In practising mindfulness we learn to take our thoughts less seriously. Our thoughts are often less important than we think they are and as we all know their predictions are often wrong.
So while some thoughts are valuable or entertaining we try not to let them rule the roost. We try to pay more attention to the present moment than to thoughts of past events we can do nothing about. We also watch out for catastrophising which means exaggerating our fears about the future.
Of course, we don’t aim to get rid of all thoughts – that would be neither possible nor desirable – but we see them as part of our experience and not our whole experience.
The world outside our head
One way to prevent thoughts from giving themselves more importance than they deserve is to move awareness more often to what is going on in the world outside our head. that can mean becoming aware of your breathing, your body, sounds, movement, what someone is saying to you, what you see and so on.
Sometimes what is going on in the moment outside your head is just plain ordinary but even so, that can be a better place to be than shut inside distressing thoughts about things you can do nothing about. With practice you can even come to like those moments in which nothing much happens.
From rumination to choices
Having the same set of thoughts going around and around in your head is called rumination and it can bring you deeper into a hole of harsh self-criticism, anger or depression. When these are about some problem or situation that’s coming up it can help to ask what your practical choices are and to select what seems helpful. That’s a more helpful form of thinking than having thoughts circulating around your head like hamsters on wheels.
Sometimes you choose to do what you were going to do anyway but thinking of it as a choice can be empowering.
In summary, then, we can put our thoughts in perspective by giving more awareness to the world outside our head in the present moment; and a better alternative to rumination is to consider what our practical choices are in a situation.
You learn more about the mindful approach to thinking, and about other aspects of mindfulness, from my 15-lesson online course Easy Mindfulness.
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