Are you constantly beating yourself up for not being good enough or do you constantly feel like life sucks? Are you incessantly worrying or anxious about the future or tortured over events of the past? Is the world a scary, overwhelming place that is keeping you awake at night and from enjoying life?
There is a way out of this that will completely change your emotional well-being for the better. I found it and what followed was a profound peace, calm, and a wellspring of happiness. How? By realizing and putting into practice something countless others have discovered about our minds and thoughts. Maybe that same discovery will help you.
A Way to Freedom
Have you ever realized that often we are our own worst enemies? No one speaks more harshly to us than our own inner monologue that says we can’t do something because we’re too stupid or lazy, unlucky or that things are just impossible for us. We look in the mirror and more than anyone else tell ourselves we aren’t good enough and are useless, ugly or fat.
We are constantly putting ourselves down. Even if we accidentally drop something like a spoon on the floor, our mind is there to say how stupid we were to do that. If that same accident happened to someone else, we wouldn’t be so harsh toward them. We’d probably sooth and comfort them if they got upset over it. So why are we such villains to ourselves?
We aren’t. Our thoughts are the villains, not us.
You believe your thoughts are you and you accept and believe what those thoughts are saying.
Stop doing that. If you want peace, happiness, inner strength, vitality and emotional well-being, stop identifying yourself with the thoughts going through your brain. Stop believing they are you. Stop believing their narratives about you and the world around you are true. Those thoughts are often wrong, misleading, misinformed and almost always self-sabotaging. Thoughts are things we have picked up or adopted from our culture, others, and society and which have become our default.
This is what the sages around the world and across cultures and time have realized. Our minds are tools but they are not us. We are not our thoughts and in fact, can reprogram them and the emotions they stir up to make them useful to our purposes in this life. We should be directors of our thoughts rather than letting them be tormenting masters over us.
When we take back our minds and thoughts, we find peace, happiness, energy and drive.
Taking Back Control
Our thoughts run in a stream and on autopilot. They spew nonstop, commenting on the weather, the world around us, what we “think” about the person beside us, about the past and future, etc. Those thoughts can be negative or positive and often run like a repeating tape over certain topics.
Sometimes these thoughts and commentaries are useful – like when our brains process a danger such as a car running a red light and tell us to watch out. But these days, in a high tech society where most of us don’t have to worry about our next meal or shelter, that warning system has very little to do so turns in on itself – on us – by “alerting” us to everything wrong around us or worse, with us.
But don’t confuse these thoughts with who or what you are. The commentary is not the listener. The listener is not the thoughts any more than the audience is the music at a concert. The music will move and impact the audience emotionally or mentally but the music is not the audience. In the same way, we are not the thoughts we experience in our heads or the emotions we feel. Don’t be fooled by the words, especially if they are harsh, hateful, and self-destroying.
Anything that comes through your mind is just a thought you are having at any given moment. You are experiencing the thought or emotion but that is it, as pleasant or unpleasant as it may be. Thoughts are something that happen to us. They are not us. Recognize the mechanism.
Once you stop identifying “yourself” as every random thought, you can start taking control. It may be slow and difficult at first – we have by default and training let our thoughts rule us and so the habit is well developed and strong but we can put our minds to better use and start producing more helpful and useful thoughts and emotions rather than let them tear us down or depress and distract us.
With that comes relief from the miserable stream of inner words, thoughts and emotions that make us in turn miserable. With relief comes peace, energy and a space where happiness and an even fuller peace and vitality can take hold. That is true well-being.
Become Your Own Master
In practice this takes some work. It’s hard to not get swept along with an inner rant that’s saying “That was so stupid of me! Why did I do that? Why can’t I do anything right?” and then goes on to spiral out of control. Only after we calm minutes, hours or days later can we notice and say “Hey, I had that thought and series of thoughts again!”
We start by noticing and this actually begins a chain reaction that builds momentum deep inside us. At first, we get swept away, then notice after the fact. Then we start noticing during the occurrence but still get swept away. Some thoughts get easier to dismiss while others take work. Eventually, the thoughts and emotions lose power and cease. This is the whole point of meditation.
In addition to taking up a meditation practice, I developed or adopted from others some useful tricks that helped this process along. Maybe they can help you.
Often, I would tell my mind “Thank you for the input” as if taking to a subordinate, then dismiss the unhelpful thought – whether it was telling me I was stupid, lazy, useless or ugly or ranting against a person or situation. Or I might think, “We’ll think about this at a better time,” in the same way I would table an unscheduled topic that came up at a meeting. Basically I would acknowledge the thought without any emotional attachment or critique, then dismiss it.
Then, considering my mind a programmable tool, I told it, “I don’t need you to be so uber alert to anything that can go wrong, just the basic day to day safety stuff. Instead, help me problem solve X.” And it really helped! My mind began to chill out as I reminded it from time to time of what were and were not its main tasks and what it should prioritize.
The mind is an amazing computer. Try programming it with directions that will help you. Don’t yell or get upset, just calmly redirect and instruct it like you would a young, bright intern working for you who is eager to help – but who will get into all sorts of trouble if not carefully and patiently redirected. Patiently redirect and remind as necessary. Your mind will learn.
After a while of working on noting my less than helpful thoughts, many began to recede and disappear but others persisted. These were deeper issues I hadn’t dealt with and which were problems needing addressed. For personal traumas or other deeply painful issues, I highly recommend a professional counselor. They greatly helped me. Once I learned how to acknowledge and get to the root of issues, I could untangle many thorny problems and emotions to soothe and put them to rest.
Later, having learned this skill, I no longer needed counseling. When new problems or strong, disturbing emotions arose I began to sit with them and their emotions to feel the pain rather than try to avoid it all the time. Often we run from such things but that doesn’t make them go away. They just fester. So when I noticed an issue surfacing, I sat with it to nip it at the bud rather than let it grow into a more difficult problem.
It’s not pleasant but when you do this, after a while the energy fades and a little while after that, stops arising. I could sit with my fears and anxieties as they rose and not struggle with them. That’s a brave thing, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with that naked emotion when we are alone with only ourselves. It’s brave to feel compassion for ourselves for being imperfect in an imperfect world, to accept the frustration or rage of the unfairness, the sorrow over wrongs done to us or by us, and the pain that sheer existence seems to inflict on us for the hell of it. I sat with all this time and again, not running or fighting the emotions, simply feeling them, knowing they were not “me” and could not harm the “me” experiencing them. It’s a tough thing to do but it makes you incredibly strong and compassionate toward yourself.
It also eases the mind from its stream of anger, resentment, anxiety, and pain. By doing this inner work, which requires sitting and being present when the emotions hit, the recurrence of these deeper issues began to fade and disappear since they we not able to fester and strengthen. That and this practice removes vulnerable points over time so that the same problems can no longer take root.
Another thing I began doing that was helpful in addition to telling my mind to help me problem solve and not be so concerned with pointing out my faults, etc, was to ask it to point out the good things around me. I turned my constantly barking guard of negativity into a productive alerter to the positive.
After all, the bad or inconvenient will always be there, but so will the silly, beautiful, and good. I instructed my mind to point out the good more and more throughout my day, especially in people and situations. My negative habits were well practiced but my positive muscles were underdeveloped. In this way I brought balance by exercising that point of view. And in the process I began to grow happier until I became a happy, peaceful person.
These are some of the tricks I used to go from victim of my default thoughts to happy sovereign of my mind. Maybe they will help you or maybe you can develop your own even more effect methods!
What No One Tells Us
We spend 13 years in kindergarten to 12th grade but probably never learn how to train our minds to be useful companions on our road through life. This will greatly impact our mental and emotional health and it’s a skill desperately needed in society. Realizing you are not your thoughts, learning to not listen to or believe your thoughts, and training your mind to produce useful and helpful thoughts without turning into a narcissist is something we all can do.
When we do so, we develop confidence and faith in ourselves, energy, vitality, joy and peace. This is true well-being and it is priceless. Start your journey today in reclaiming your thoughts and emotions from their default habits and patterns that are so very unhelpful. Your life will never be the same.
Like this article? Please share it so that others can learn these secrets and start living their best lives now.