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Can we change our own thoughts?
According to research by Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, a human being can have around 60,000 thoughts per day—and 90% of these are repetitive!
These thoughts can contain a mixture of negative, positive and inquisitive thoughts. The kinds of thoughts we choose to entertain can heavily influence our perspectives. In the words of Eckhart Tolle “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but the thoughts about it, be aware of the thoughts you are thinking”.
Moreover, having up to 54,000 repetitive thoughts a day can contribute to a lot of mental noise. If we could clear just a few of those thoughts, what could we create, understand, and see more clearly?
Do you ever feel like you have 1000s of thoughts? Do you wish you could sometimes press pause on these thoughts or change what they focus on?
If so, here are some practices to help get you started:
Block out a few minutes for yourself every day. Turn off all phones/distractions. Ensure your family/colleagues/etc. cannot disturb you. Sit up straight, whether in a chair or cross-legged.
Practice #1: Balancing Negative Thoughts
List every negative thought you have on a piece of paper. Once you’ve listed everything down, don’t stop. Dig deeper and write more thoughts about:
- Your fears
- Your insecurities
- Your losses
- Things that stress you out and get on your nerves
Now, make another column, and for every negative thought, write at least one positive thought.
- If you fear failure, write one instance when failure helped you learn a lesson.
- If you’re insecure about your skills, write how much you’ve improved since you started.
- If you’ve lost a relationship in the past, write about the beautiful time you spent with each other.
- If you stress about work, write how your work is helping other people.
- If you don’t like your coworker’s behaviour, write one positive thing about that person.
Make this a habit. The goal is for thought balancing to become a part of your subconscious.
Practice #2: Creating White Space
In Japanese, the word ma is loosely translated to mean pause–the pause between notes, the pause between breaths, the pause between sentences, the pause between thoughts.
Close your eyes. Place your inner focus on the constant stream of thoughts scrolling across your mind. See the scrolling thoughts floating in space or across a TV screen, whatever image works for you.
Don’t pay attention to the thoughts in detail. Let them scroll by, do not cling to them or reject them. Now focus on the space between the thoughts, the ma. As you focus on the white space between the thoughts you’ll find it getting wider, longer, bigger. In time you’ll see mostly emptiness, with few thoughts.
Focusing on ma, pause, emptiness, is a nice practice during the day too. Stop and notice open space as conversations pause, as music pauses. We are surrounded by pauses. That’s where some of the best stuff is. We often fill our minds and schedules out of fear of emptiness. Yet emptiness is where true peace and connectedness can always be found.
Practice #3: Brain Dump
Doing a “core dump” of your mind can be helpful when you have a constant swirl of thoughts. Here’s how to do it:
- Have a piece of pen and paper ready and set a timer for 20 minutes.
- Now start writing about any issue you are obsessing about, want to clear from your mind, want to understand, or have a question about. Just write, unedited and unpunctuated. When the sheet is full, turn it over, then upside down, on its side, etc. You will not be reading this later, so there’s no point in using more than 1 sheet of paper. The only purpose is to keep writing until the timer sounds.
- When the time is up, either burn the paper or tear it up and flush it. Wash your hands and change your physiology (jump up and down for a moment, roll shoulders, etc).
It takes a cue, routine, and a reward to form a habit. Set a reminder every day to engage in one of these practices, be consistent, and make sure to treat yourself after!