I’m addicted to thinking.
And, my thoughts have the power to alter my entire worldview.
When I was in high-school, I was teased quite a bit for being small, prejudiced against for being Jewish, and ridiculed for being smart.
And so I resented all three of those “traits” about myself.
But not only did I dislike those qualities, I accepted the harassment. All I could think about for much of those four years was my insignificance. I was so shy and withdrawn that I rarely went to school functions for fear of being identified and called out.
And then I went to college and experienced the exact opposite.
One of the first days of school, a group of students in the dorm were milling around by the elevator debating where to go for dinner that evening. My room was right by the elevator, and the door was open. I very uncharacteristically shouted out to the group – none of whom I knew – where we should eat. And then even more out of character for me, I stood up and led the group to the venue.
I subsequently became the de facto “leader” of that dorm floor making “critical” decisions such as which electives we should be taking, fraternities to consider for pledging, and so forth.
I had never been a leader before and didn’t really know what that entailed – except that I never wanted to be treated the way I was in high school.
And that’s when it hit me.
The way I was treated in high school had less to do with what other people were saying about me, and much more to do with my thoughts about myself.
As Don Miguel Ruiz notes in The Four Agreements, “Nobody abuses us more than we abuse ourselves, and it is [our thoughts] that make us do this.”
I had never realized how much power my thoughts had. And while I didn’t have the capacity at that time to fully appreciate the significance, I felt some sense of liberation. Liberation because if it’s my thoughts that abuse me, I can easily change my thoughts whenever I want.
Attempting to simply “change your thoughts” is perhaps akin to stopping a hardened addiction. The moment we become conscious of our thoughts, we quickly slide back into the rapid stream of unconscious thinking.
And the challenge is that our thoughts determine our entire sense of wellbeing. As Ralph Waldo Emerson so astutely observed:
We become what we think about all day long.
So, if our thoughts determine our reality, and controlling our thoughts is hard, what can we do?
In my experience, three steps can help:
First, recognize that whenever I’m unhappy, it has nothing to do with anything other than my thoughts – which I control.
Second, I become the young kid in the dorm room and step up to lead my mind out of the unhelpful thought pattern into something more empowering.
And lastly, when I do slip back into unconscious, disempowered thinking, I try not to beat myself up over the lapse. Instead, I attempt to be gentle with myself, knowing that I’ll always have another chance to try again. In fact, right this moment!
So, whenever we find ourselves stuck in a stream of unhelpful thoughts, we can consider the practice above and realize that when we can control our thoughts, our lives become much more peaceful.
Join me in Monday’s class where we’ll explore the nature of thought addiction and how we can practice conscious thinking. I look forward to seeing you then.