Our thoughts can have a big impact on how we feel. Sometimes, when I allow my thoughts to wander, unhelpful thought patterns can start to enter my mind. I worry about upcoming events, replay past situations in my mind, and visualise worst-case scenarios. This often happens when I am out for a walk, in the car or in any other situation where my mind is not stimulated.
In an attempt to solve this, I compensate by controlling my thinking. I pick out a positive topic and deliberately think about that topic. This works for a while until I ‘run out’ of thoughts on that topic. Then, I feel a bit uneasy and panicked. The voice in my head says, ‘Oh no, I need to keep thinking about positive things to distract me from the negative thoughts! What shall I think about next?’. This cycle continues, but it ends up making me feel more anxious because I have made a big deal out of what I am thinking. Is this something that you have experienced too?
Other times, my thoughts just naturally unfold without me deliberately choosing what to think about. I am thinking, but I am not THINKING ABOUT thinking. Generally, when this happens, I feel fine and relaxed. Does that sound familiar? Why can’t it be like this all the time?!
How to solve the problem of ‘thinking about thinking’
One solution to this is meditation. Try to empty your mind and don’t engage with any passing thoughts at all. Meditation is great brain-training and it certainly has its place, however, sometimes you don’t want to meditate. Thinking is not always a bad thing, you just want to think in a relaxed, flowing way.
Related post: Think of the Anxiety-Inducing Situation as a Meditation
So my solution is: don’t ‘try to think’. But also, don’t ‘try not to think’. Start by grounding yourself in the present moment. You can do this by focusing on your breath, the movement or actions in your body, or your surroundings. Thoughts are bound come up of their own accord, without you trying. They will either be random thoughts or based on a stimulant in your environment. But unless you are meditating, you don’t have to stop these thoughts. Let them flow!
By not TRYING to think these thoughts in the first place, your mind will run a natural course of thinking. You will be absorbed in these thoughts without THINKING ABOUT the fact that you are thinking them.
When a train of thought comes to an end, don’t think, ‘what shall I think about next?’. Just come back to the clean slate of focusing on your breath, and/or your movements and surroundings. It sounds like a cliché, but the breath really is a great anchor to come back to. Let the next thought arise organically, which it undoubtedly will do.
What if negative thoughts come up?
Not all thoughts are made equal, and it can be harmful to dwell on negative thoughts. Therefore, you don’t always have to run with whatever thoughts come up. If you notice that negative or unhelpful thoughts are entering your mind, you can choose to reject them and return again to that clean slate.
If you find that negative thoughts are repeatedly coming into your mind, you can deliberately instate certain positive thoughts instead. This is a case where it IS a good idea to choose what to think about. Pick a positive topic, but then try to let your thoughts grow organically once it is established.
Another good tactic is to plant an upbeat or empowering song into your mind. I very often have a song stuck in my head, and it’s amazing the difference it makes to my mood based on whether it is a happy or sad song. Often I am hardly aware of why I am feeling a certain way until I realise what song is in my head. By singing an uplifting song to yourself in your head, you can get that stuck in there and it will provide a positive backdrop to your thoughts, helping to lift your mood.
I hope this method works for you too
I have been experimenting with this method lately, especially when I am out for walks, and it really works. If you try this, I would love to hear whether it helps you too. Let me know in the comments!