Close your eyes and try to stop thinking. Go on, try to think of nothing. Notice what happens….your thinking intensifies doesn’t it? Welcome to your mind! As humans, we are designed to think. A lot.
Why do we think? Well, our brains are composed of about 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) interconnected by trillions of connections, called synapses. On average, each connection transmits about one signal per second. All we know is “somehow…that’s producing thought” says the Director of Neurotechnology at MIT Institute for brain research.
What do we think? Cognitive science is all about exposing that our thinking isn’t rational; our explanations are either expressions of gut reactions or justifications for our beliefs. Before we experience a conscious thought, non-conscious brain processes work behind the scenes in order to generate that thought. These non-conscious processes have been conditioned throughout the years by all our past experiences.
What does this mean? The bottom line is: humans are designed to think and our thoughts aren’t rational. This doesn’t mean that they are of no use to us. Rather what we can take from this is that our thoughts need not define us. Since our brain is malleable, we can remold it in a way that liberates us from destructive thought patterns and self-limiting beliefs. Meditation and mindfulness are tools which help us do just that. They are mind training techniques which, apart from reducing stress and a host of other benefits, help cultivate our attention and awareness. The first step is to simply pay attention to the running thought commentary which makes up our minds. To become an ‘observer’ of that incessant inner dialogue. This in itself is a big step, as many people don’t even realise that they are indeed stuck in this often destructive cycle of excessive thinking in the first place.
Try this out the next time you find your mind racing out of control:
- Bring your awareness to the non-stop thought commentary inside your head;
- Remind yourself that the thoughts are JUST thoughts. That they are not necessarily rational, nor based in reality (Side note: you are allowed to even laugh, as we often do, upon realising the ridiculousness of some of your thoughts);
- Then, without trying to push those thoughts away or stop them from arising, bring your awareness to all/one of your senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch);
- Each time you are back in the commentary, gently return your attention to your senses, without judgement.
After that process, if you feel like smiling, smile. If you feel like laughing, laugh. And if you feel like crying, cry! This is life. And as always, we are here for you should you wish to chat it out.