Why You Shouldn’t Believe Your Thoughts
Last night I lay awake, staring at the ceiling of my bedroom with a hyperloop of worries and fears pumping through my mind. I’m generally a calm and laid-back person, but something about the sun going down seems to bring up all of my fears and anxieties. I would be willing to bet that some of you have experienced this hyperloop of thoughts as well, whether that be at night or another time of day.
Why can it be so difficult to slow down our minds?
How do we get into these thought loops, and why are we so quick to believe these ideas as if they are fact rather than what they actually are…just thoughts?
As Tara Brach, Ph.D (one of my favorite psychologists, authors, and meditation teachers) explains, “when stressed, we often react with looping fear-thoughts, feelings and behaviors that cause harm to ourselves and/or others.”
As humans, we evolved to have a bias towards the negative in order to protect ourselves and survive, but in today’s modern society our stress levels tend to be high and our fear response is on overdrive as a result. It’s easy for us to get into the habit of fear or stress-driven thought patterns, and most of the time we aren’t even aware that it’s happening.
Tara goes on to say, “When we’re living out stimulus-react looping…we’re believing something that’s not true. We’re living in a very confined reality of a separate and limited self. A reality that has us locked into a very small sense of who we are.” I know I don’t want to live in such a constricted state, and I’m sure you don’t either.
So…what can we do?
The Good News
The good news is, there are many ways to retrain the brain.
I like to think of habitual thought patterns as little river currents that are running through our brains. The more we think a certain way, the deeper and wider that particular river gets, making it the default pattern for our minds; however, with some effort we can create new rivers – new patterns of thinking that are more adaptive and can help us thrive rather than keep us stuck in habitual negative and constricting patterns.
So, you ask, how do I create these new rivers?! There are many ways to start retraining your brain – here are a few of my favorites…
According to Tara Brach, one of the ways to de-condition negative thought patterns and create a more grounded mind is to utilize the acronym R.A.I.N.
R: recognize what is happening;
A: allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
I: investigate with interest and care;
N: nurture with self-compassion.
When in the midst of a stressful situation, I find it helpful to have the R.A.I.N. acronym handy – briefly going through each step gives me time to pause and become aware of my thoughts rather than get carried away by them.
Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting cross-legged in silence for hours. For me, meditation can simply mean practicing being aware of the present moment rather than ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. Staying in the present moment is a powerful tool to help us look inward and become aware of our thoughts – that awareness is the first step in retraining our brains.
The breath is a powerful tool that we all have access to, for free, at every moment. When you catch yourself overthinking or getting stuck in a negative thought pattern, try focusing on your breath instead. Breathe in for a count of 4, pause, breathe out for a count of 6, pause. Repeat x10. In my next post, I’ll be digging into the breath a bit more and providing a few different exercises you can use to regulate your breathing.
Before signing off, I want to emphasize that thoughts are not inherently bad. Even the thoughts that are based in fear and stress are important – we evolved to have a stress response for a reason, it only becomes a problem when our fear and stress responses are always activated.
The goal is not to get rid of thoughts, but rather to become more aware of your thoughts so you don’t get carried away by maladaptive patterns that are not serving you.
With a little practice and intention, you’ll be creating new river currents in your brain in no time.
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