It’s incessant – the mental chatter. Whatever you do, you just can’t stop thinking.
You’re thinking when you wake up, when you go to sleep, in the middle of the night and all through the day. If you try to meditate you think all the time. When you go for a walk you’re looking down at the ground with your mind deeply engaged in problems that need to be solved. When you’re watching your kids play sport or out to dinner with your partner your mind is elsewhere. It appears there’s no escape from this brain that never leaves you alone.
A few things you need to understand
- Although it may feel like you’re the only person thinking so much, we all have thoughts constantly arising in our mind, and it’s surprising how similar they are. Even Dr David Hawkins, who achieved an extraordinary level of inner liberation talks about how thoughts constantly arise.
- You’re immersed in an energy field that is full of all the thoughts that are being thought by all people. The entire universe is made of energy and that energy gets imprinted with everything that everybody does. Since we tend to do a lot of thinking, all those thoughts are energetically shared with everyone else. If you go to the country the air feels cleaner and it’s easier after a while to clear your mind. In a city it’s a lot harder because the energy field is full of thoughts of other people. It’s a bit strange to think about this, but it helps to explain why it can be such a challenge.
- You can choose what you think about. If you don’t believe this, or feel your thoughts are controlling you, imagine what would happen if an incredibly attractive person walks into your office. I’m sure you will instantly drop all your circulating thoughts and focus 100% of your attention on them.
Change your subconscious
If you tend to default to very negative thinking (what if xxx disaster happens?) it’s helpful to change the default subconscious patterns so they’re more useful.
- Silence your mind for 15 seconds. Keep practising (with a timer, if possible) until you can do it. Then do 30 seconds. Then 45 seconds and keep increasing the time. It’s great to do it while you’re travelling or doing something mindless. There are a lot of opportunities to do it every day. See if you can get up to 15 or 30 minutes. By the way, it’s very difficult and takes a lot of practice.
- If you’re going for a walk choose to look at the nature around you, appreciate the sky and connect with the experience you’re having right now. You’ll need to keep bringing yourself back to it as you escape into thinking over and over again. It takes a lot of discipline.
- Practise being present in whatever you’re doing. This means bringing all your attention to being fully engaged in your current activity. It means really listening to everyone you speak with and treating them with respect and love (yes, even in the office). It also means doing everything with excellence, nothing on autopilot. If you’re working on autopilot, someone else should probably be doing it.
- Avoid having music, television or radio on in the background while you do something else that requires concentration. They all get you used to being distracted and thinking about two things at once. It’s fine to listen to music that helps you concentrate, but that’s generally a few types of classical music, without lyrics. If you want to listen to a podcast or radio while you’re exercising, driving or doing something that doesn’t require any focus, make sure you’re really listening to the program, not letting your mind wander all over the place. Otherwise switch it off.
The important thing to realise about all of these is that they take a huge amount of practice before they become your new default. They are ways of rewiring your subconscious so the thoughts that constantly arise in your mind are more aligned with your current activity. When I say a huge amount of practice I mean every day for several months at least of sheer discipline.
Change your conscious mind
There’s another way to manage the constant production of thoughts which is to use your ability to think to change what’s going inside your head.
This is more powerful and creates greater clarity and satisfaction in the long run, but it takes courage and presence to do it consistently. Here are some examples of ways to do it.
- What’s the real problem?
If you’re worrying about a problem, clarify in simple terms what the real problem is, rather than the apparent problem. Very often you go round and round in circles because you haven’t identified the root of the issue. For example, you may be worrying about how you can employ a new staff member when the real problem (that you haven’t yet solved) is that you don’t have enough money to pay them. Once you identify the real problem you can pay attention to that rather than the apparent problem.
- What’s the solution you really want?
Once you know what the real problem is, identify what outcome/solution you really want. You’ll know if it’s what you really want if it feels simple and satisfying. If you do this you know what action to take next. You may simply need to wait until it’s time to take action, but there won’t be much to think about in the meantime. A simple way to do this is to ask the question “What do I really want in this situation?”
- Build trust
Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you really want because you’re not aware of all the options. There’s usually a better solution than you can imagine. It’s a good habit to always allow for something even better to happen. In your mind you say “I really want xxx outcome, or something better.” Another way is to say, “I really want xxx outcome, or whatever is optimal.” This will require you to build some trust and let go of controlling everything. You will get better outcomes this way because you spend less time thinking about everything that could go wrong.
- Plan for failure
If you need to think about everything that could go wrong, which is important in high-risk situations, take time to do it rationally and with an approach of excellence and responsibility. Thinking wildly about all possible disasters is irrational, weak and irresponsible. It’s not the action of a leader. It’s better to allocate quality time for disaster planning. It will give you peace of mind later in the day.
- Share it
It’s rare that we solve problems well when we do it alone. Create opportunities in your life to bring your major problems to a high quality personal support team. This may include your partner, peers, team at work, mentors, mastermind group and others. Make sure you have a range of people you trust who can help you clarify your best thinking on any issue and it’s essential to meet them regularly.
And please, if you’re agonising about something that’s deeply personal (something you’ve done that you’re ashamed of, thoughts you feel you shouldn’t have, feelings you don’t feel safe to share with people you love), find someone you can talk to anyway. You cannot solve those kinds of problems alone, however unsafe it feels to share them. Eventually you will discover that you have to get help, to prevent a greater disaster, so do something about it now. It’s important for everyone around you, as well as for you. You’re worth so much more than you realise.
Managing your mind is a great art that takes dedication and persistence to master. I’ve only shared a few strategies here – there are many more.
Your mind is an incredible tool when you guide it, and an absolute nightmare when it’s guiding you. So the aim is to shift the balance of power in your life so you can be the leader.