You can say it in you head or out loud, whatever you like. (I like saying it out loud but I do get funny looks…)
And the way to notice you are thinking is to practice noticing you are thinking. For me this was huge and very motivational. I definitely wanted to get better at noticing because I didn’t want the reality my thinking was giving me.