Our thoughts are an almost constant distraction to the present moment. We experience our thoughts as real and automatic; they just pop into our minds and quickly become the focus of our attention, distracting us from what we are doing or what is happening around us at any given moment.
When you look at it by the numbers, it’s not surprising that so many of us are easily distracted. We have, on average, 60,000 thoughts a day! And 95 percent of those thoughts are repeated daily. Of those habitual thoughts, 80 percent of them are negative. This does not equate to focus or happiness.
Most of our habitual thoughts form a pattern that helps us navigate the daily demands of life. We each have our favorite ways and thought patterns to manage daily annoyances and life circumstances. Some common favorites: worried thoughts, feeling chronically annoyed with people or circumstances, or feeling victimized — “why me?”
But the real question should be: “Are you willing to change your own thought habits?” When we meditate, we have the opportunity to experience our thoughts as passing events. We learn to distance ourselves from the content of the thought and simply observe it as it is happening, allowing it to pass. This helps us to develop a vital skill — the ability to question our own thinking.
Give it a try. When you find yourself facing a challenging circumstance, step back from your negative thoughts and call them what they are — thinking habits. Acknowledge that you’re feeling stressed, and allow the thoughts to pass. If the negative thoughts are coming quickly, you are likely feeling anxious. Take some deep breaths and practice a brief meditation. Or simply ask yourself, “I wonder what my next thought will be?” This will allow you to slow down your thinking and create pauses between thoughts.
Get to know your thought patterns. Ask yourself: “When I walk into any new situation, do I see opportunity or threat?” If you see situations in a negative thought pattern, you can work on becoming more optimistic. With effort, it really is possible. The first step is being willing to question your own thinking and increasing your awareness about your patterns. In the Stress Free Now program
, we provide in-depth strategies for how to combat some of the toughest and most prevalent cognitive habits (e.g., worrying, striving for perfection, and complaining).
Remember, to feel more focused and positive about yourself, you must take a moment to pause, breathe and step back from the thoughts that feel emotionally charged. Then come back to what you’re doing and enjoy the present moment.