Oh Good! We Don’t Need to Change Our Thoughts After All

Oh Good! We Don’t Need to Change Our Thoughts After All

You’ve seen all the ‘You are not your thoughts’ memes on the internet right, with swirly, hard-to-read cursive text and pastel backgrounds?

What do you think about this? Are you your thoughts?

This didn’t really make sense to me for a long time. Like, I know I’m not my thoughts. I’m a human and thoughts are…thoughts. I can eat and drive and laugh and type and have showers and send gifs on Whatsapp. Thoughts can’t do those things. 

So I know I am not my thoughts. 

But I did think my thoughts were mine.

See the difference? 

Thoughts: WTF?

Thoughts were the all-knowing, fact-based messenger service sharing the truth about my life, abilities, prospects for the future, assessments about the past and all the rest. 

My thoughts knew everything about me – what I wanted, what I didn’t want, my fears, my goals, my bank balance, my opinions. 

My thoughts were really rather mean (and still are sometimes! I’ll come on to that later). The favourite past-time of my thoughts was to make constant assessments on my progress in life and fundamental worth as a human, inevitably finding me considerably lacking and coming up with plans to fix me. 

But my thoughts were pretty contradictory and changed tack, a lot. 

“Let’s not drink today. You can do it”

Two and a half minutes later:

“You should have a glass of wine. Just a little one. It won’t matter”

Closely followed, once I gave in, by:

“How about a bit more?”

And when I obliged once again: 

“I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU DRANK ALCOHOL AGAIN! ! You are a terrible person with no self-control!”

Another example:

“Just leave that project today, it’s too hard”, followed, once I obeyed, by “You have done NOTHING today! Why can’t you just get on with things? You are a worthless piece of shit”

Wow. 

Thoughts are dragging us around

Many of us are living in a world where our thoughts reign supreme. Our thoughts are dragging us around, pulling us from one behaviour to another. From overdrinking, overeating, overspending and overthinking one minute to elaborate plans to reach goals, achieve shit, exercise constantly and ‘be better’ (or preferably ‘be perfect’) in the next minute. 

We pay attention to our thoughts; we take them seriously. Because …aren’t we supposed to? How would we know what to do in life without thoughts? How would we…yknow….THINK?

Realising our thoughts can be mean, bossy, hypocritical little scoundrels can be liberating. 

“Oh wonderful! I just need to change my thoughts!” we think, and run off with glee to enrol in a CBT or NLP programme, or we download a list of “784 Journal Prompts You Can Do Today To Fix Your Thoughts” or read books on “The Top Thoughts Thunk By The Best People In The World As Voted For By A Panel Of Straight White Cis Men”

But after great expense, effort, and time spent excavating our brain for thoughts, examining them, reframing them, swapping them and practicing the new ones, we realise we feel worse than ever. 

Sure, sometimes we can ‘see the bright side’ or ‘look for the positive’ or reframe our broken heart as “cultivating resiliency” or whatever the latest platitude is crawling all over our social media feeds. 

But, in the main, we still feel like crap. Our old thoughts ‘keep coming back’ and now we have a bunch of new thoughts telling us how bad we are at changing our thoughts. 

It’s not working, is it?

You know why it’s not working? Because we got it all wrong. We misunderstood what thoughts are.  what they do, and what they mean. 

*facepalm*

Let’s take a fresh look at thoughts. What if thoughts are NOT the all-knowing newscasters of our lives? What if thoughts don’t actually matter that much at all? What if thoughts can do their thing, swooping in and out, and we don’t need to pay attention to them?

What if the only thing holding our collective misery in place was a simple misunderstanding about the nature of thought?

Hey, Copernicus, help me explain this

When Copernicus discovered that the sun was the centre of the solar system, everything changed. 

Calculations and movements and observations that just didn’t fit before, when the earth was believed to be at the centre of the solar system, suddenly made sense. 

But it took many decades for this to be widely accepted and he faced ridicule and far-reaching objection. 

Our relationship with thought is like this. Seeing thought in a new way is a paradigm-shift, just like the Copernicus revolution. 

Like the earth, our thoughts are NOT at the centre of our universe. 

When I explore this with clients they are – as I was to start with! – resistant, confused and downright belligerent. If this is you right now, high five for being suspicious. You shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet after all. 

Of course we resist this notion that thoughts are really rather meaningless and unimportant.  They sound like us, they know all the things, and every so often it seems like they have a good idea. It really DOES seem like our thoughts are the centre of our universe. 

But we are wrong. 

It’s really good news that we are wrong about the nature of thought and what we think it means. 

Us humans can experience so much more freedom from anxiety, overwhelm, worry and stress when we see the true nature of thought. 

How? Well those feelings are only telling us that we’ve got a lot of thinking going on. And when we come to see that ‘thinking’ is kinda meaningless, then it doesn’t matter so much how we feel. 

When we feel worry, stress and anxiety AND we can see the true nature of thought as impersonal, meaningless and constantly moving, we don’t dive in to the content of our thoughts when we feel those feelings. 

We don’t need to fix anything or do anything because the feeling doesn’t mean a bad thing anymore – it just means we have a lot of thought going on. 

It doesn’t matter WHAT we think. It only matters to see THAT we think, and thoughts are always on the move. 

How do we navigate life, then?

Gosh, I’m making thoughts out to be a terrible villain here, aren’t I? They aren’t. Thoughts are just thoughts. It’s us humans who make them seem villainous by taking the shit ones too seriously. 

And how do we know it’s a shit thought that needn’t be paid attention to?

The feeling, my friends. That painful feeling is there for a darn good reason. To let you know: “Hey! Human! Got a lot of misinformation piling up back here. Don’t go mistaking it for Real Life now, will ya? I’ll stay right here as a shit feeling and when I go that means it’s all clear”

Said very simply, we can have an easier time navigating life if we don’t take our thinking seriously when we feel bad

Anxious, insecure, panicked, restless, doubtful, depressed, confused? 

Back off from your thought content. 

If there’s a problem to be solved, I promise it will be waiting for you once your thinking settles and a nicer feeling returns. It will look very different and easier to deal with and that’s if it’s there at all. 

Could it be this simple? Yes it could. And the only thing stopping us from even playing with the simplicity of this is MORE erroneous thought which is the thing that’s creating our suffering in the first place. 

This being human thing is a riot, huh? ?

Struggling with this? Think it makes a bit of sense but not really? A bit muddled with what I’m saying? Come and say hello and I’ll help you