Our thoughts are not to be trusted. This may sound a little extreme, but learning this fact can be tremendously helpful. The normal human brain provides a relentless ongoing commentary about the world and what we are doing. Sometimes the stories in this commentary are factual. But more often than not, they consist of judgements, evaluations, predictions and protests. For example, I had one client whose brain would routinely call him a ‘stupid, useless moron’ every time he made a mistake. (He was in fact a university lecturer!).
It is totally normal to lose ourselves in these stories. They absorb us and we become hooked by them. Most importantly, we get caught in the illusion that these stories are real. Learning to see thoughts as ‘just thoughts’ can be astonishingly liberating. However, it is not a skill that is learned overnight – some of our thoughts are very ‘sticky’. How do we learn this skill?
Firstly, get good at noticing you are having a thought. Put a label on the thought, if you can. So, for example, you might say, “Oh, that’s the stupid moron story”. Don’t try and argue with the thought, just notice that it is a thought. As soon as you start doing this you are on to a winner. The thought becomes less dominant and you prevent it snowballing out of control.
The main thing to remember is that it’s not important whether the thought is true or not. Instead, ask yourself whether the thought is going to help you to move in the direction you want to go. If it is, then stay with it. If it isn’t, then let it go on its way. Remember, thoughts will come and go. They only stick around when we pay lots of attention to them.
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