Addictive thinking is the mother of all addictions, both literally and figuratively – literally in that it is by far the most common addiction, affecting practically the entire population to some extent or other – and figuratively because it is arguably the root cause of all other addictions.
Our addiction to food, alcohol, work, gadgets or the internet stems directly from our attempts to escape from, numb ourselves to or shut out the relentles chatter that goes on inside our heads.
If you are in any doubt that thinking can be an addiction, then consider the following definition from The American heritage dictionary:
Addiction: the condition of being compulsively occupied with or involved in something.
There is no doubt that most of us are pretty much compulsively occupied with the content of the mind.
Imagine you want to mow the lawn. You get the mower out of the shed and complete the job. What do you do with the lawnmower after you are finished? You put it back in the shed, right?
Imagine if you were to go round in circles day in, day
out, mowing the same patch of grass over and over. How tedious and
exhausting – not to mention pointless – would that be?
And yet, this provides a good analogy to illustrate how most of our minds work.
We spend our days lost in unconscious and unproductive thinking –
addictively replaying the same mental patterns, the same old stories,
over and over in our heads like worn-out gramophone records.
than being a helpful tool to be picked up and used when required, the
mind is more like an out of control Frankenstein monster with a life of
its own. And we don’t know how to stop this kind of unhelpful thinking. We don’t know how to pull the plug and put it back in the shed.
The Buddhists use the term monkey mind to describe this type of incessant
mental chatter that can make lasting peace so difficult to
Addictive thinking is the primary cause of suffering. If you are feeling unhappy or troubled, one thing is certain ...you are thinking about something. Thinking and suffering are inseparable.
So, how to stop thinking so much? How to knock addictive thinking on the head?
The first and most important step if we want to stop thinking so much is to bring more awareness to the unconscious thinking process – in other words, to take a step back and objectively watch the mind in action.
Much of our thinking happens on autopilot. There is little or no awareness that thinking is happening. Through stepping back and observing the mind (as if you are watching a movie on the screen), you will see that there are two things going on. There are the thoughts and there is an awareness of the thoughts – a silent presence that is simply aware.
Thoughts come and go, both pleasant and unpleasant. Feelings and emotions come and go, both desirable and undesirable and all of these movements of the mind occur within an ever-present and unchanging field of awareness. The presence that is aware of thoughts was there when you were a child and will be there on your death bed. This presence is always at peace.
Each time we are conscious enough to step back and become the watcher of the mind rather than being caught up in the content of the mind, thinking automatically stops. You don't have to try to stop thinking. It just happens naturally. The act of becoming aware of the mind stops thinking in its tracks.
Our addiction to thinking is forever pulling our attention into the past and future.
Focusing on being present in the moment is the key to breaking the addictive thinking habit.
Our awareness can only be in one place at a time. You can either be thinking or present in the moment. Test it for yourself. If you are giving your full attention to what is going on right here, right now is it possible be lost in thought at the same time?
Here is an exercise I often use with my clients.
1. Think of a problem you have in your life. Spend a few moments thinking about it. How does it make you feel?
2. Now spend a few moments paying close attention to your breath. Feel the cool air passing across the nostrils. Notice your ribs expanding and contracting as you breath in and out.
2. Now, put as much attention as you can on your left foot.
What can you feel there? A pulse, a vibration, the life force moving in your
foot? Focus on your hands. Can you feel any tingling in the fingertips? Any warmth in the palms of your hands?
3. Now, listen closely to any sounds you can hear around you. Can you hear far off sounds? Close by sounds? Spend a few moments listening intently.
4.Now, notice what happens to your problems when you are intensely aware of the present moment?
Consciously withdrawing our attention from overthinking by shifting our awareness to the present moment is the simplest and most direct way of knocking addictive thinking on the head.
For a more detailed look into the topic of breaking the addictive thinking habit, you may like to check out my book "Kick The Thinking Habit."
5 Ways to Calm Your Racing Thoughts / Mindful Meditation
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