Mindfulness practice helps us to change our relationship with our thoughts. For many, this can be extremely challenging as we appear to have an unhealthy “addiction” to thoughts no matter how negative or unpleasant they are – we find it so easy to attach to them and believe them all.
This can often result in us creating our own suffering such as feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, jealousy etc.
Here are five useful Mindfulness tips that will help you to start relating differently to thoughts, so that you can become the master of your thoughts, rather than the servant to them:
1 We spend a huge amount of our time engaging in and believing thoughts, mostly about the past or the future. Remember that we are not our thoughts, we don’t need to take them personally and many of our thoughts are not fact – they are not true.
2 We process around 70,000 thoughts each day and many of them are repeated thoughts, so we are just engaging in the same old thoughts over and over again. In addition many of our thoughts are simply unhelpful and often leave us feeling upset, worried, anxious, sad, jealous etc. If we believe in unhelpful thoughts, we are “winding ourselves up”
3. Mindfulness Practice is not about clearing our mind of all thoughts, but instead we can take a “step back” and become the observer of our thoughts. Many people find it helpful to use metaphors to help them to observe thoughts rather than get all caught up in them, which can often leave us feeling agitated, sad, anxious etc. Here are three of our favourite metaphors:
- Thoughts are like clouds passing by in the sky and the blue of the sky is like our mind. Observe the thought clouds arising, staying a while and passing by without interfering in any way and no matter what they are like, thunderous or light and fluffy!
- Our stream of thoughts are like the flow of water in a river. Imagine sitting on the bank of a river and the flow of water passing by in the river is like the flow of thoughts in the mind. Watch the flow of thoughts and remain on the bank of the river. When you notice you’ve become engaged in and lost in thought, you’ve got into the river. Notice and get out again, sitting back on the bank of the river, observing once again.
- Thoughts are like delicate soap bubbles floating across in the air. When you notice a soap bubble, simply and gently touch the bubble with awareness and see it pop. This allows you to observe thoughts gently and spend less time relating to them emotionally by getting caught up in them and believing them.
4. Practising Mindfulness helps us to begin to notice specific patterns or scripts that we habitually engage in and believe, that are unhelpful to us. For example, perhaps we have a lot of worrying thoughts or a lot of self critical thoughts. It’s helpful to notice these thoughts with an attitude of patience and kindness. We don’t need to get into a fight with them, but simply observe them and let them pass by. In time we will be changing our relationship with the thoughts from being “controlled” by them to being the master of them.
5. Labelling thoughts can be very helpful. When you notice that the thoughts arrive, perhaps the worrying thoughts are looming large, see if you can quietly in your own mind say “ah, having a worrying thought”, or “that’s ok, there are some worrying thoughts”. Labelling often allows a little more crucial space between us and our thoughts and this can help us to gain perspective and realise that thoughts are just thoughts.
You might like to listen to the guided practice Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts.