What is normal, and what is familiar? Experts estimate the average person is said to have about 60,0000 thoughts a day. It is said that a majority of the thoughts we have today are the same ones we had yesterday, and the day before that and so on. So, if I were to ask you, “Does your thinking express itself as a familiar habitual pattern, such as worrying or feeling stressed, agitated or keeping busy?” Do you have personal thinking that appears to define who you are, i.e. I’m an anxious person or I’m a worrier? Are your thoughts preventing you from feeling motivated? Do your emotions fluctuate throughout the day?
With so many thoughts that we think on a daily basis, it’s impossible to be aware of them all. But it’s the recurring thoughts which leaves an uncomfortable feeling, that deserves attention – not for their importance, but to point out the familiar pattern with which they seem to arise in our everyday thinking.
The brain likes familiarity and since we are also creatures of habit, daily worries or any other thoughts that we think repeatedly can start to create a pattern or recurring loop in our thinking. They start to feel like normal patterns of thought. Is being agitated, having excessive worrying or becoming continually stressed out over a prolonged period of time normal? The answer is no.
Since we are all uniquely different, so is our personal thinking. We will react to life’s circumstances in our own individual personal way; and this is exactly the same for how we respond and react to stress, agitation or any other state of mind we are in. We will create over time, our own individual habitual thinking pattern, based from our own personal experiences and circumstances. Can we notice our own patterns of thought arising within our self? If we can be aware of patterns we have created at some point in our lives, then we have the ability to create new ways of reacting and responding OR can we be comfortable ignoring the thinking altogether? Ignoring deep-rooted thoughts and patterns can create the space for new thinking to occur and lead to greater freedom and new opportunities.
Our mind still operates in many ways from survival instincts, e.g. the fight or flight response, but we can learn to override this system. We do however come with a few quirks:
The mind is always evaluating – even though we may not consciously be aware of this – if what we are thinking and seeing is real and a threat or a reward; physical responses from our thoughts are instantly felt in the body, this is an automatic response to our thinking. For example, a simple thought about a future scenario can activate feelings of anxiety or anger, thus triggering more thoughts, and create physical reactions within the body, e.g. we might start feeling our heart racing. Since all these thoughts create physical symptoms, the fear or the anger can escalate because it now feels very real.
So, what do we do about the stressed, busy mind? As little as possible. I know this may sound strange but the more we engage in our thinking when our mind becomes busy, the worse it seems to get. For some people, the simplistic route out of a busy mind is self-awareness; the point to remember is to be aware that in this moment we are not thinking straight.
In a car there is a temperature gauge regulator, if the engine gets too hot or another part malfunctions, a red light appears warning us to stop and take action. Similarly, in the body we have warning signals to alert us when the body is finding it hard to cope and needs to calm down. When we encounter extended periods of stress physically as well as mentally, its effects can be felt anywhere throughout the body such as fatigue, tiredness, agitation, or any other symptoms that cause discomfort. The problem and solution is that we have to be aware enough in ourselves to feel and notice our own warning system.
Fortunately, we don’t need any fancy equipment, one of many ways to check in with how we are doing is to be aware of what we are thinking and feeling. What is our body trying to tell us? For example, if you feel tired then try and rest, or take some time out, if you can. If you feel agitated then can you find a way to take this agitation of your mind? Take time in nature, go for a walk, turn your phone off for a while, listen to music, you know what works for you. The reason for taking time out is to allow ourselves to move from a state of confusion to a state of greater clarity. We can always think better when we have less on our mind, and it’s surprising that a stressful situation can often look very different when experienced from a different perspective.
Now for the good news:
As a little experiment, think about your day so far, how have you been feeling? Have you been feeling angry, sad, anxious, excited or happy?
In a given day it is quite normal and natural for the mind to fluctuate through different states from sadness to joy and everything in between.
Think of these states of mind as clouds that come and go, sometimes we have rain clouds and storms, sometimes the sun may be shining without a cloud in the sky.
When we become attached, either consciously or unconsciously, to any particular thinking or feeling states, believing it to be normal, we can start to live in this feeling, day after day after day. We can get so used to being in this mind state and it can become so familiar that we really believe that it is part of our character or identity (i.e. “I am a worrier”). With this familiarity of thought we can easily forget that:
Imagine for just a minute that you can see yourself wanting to do something, you’re really excited and feel so alive, but whatever you would like to do creates anxiety and stress within you that stops you from doing it. Now can you imagine what it would be like to still have the anxiety thoughts, but this time the thoughts don’t cripple you with fear, you choose not to listen to what your head is saying, in fact you almost feel comfortable within yourself. Now you feel the freedom and do the things you wanted to do, you feel the joy and gain confidence in yourself and it makes you feel alive.
Substitute the above situation with whatever is happening in your life and imagine being able to accomplish what you want, you may still hear the voice of negativity but allow yourself the freedom to not react to whatever your head is saying. You feel stronger in yourself and able to pursue your dreams. Your imagination can and will become your reality if you choose it to be.
In my life and for many years, I listened to my inner critique and believed it. I adopted negative beliefs, these thoughts became my habitual thinking. Without question my body language and behaviour mirrored what I was thinking. In all the years of dedicated listening and believing that voice in my head, I never realised that I had a choice, a choice to not listen, a choice to not trust what felt so real to me at the time. This new-found freedom to choose not to listen hasn’t stopped the talking in my head, but I hear it more as background noises these days. Am I still reactive to my thoughts and beliefs, of course yes, but the difference now, is that I don’t feel trapped by what my thinking wants me to believe.
Is your thinking normal, that’s most definitely a wrong question to ask. Have you had enough of feeling a certain way? Are you feeling motivated to do something about it? Can you change your thinking?
With practice you will learn to regain who you really are and have more freedom of choice: to choose not to be frightened of those negative nagging thoughts. Once we gain awareness, it is like shinning a light in the dark, we start to become awake to ourselves, we start to question our actions, our beliefs, we start to move from a state of tension (such as anger, anxiousness, sadness and so on) to a state of calmness and joy of being connected with our own self.
If you would like to find out more or explore your own patterns of habitual thinking, please do get in touch.