Don’t believe everything you think

We are now living in the age of post-truth politics. However, many of us have been living in the world of post-truth thinking without even realising, perhaps for many years.

As 2018 comes to an end, you may have spent some time reflecting on your successes, the mistakes you’ve made and what you’ve learned this year. 

“I haven’t worked hard enough…”

“I should have spent more time with my friends and family…”

“I should be slimmer …”

“I didn’t earn enough…”

Are any of these familiar? Have you found that one thought leads to another which leads to another until you’re convinced that absolutely nothing has gone well for you this year at all?

It is easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of “should”s and “enough”s or, put simply, to get caught up in judgements. We judge ourselves, we judge others and we even create judgements based on what we think others are thinking about us. These judgements are typically critical and harsh; they cause tension in our bodies and bring our moods down. They can lead to impulsive actions, such as reaching for another chocolate or buying something in the sales that we don’t actually need.

If any (or all) of this rings true for you, I’m glad to say that there is another way to handle these judgements which involves bringing curiosity and kindness to our experience over three steps:

Mindfulness: bringing curiosity and kindness to our experience

Notice judgmental thoughts

Firstly, we need to notice the judgemental thought (e.g. “I am so fat”), hopefully before the whirlwind gathers pace. However, noticing the whirlwind itself is still a big win, so there is no need to give yourself a hard time if you don’t pick up on the thought as soon as it arises. The aim is to notice it as soon as you can.

Explore the impact of those thoughts

The moment of seeing the thought is your moment of awareness: that’s when you can explore the impact this thought is having on you. You can come into the body and feel what’s going on – in particular, bringing awareness to any areas of the body that have contracted (e.g. your shoulders may be hunched or there may be tension in your stomach). You can register the emotions that are here and bring awareness to how they are showing themselves (e.g. feelings of hopelessness which show as a hollowness in the stomach or annoyance at yourself which may be a tension in the eyebrows). You can explore any other thoughts that are here, tangled up with the first one that you noticed, observing them as part of your experience. You will also see any urges that are either sneaking in or screaming at you (e.g. eating something sugary in a bid to make yourself feel better and fill the hollowness in the stomach).

Make a conscious decision

Now that you are aware of your full experience, you have a true choice about what you do next. You are able to make a conscious decision as to whether you follow your impulsive urge or perhaps choose a different option (e.g. walk out of the kitchen and chat to a friend or do some exercise).

It’s that simple: Notice… Explore… Choose

And yet the difficult thing may be to remember to catch that initial judgemental thought. One way to teach yourself to do this is to develop a mindfulness meditation practice which trains your attention to be in the present moment with non-judgement and kindness. The more meditation practice we do, the more likely it is that we’ll notice these judgemental whirlwinds when we’re not meditating.

In addition to learning to notice our thoughts as they occur, by exploring thinking and the thought process during our meditation practice, we realise that thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are just one element of our experience, no matter how compelling we find them. This is such a fundamental truth that I shall repeat it:

Thoughts are not facts.

Remembering this when we are not meditating, truly knowing it, can save us from the whirlwind, from ruminating, from getting caught up in judgements and beating ourselves up. We learn that we can bring kindness and compassion to these moments. Our mindfulness practice teaches us how to create grace and space to relate to the situation from a different perspective.

So as you reflect on 2018 and set your resolutions for 2019, I invite you to hold your thoughts lightly. Just because you think it doesn’t make it true.

If one of your resolutions is to learn more about mindfulness, and if you can be in central London on Monday evenings, you may want to consider coming to my next mindfulness course.

Wishing you a gracious and spacious year-end and new year.

Helping you thrive amidst change and uncertainty

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