Thought Addiction: Don’t think about it too much

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We have thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of thoughts per day and 98% of them we probably had yesterday, mindfulness consultant Andy Hix writes. The same things go round and round in our minds: things we need to do, things we’re resentful or worried about, things we want to change about ourselves or others.

The sign of this repetition is that we tend to follow the same patterns of behavior, even when we don’t want to, when it comes to our work, our relationships, our eating and so on.

The reason that we get stuck in these patterns is that they are underpinned by ‘limiting beliefs’ – things we believe about ourselves, or the world that aren’t true.

A classic example is “I need to worry otherwise it will be more likely that things will go wrong.” It could be “If I don’t worry about money, I’ll get into debt.” Or, “If I don’t worry about my appraisal, I’ll make a mistake.” Or, “I need to worry about my children, in case something happens to them.”

Just like a cow chewing the grass, we think about it, swallow it, regurgitate, chew it again and repeat. Not only does it get in the way of enjoying life, it also has the opposite of the intended effect. If anything, worrying will make it more likely that something will go wrong because you become less creative, less proactive and less able to see things objectively. But it’s a kind of addiction; we feel we need to think about it.

Last year I worried about money far more than I did things to create more income for myself. But I kept thinking I needed to worry about it because otherwise I wouldn’t make myself do something about the problem.

I stopped worrying about money when I started to take daily action to generate income. Money started flowing again within a few weeks and I realised I didn’t need to worry, I needed to do something

‘Needing’ to think about things is one of the main things that stops people from being present. But if you take the ruthless position that most of your thoughts are a waste of time and energy, you are in a good position to start challenging them.

Take one of the main things that goes round and round in your head and write it down. Ask yourself, “What am I believing about this situation that might not be true? What would be the opposite of this belief? Might that be true? Is there anything I can actually do about this situation?”

When you’ve acknowledged that the thoughts you are having are pointless, it’s far easier to leave them alone and turn your attention back to the present moment, where all the action happens.

It’s important to do so patiently, kindly and repeatedly. Beating yourself up for having thoughts you don’t want will make you feel worse.

There’s a zen saying ‘Thoughts are the thoughts of the thoughtless.” Don’t think about it too much.

Andy Hix is director of zen at work, a London-based mindfulness consultancy. Get in touch with Andy for a free taster session at www.zenatwork.co.uk.

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