We all have them! I’m not talking about delusions or hallucinations, I’m just referring to our thoughts: our constant pre-occupation with our brain’s function to interpret and make sense of the world. This translates into a voice in our head that we listen to. For many of us this voice is the source of most of our struggles in mental health.
Take a moment and just listen to the voice inside of your head. What was it saying to you as you read this? Did it tell you: “Yeah, that’s right! I have that voice and it’s constantly talking to me. I can’t shut it off. It’s always telling me what I need to do, what is wrong with the world, what I need to be aware of, what is wrong with me, what is happening in the moment. It’s constant! It keeps me up at night with worries about the future or it reminds me of things that happened in the past. It’s so critical and negative. I want to shut it off sometimes but I can’t.”
Perhaps your voice said something different: “Well, that’s a load of crap! You’re just talking about thoughts. Of course we have thoughts! If we have a brain, we have thoughts. What’s wrong with thinking about things? It’s who I am.”
The problems we experience with that voice is not that it’s doing what it’s supposed to; namely interpret and make sense of our world. It’s that we believe that the voice is “who I am”. In other words, we struggle when we forget that our thoughts are not real.
Imagine if all our thoughts were actually true! That would mean my thought that the person who cut me off in traffic actually knew me and wanted to kill me! Of course I have no idea if that’s true, it was just a thought and I’m sure I’ll forget about it by tomorrow. But if I believed this thought was true, I would probably hide away and never go out driving again. There’s a homicidal maniac out there who wants to kill me!
We listen to our thoughts…. So that means that we are more than our thoughts. We have the capacity to choose which thoughts we listen to and which ones we ignore. Our brain is doing its job by informing, planning, interpreting, problem solving, creating etc. But it’s doing that for us! Just like our hearts beat and our lungs take in oxygen, our brains have a function to do all these things (and much more) and then talk to us. WE choose which thoughts we listen to and focus on.
Take a moment to just allow your thoughts to flow through you. Close your eyes and just listen for a couple of minutes and then come back.
There are millions of thoughts you could have had. Which thoughts did you focus on? It actually isn’t important which thoughts you focused on, it’s important that you recognize you made a choice. Just like when you go outside to take a picture. Where do you point the camera? The camera can only focus on one part of the world. You choose what you want to focus in on. Similarly, you can only focus in on a few thoughts at a time.
Recognizing that your thoughts are not real (and they are not you), that you choose which ones to listen to, and that this choice is conscious, allows you to create some space between you and your thoughts. Then and only then can you can start making choices to focus in on those thoughts that you prefer.
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