You are not simply the thinker of your thoughts. In fact, for most people, their thoughts control them rather than the other way around. Researchers have indicated that we think upwards of sixty thousand thoughts each day and often they are the same thoughts. We get caught in loops of thought. Often they are worries and sometimes they are daydreams but most often they are the same thoughts every day. Our inner complaints and our inner fears flowing through our neural network in an ongoing loop that is trigger by familiar events of our daily lives. This is why we can sometimes escape some of our stressful thoughts by going on vacation or some other change of scenery where we do not have the usual thought triggers.
Unfortunately, most of us can’t just physically go away somewhere to escape our thoughts. For my clients, I recommend some form of meditation practice but many people who are new to meditation feel like it does really work or they become even more aware of how much they are thinking. This second point is exactly what is needed to help us overcome the thinking loops in our mind. When we become aware of our thoughts and can begin to observe our thinking process then we can begin to direct, control or focus our attention somewhere else it is like taking control of a conversation that you are having with someone who doesn’t let you get a word in. You can stop them from interrupting you or you can change the subject.
Gaining, or perhaps regaining, control of our thinking processes take practice. Like any still or muscle that you want to develop, the thinking mind has been used to doing its own thing or running on autopilot, in some of us, for many years. It not a matter of stopping your thinking processes but rather controlling the direction your mind is trying to take you. The first step is to notice that you are thinking thoughts that are not helpful. Then let change your focus rather than trying to pull the brakes on your thoughts. By the time you notice them they usually have too much momentum for you to stop them. Instead let them pass you by, ignoring them while you give your attention to something else. In meditation, you would focus on your breath. Just a few focussed breathes can do wonders and the more you practice the more powerful this practice can be. Alternatively, you can prepare some statements to counter the most common negative thoughts that you have and repeat them until the thoughts you don’t want fade. You could also bring your attention into your body by doing something physical. Do some jumping jacks, push-ups or run on the spot. This is one of the reasons that exercise is a good stress reliever because it brings your focus out of your mind and into your body.
The key thing to remember is that getting out of your mind loops takes two things: awareness and practising a new habit of thinking. Recognising your triggers can help you catch your thoughts before they gain momentum. Avoiding the triggers is not helpful because you will need to constantly monitor and try to control your environment to avoid the thoughts that follow. If you can change your negative environment certainly do so but for those times you can’t, learn to gain control of those mental processes. Freedom from obsessive thinking will lead you to greater happiness.