Some researchers suggest we have up to 80,000 thoughts a day, and according to some articles up to 85% of the thoughts we have are negative; 90% are repetitive. What you thought about yesterday, you’ll probably think about today and tomorrow.
Although we may think that thoughts matter, the reality is that a lot of our thoughts are just noise and nonsense. They feel real, but they’re not true.
Because we give our thoughts so much weight, it means when you think something, even if it’s rubbish – like when you call yourself a name – you may instinctively act on it. You might even spend hours thinking, and thinking (and thinking) about how to deal with it. It can be exhausting. (In my book Answers In The Dark, I call this “going down the plughole, because it’s dark down there).
The brain is like a muscle, and whatever you give your time and attention to, you’ll get good at – the muscle strengthens. So if you focus on learning the piano, you’ll become an accomplished pianist. In the same way, if you spend your time focused on worries, you’ll get really good at worrying.
The mind is designed to think: that’s its job. If you don’t give your mind something to do, it will find something. For some people, not being able to tame their thinking can lead to stress, anxiety and depression.
We know now about neuroplasticity – the ability to change the way the brain behaves throughout your lifetime. This essentially means that you can teach it to work differently. Research supports that one way to effectively train and manage the mind is through mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is bringing your awareness fully to the experience of living in the present moment. You’ve probably been mindful more times than you realise. If you’ve ever caught yourself listening to the rain on your windowsill, or captivated by a sunset, this is mindful awareness. This is also known as informal meditation or “off cushion” practice.
One of the biggest myths about meditation is that it’s about clearing the mind. In fact, it is your thinking that makes the activity possible, by recognising thoughts as they come into your awareness, and describing in your mind what you’re doing: thinking. So it literally is the thought that counts.
When we think of formal meditation many people think of someone sitting cross legged on the floor. But you don’t need to do this to use mindfulness in your meditation. If you’re worried about trying mindfulness or mindfulness meditation, always speak to your healthcare team. Do what’s right for you.
Here’s an activity you might find useful at home or at work (less than 2 minutes).
If you’re sitting in an upright chair, take a moment to make yourself comfortable, with your back relatively straight and your head facing forwards. You can keep your eyes open if you want to, or close them if it feels safe to do so. Spend a moment noticing the sounds that come in to your awareness. There are no ‘right’ sounds or ‘wrong’ sounds, just sounds. Acknowledge them, experience them and label them in your mind for what they are: “sound”.
As you do this, you’ll notice that your mind starts to wander. Acknowledge this with kindness, remembering that’s just what minds do. As you become aware that your mind has drifted, acknowledge this and simply describe in your mind what you’re doing which is: “thinking”. Then return your attention once again to the experience of sitting in a chair, listening for sounds. You can return to your day when you’re ready.
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©️ Copyright Delphi Ellis 2019, updated 2023
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