T is for thoughts
“Guard well your thoughts when alone and your words when accompanied.” Roy T. Bennett
We all have idle stray thoughts on all sorts of subjects but these are not the problem. We create our lives with the thoughts which are persistent and to which we give the most attention.
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway on the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives” Henry David Thoreau
This is backed up by science through the study of neuroplasticity or brain plasticity, which looks at the ability of the brain to adapt to changes in an individual’s environment over time.
Through our daily experiences we create new connections between our 86 billion brain cells (neurons). These neurons process and transmit information through electrical and chemical signals. Different pathways are created as we learn something new or by practice conversely connections are discarded and can become redundant through lack of use (hence the phrase 'use it or lose it').
“Our minds have the incredible capacity to both alter the strength of connections among neurons, essentially rewiring them, and create entirely new pathways. (It makes a computer, which cannot create new hardware when its system crashes, seem fixed and helpless).” Susannah Cahalan
The plasticity of the brain works both ways however; bad habits can be ingrained as easily as helpful ones; "plastic changes may not necessarily represent a behavioural gain for a given subject." (Pascual-Leone). In addition to being the mechanism for development and learning, plasticity can be"a cause of pathology.”
“A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks he becomes”
“The greatest force is derived from the power of thought. The finer the element, the more powerful it is. The silent power of thought influences people even at a distance because the mind is one as well as many. The universe is a cobweb; minds are spiders.”
Our lives, our society and in turn the state of the world in general are a projection of the thoughts we all hold and the actions that those thoughts produce.
“You don’t have to control your thoughts, you just have to stop them controlling you” Dan Millman
The speed at or depth to which one thinks is on a continuum or spectrum and everyone thinks at their own rhythm. What is important is how the way we think affects our functionality and levels of happiness.
“It is incredibly important to differentiate between overthinking and deep thinking. Deep thinking is analyzing information for the purpose of learning and moving forward, building your brain, reaching solutions and understanding difficult concepts. Sometimes, this means that you will need to think deeply about an issue you are facing in order to overcome it, but this is different from worrying about the problem… it’s very deliberate, controlled, intentional, systematic, and rational. It is not emotionally-driven, chaotic, illogical, assumptive, and it is not driven by a sense of victimization. Deep thinking looks for a solution and closure, whereas overthinking is chaotic, with no solution or end in sight.” Caroline Leaf
Cognitive defusion involves creating space between ourselves and our thoughts/ feelings so that they have less of a hold over us and we are not ‘fused’ or ‘entangled’ and don’t blindly accept them as reality. Thoughts are just thoughts, they have no more meaning or power than we give them.
“Defusion is relating to your thoughts in a new way, so they have much less impact and influence over you. As you learn to defuse painful and unpleasant thoughts, they will lose their ability to frighten, disturb, worry, stress or depress you. And as you learn to defuse unhelpful thoughts, such as self-limiting beliefs and harsh self-criticisms, they will have much less influence over your behaviour.” Russ Harris
Our mind is continuously bombarded with thoughts and we often invest too much of our time and energy pondering on them particularly the sort of thoughts that start with “What if...” , “I wonder if I should have....”
“Thoughts have power, thoughts have energy and you can make your world or break it by your own thinking” Susan L Taylor
Our thoughts can vary tremendously. Some thoughts are distinctly negative (I’m useless...I can’t) others can be positive (I’m going to beat this, reach my goal etc) while other thoughts are more ‘neutral’ (I wonder what I should have for breakfast?!…). Whatever the type of thought, they are usually based upon the past or the future and can become overwhelming and have a profound impact on our mental health and overall wellbeing if we allow our attention to be held captive to every stray thought.
Knowing what powerful agents our thoughts can be, it is important that we make time for meditation and/or reflection and learn to become more aware and develop the ability to re-centre our thoughts and feelings.
It is also wise to monitor what comes into our mind as it will affect our thoughts and emotions. If we think about the books we read, films or TV we watch, the social media we view etc. it is useful to ask whether they leave us feeling uplifted and inspired or the depressed and drained? We can learn to help ourselves by focusing on the good, informative and inspiring rather than listen to, read or watch negative, depressing or unproductive things.
Once we have seen our meandering thoughts for what they are, the next step is to decide which to respond to and which to ignore.
“Inquiry appears to be a process of thinking, but actually it's a way to undo thinking. Thoughts lose their power over us when we realize that they simply appear in the mind. They're not personal. Through The Work, instead of escaping or suppressing our thoughts, we learn to meet them with unconditional love and understanding.” Byron Katie
The mind is a powerful tool and it can either help or hinder us. It is the key to flourishing and living an optimum life.
“The mind is a powerful force. It can enslave us or empower us. It can plunge us into the depths of misery or take us to the heights of ecstasy. Learn to use the power wisely.”
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
Do you accept all your thoughts as being reality?
Do you wrestle with your thoughts, seek to repress or replace them or do you seek to accept them and de-fuse them?
What thoughts do you have that don’t help you create the life you want?
What thoughts do you have that do help you create the meaningful life you want?
How can you encourage more of these positive thoughts?
How do my thoughts, words and daily actions have an impact on the planet we share?
“A person’s mind is so powerful. We can invent, create, experience, and destroy things with thoughts alone.” Anonymous
If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are some links to get you started: