Learning how to stop thinking too much is probably the greatest single step we can take to increase inner peace and happiness in our lives.
Worrying about the future, regretting the past, obsessing over
what could or should have been, criticising ourselves and others,
blaming the world for our woes – these are some of the habitual thinking
patterns we can become unconsciously lost in for hours, days or even
I say unconscious because much of this unproductive or obsessive thinking happens on autopilot as a deeply ingrained habit. Thinking is going on with little or no awareness that it is happening. Rather than being a wonderful tool to be picked up and used when needed, the mind is more like an out of control Frankenstein monster with a life of its own.
So, how to stop thinking so much? I would like to share some powerful ideas to help you kick the addictive thinking habit?
The first (and most important) step in learning how to stop thinking is to make unconscious thinking conscious.
How do we do this? By taking a step back from ourselves and
objectively watching the mind in action – as if we were sitting in a
cinema watching the thoughts appear on a screen.
When thinking is unconscious, we are so wrapped up in the mind's activity that there is no space between ourselves and the content of the mind. There is no "watcher" of the thinking.
WATCHING THE MIND
Try this just now. Close your eyes and watch closely to see what the next thought is going to be.
Is it possible to know in advance?
Notice how thoughts appear from nowhere by themselves. Like breathing, we don't do anything to make it happen. It is the nature of the mind to churn out random thoughts by itself.
When thinking is unconscious, each thought receives a label as
it enters our screen of awareness. Some thoughts are labeled 'good' and
others 'bad' – some we want to keep, others we want to push away. The 'good' ones cause us no trouble at all whereas the 'bad' ones are experienced as unpleasant and cause us to suffer.
If we can take a step back and objectively watch the thoughts – without judging them, without labeling them and without trying to change or fix them in any way, what happens?
What happens to a 'negative' thought if you don't mind it being there?
The more we can remain in the role of impartial observer of the thoughts rather than being wrapped up IN the thoughts, the less impact they have on our peace.
Thoughts themselves do NOT cause us to suffer.
Suffering comes from our relationship WITH thoughts.
Another important thing to understand in freeing ourselves from addictive thinking is the difference between thoughts and thinking.
Thoughts Just Happen, Thinking Is A Choice
Let's say the thought appears in your head: "I sent her a text 2 hours ago and she still hasn't replied."
This may trigger an inner dialogue such as:
"I wonder what is wrong. She usually gets back to me straight away. Maybe she is having second thoughts about the relationship. Maybe she felt I was rushing things last night. I shouldn't have invited her to Granny's birthday party with the whole family there."
This is thinking. And, how to stop thinking? Simple. By choosing to stop.
When we are alert enough to notice that we are thinking, we can also choose to stop.
Although the nature of the thoughts that spontaneously arise in our awareness is out with our control, (and they need not trouble us if we are able to step back and watch them objectively) thinking itself is a choice. The moment we notice we are thinking, thinking stops – automatically and without us doing anything. The simple act of noticing cuts the flow of thoughts.
Our awareness can only be in one place at a time - either as the thinker or as the one who notices that thinking is going on.
Thoughts happen by themselves, thinking is a choice.
THE MIND HAS NO POWER OF ITS OWN
When we feel trapped by incessant thinking and can't see a way out, the mind SEEMS to be an all-powerful entity with the power to make us suffer.
In truth, however, the ONLY power the mind has is the power we give it through habit. If we withdraw our attention from the mind, it has no power at all. Here are some of the main ways in which we habitually energise the mind:
• by believing our thoughts
• by resisting our thoughts
• by identifying with our thoughts
Lets look at the remedies.
QUESTION THE MIND
My teacher would often say: "The mind only tells lies."
Some time ago, I
got into the habit of deeply questioning everything the mind comes up with through using the question: "Do I know for absolute certain that
this is true?"
If you practice this, you will quickly see that the mind is filled with a million and one beliefs and assumptions which simply have no basis in truth.
How many times have you worried about something for days, weeks or even months which didn't happen in the end? There is a word for listening to and believing imagined thoughts – worry.
So, an important tip for how to stop thinking is to take everything the mind says with a large pinch of salt! We don't suffer because of the content of the mind. We suffer because we believe it. What you don't believe has no power over you.
ALLOWING THE MIND TO BE AS IT IS
Any time we are suffering, one thing is for certain. We are resisting something. I love this analogy from the spiritual teacher Osho:
A man walks over the brow of a hill and surveys the valley below. To his left there are some fir trees, on the horizon gently sloping hills and on his right a river meanders slowly through the tranquil scene. He simply observes the scene before him.
He doesn't think "Those trees are wrong. They should be oak tress. And I don't like where the river is. I would prefer if it was on the left. And as for those hills, they are simply too small!"
Just like the valley, the mind is as it is. We create suffering for ourselves through wanting it to be different from how it is. Through consciously choosing to allow whatever the mind comes up with to be OK, we wrap even the most disturbing thoughts and patterns in peace.
The mind just does what it does. It has been programmed that way. Leave it alone to do its dance and it will leave you in peace to do yours!
I hope these few insights will help you develop a more harmonious relationship with your mind.
If you would like more help with learning how to stop thinking you may find my book Kick The Thinking Habit very helpful.
In it, I go into each of the above topics in much greater depth
and offer many more helpful suggestions for knocking thinking on the head.
Learning how to stop thinking so much may not be as difficult as you imagine!
Addictive Thinking / Monkey Mind / Obsessive Thinking
Mind Over Mood / Non-Attachment / What You Resist Persists
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