The human mind is constantly processing the world around it. Each day is a non-stop barrage of thoughts, questions, and observations. If all of these thoughts were empowering, non-stop thinking wouldn’t be an issue! But far too often, thoughts lead you astray, bring you down, or obstruct your ability to do things that you care about. You can’t always control when these thoughts will surface. But you can develop strategies for responding to them in a way that doesn’t bring you down. The fundamental truth that gives you these powers is that your thoughts are not always true, so you don’t have to believe them.
Many types of thoughts prevent you from living your best life.
- Fearful thoughts narrow your thinking and prevent you from taking action.
- Stressful thoughts create discomfort in the present moment.
- Anxious thoughts create unpleasant feelings about the future.
- Distracting thoughts pull your attention away from things that matter to you.
Don’t Believe Everything You Think
While it’s true that you experience each of your thoughts, they don’t always represent what’s true about the world. Most of the time, your thoughts are just a story you tell yourself to make sense of the world. It’s all based on your interpretation of the world around you. Not some universal truth about reality.
But when you hold on to your thoughts as if they are the utmost truth, unpleasant feelings are sure to follow. To avoid this scenario, you can equip yourself with the tools to deal with these thoughts more effectively.
Suffering is Optional — Strategies to Let Go
Some thoughts appear in an instant. Others are reoccurring, and represent a longer-standing narrative in your mind. Some thoughts appear in an instant. Others are reoccurring, and represent a longer-standing narrative in your mind. Given the differing nature of thoughts, it’s helpful to equip yourself with multiple strategies to process them.
1) Let Go of Temporary Thoughts in the Moment
One minute you might be feeling down about a challenge at work, and the next minute you’re laughing at the joke of a friend. Examples like this highlight how all thoughts, and their respective mental states, are temporary. Examples like this highlight how all thoughts, and their respective mental states, are temporary. One strategy to do this is called Mental Noting. It’s a technique derived from insight meditation. With Mental Noting, you gently “note” thoughts or sensations as they arise in your mind by giving them a simple 1-word descriptor. (e.g. warm, tense, anger, etc.) You aren’t pinning the thought down or pushing it away. Instead, you’re lightly acknowledging its presence so you can let it pass by.
Noting what arises in your mind has a host of benefits. It helps you stay present and see the contents of your consciousness more clearly. This creates space between you and the thoughts you experience, which gives you more power to act with intention.
How to put “Noting” into Action
- Observe what arises in your mind, be it a thought or sensation.
- Note the thought with gentle curiosity, giving it a one-word descriptor. (Along the lines of, “Ah, I see: Fear.”)
- Let it pass by. Resist the urge to latch on to the thought or feeling. In time, it will fade as the predominant sensation, and you can let it pass by.
2) Let Go of Recurring Narratives
Everyone experiences recurring thoughts that create dissatisfaction at some point in time. Oftentimes, these are “should” thoughts. (e.g. “The world should be different,” or “My significant other should act in a different way.”) Thoughts like these are persistent. It can feel like your mind is a broken record, coming back to this stressful thought over and over again. “The Work” of Byron Katie is a process of inquiry that helps you identify and question the thoughts that cause you the most suffering. The gist of The Work is simple: Believing your thoughts often leads to suffering. This means suffering is optional because your thoughts are not always true. You can choose not to get swept away by your thoughts. So, What Actually is The Work?
Part 1: Four Questions of Inquiry
Start by locating a thought that is causing you suffering in some way. When you’ve identified a thought that creates suffering for you, proceed with the following four questions:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to question 3.)
As we addressed previously, most thoughts are just stories. They aren’t universal truths of the world. This question forces you to consider that reality in a specific context.
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
You might feel insistent that this thought is true! If it really does feel true at first glance, inquire again. Can you really know that it’s true? Be honest with yourself.
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Examine what you do to yourself by choosing to hold on to and believe the thought. Does the thought create peace or stress? What emotions and physical sensations arise when you believe this thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
Consider what it would be like if you let go of this thought that brings you down. How would you feel?
Part 2: Three Turnarounds
The Turnarounds help reveal the contradictory nature of our stories about other people, and how our judgments are also true, or truer for ourselves. Understanding this makes it easier to let go of these disempowering thoughts. There are three types of turnarounds: to myself, to the other, and to the opposite. For the sake of example, let’s say you were feeling upset with your friend Jane and had the thought “Jane should be nicer to me.” Now, turning that statement around in three ways:
- To myself: “I should be nicer to myself.”
How often do you get down on yourself, criticize yourself, and prevent yourself from being happy?
- To the other: “I should be nicer to Jane.”
How often do you react to Jane’s actions in a way that isn’t kind?
- To the opposite: “Jane should not be nicer to me.”
Might you have acted in a way that makes it reasonable to understand Jane’s actions?
Seeing that the thoughts which cause you suffering are not the truth helps you let go of them, so you can focus instead on loving what is.
See Your Thoughts for What They Are
All thoughts are temporary, and most of them aren’t universally true. Although this can seem sad or uncomfortable, in reality, it’s empowering. This principle gives you the power to take control of how you respond to your thoughts as you go through life. It helps you let go of thoughts that bring you down, so you can cultivate greater peace and joy. Start by noting thoughts and feelings with gentle curiosity as they arise. And when you find yourself face-to-face with more intense thought or interpersonal conflict, use The Work to see more clearly. When you stop believing everything you think, you give yourself the opportunity to be more proactive and live the life you want to live.
Article Credit: https://mindfulambition.net/suffering-is-optional/