Learning to be aware of your every thought

BY Archana Law

Have you ever attended a course or read a book on how to think? No skill is more valuable and harder to come by than the ability to think through problems critically. But how do we learn how to think?

Thinking means concentrating on one thing for long enough to develop an idea about it. Developing your own ideas can’t be done in bursts of 20 seconds at a time while constantly being interrupted by social media messages, tweets, fiddling with your iPod or watching something on YouTube!

American author William Deresiewicz says: “I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play that I arrive at an original idea.”

Being aware of your thoughts, strategies, feelings and actions, and their effects on others, is about knowing what you know or don’t know!

We must guard against distorted thinking. This is because we tend to trust what goes on in our brains. After all, if you can’t trust your own brain, what can you trust? Generally, this is healthy since our brains have been wired to alert us to danger, attract us to potential mates and find solutions to the problems we encounter every day.

But there are times when your brain may have developed faulty connections over time and you may fall prey to distorted thinking. The ability to take the ‘balcony view’ and look down at yourself, as well as reflect on internal questions, can build awareness of your actions and their effect on people around you.

Your mind and its thoughts affect your perception – and therefore, your interpretation of reality. The average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot especially if they’re unproductive, self-limiting and simply a waste of energy.

So who is thinking your thoughts?

You must recognise that you’re currently at the mercy of several squatters who are living in your mind and controlling your thoughts.

THE INNER CRITIC Motivated by pain, low self-esteem and a lack of self-acceptance, this part of yourself is constantly criticising you. The criticism often comprises a conglomeration of other people’s words (often, your parents); thoughts you have created based on your own or others’ expectations; unfair comparisons with stereotypes; and the impact of painful experiences, trauma and rejection.

Tip – when you catch yourself thinking something negative or disrespecting about yourself, interrupt the process and firmly say ‘No, stop!’ or ‘Enough, I’m in control now!’ Then replace your negative thought with an opposite one or affirmation that begins with ‘I am…’

THE WORRIER This aspect of you lives in the future world of ‘what if.’ Often motivated by irrational fear, there is a sense of dread that what happened in the past will happen again.

Tip – prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy, and can have long-term health implications. Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creating worry in the mind and anxiety in the body. This may make it more difficult for you to control your thoughts effectively.

Practise recognising a ‘worry thought’ immediately by how you feel (increased heart rate, blood pressure or surge of adrenaline, shallow breathing or breathlessness, tense muscles etc.). Replace those thoughts with gratitude for what you are blessed with and take a calming breath.

THE REACTOR This troublemaking aspect of you is what triggers anger, frustration and pain, stemming from unhealed wounds of the past. Set off by poor impulse control, this runs on an outdated programme that no longer serves you.

Tip – permanently eliminating this squatter will take more attention and reflection after the fact, to identify and heal the causes of the triggers. But until then, you can prevent the reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognise its presence.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds: simply be conscious of your breathing, and pay attention to the inflow and outflow of air to and from your nostrils, when you inhale and exhale.

SLEEP DEPRIVER This can be a combination of any number of different squatters that prevent you from relaxing, and having a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Tip – focus on your breathing, and pay attention to the rise and fall of your belly; and think of the word ‘in’ while inhaling and ‘out’ when exhaling.

The bottom line is that your mind can become your best friend and chief supporter, as well as an entity that you can count on to be there to encourage you. So yes, you can be in control of your thoughts. The choice is yours!