Why negative thinking is not who you are.
I’d like to start with this quote from Amit Ray. “You are not your thoughts; you are the observer of your thoughts.”
It’s very easy to get caught up in the mental chit chat of our busy minds. So often we confuse our thoughts with who we are. It can be hard to take a step back and observe them objectively as an impartial observer, as a witness. As the quote says, you are not your thoughts, thoughts are in fact a reflection of an experience that has been stored in the mind. In yoga physiology we call these ‘samskaras’ they are the impressions of your mind.
I’m sure you have experienced, how a thought can evoke an emotion. And this emotion has triggered a reaction that you feel physically in your body or emotionally. Let’s say an emotion is triggered from a difficult conversation or perhaps something you’ve watched or read in the news. Depending on your mindset, there’s a tendency for your mind to lead you to the worse-case scenario, prompting irrational thoughts.
Learning how to disentangle yourself from your thoughts is essential for finding your inner peace and happiness in life. In this article we’ll explore strategies to be more comfortable with your thoughts and create more freedom in your life.
A thought is something physical that lives within the prefrontal cortex of your brain. This is also the area of your brain that is responsible for your personality, social behaviour, your planning and decision making.
Everything that you experience in life, every conversation or observation that allows you to make any decision, to think, feel or want creates a response that is put into the brain by the mind. This creates an electromagnetic response, and as soon as your brain receives this response, proteins are created. It is these proteins that cluster together and grow into ‘trees’. The data stored becomes a memory (Samskara) which sits in the hippocampus area of your brain.
In yoga physiology we call this memory bank, ‘Chitta,’ the storehouse for all your Samskaras. The impressions can live in your memory warehouse for a very long time. In fact, the ancient Yogis believe they can be carried through many lifetimes. All your interpretations of the world stem from your personal, past experiences, that are drawn from your “Chitta” memory bank.
Understanding your thoughts.
Typically we have around 6,000 thoughts per day. Depending on where you get your data from, up to 95% of these thoughts are repetitive, often the same thoughts as the day before.
Through my studies and meditation practice, I’ve learnt a lot about my thoughts. What is evident to me is that we’re very good at playing out the same scenario in our mind about past and future events.
Your thinking mind will over analyse past events, and it will create fantasies about the outcome of what may or may not happen in the future. We all do this. The thing to remember is, you don’t know how future events are going to unfold. It’s good to remind yourself of this when you get caught up in this mental pattern. The only thing you can control is what is happening right now. In the present moment.
I believe meditation is the most effective practice to observe, understand, and explore your thoughts in a way that there is no judgement or attachment.
Monitor Your Negative Thought Patterns.
“When you plant a seed of thought, and then water that thought, it gives it power. It begins to grow, and the thought can become your reality.”
I think this really highlights how powerful the mind is.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the thinking mind, and be taken down a thought path that creates your own reality. Ram and I refer this as ‘creating your own movie.’
When you’re stuck on a continuous path of negative thinking, it can lead to feeling anxiety, stress, depression, and a general feeling of unhappiness.
The results in a poll of 2,000 adults showed that 37% believed that negative thinking hindered their progress to achieve their goals. And they allow their thoughts to be their own worst enemy. Sound familiar?
Identify Your Self-Talk Triggers.
I really found the statistics in the survey about ‘negative self-talk’ quite disturbing; 34% of respondents felt they were letting themselves down, “I’m not good enough.” And 32% of respondents were worrying about disappointing others.
Self-talk has a powerful influence on how you view and interact within your environment. The thing is, you may not be aware that you’re talking negatively to yourself because it often happens on a subconscious level. A lot of self-judgement is inherent from previous learned experiences and trauma from our childhood. Passed from our parents, the interactions with teachers, friends, colleagues and all the stimulus we see and hear around us.
Through meditation and other yogic practices I’ve spent a lot of time digging to understand my triggers, looking at how I speak to myself, and my self-sacrificing behaviours. This inner enquiry has brought a lot of things up for me. But I found real benefit in talking to a professional psychologist to help me understand where a lot of these deep-rooted triggers came from. I’d like to say you can free yourself from negative thinking and self-talk, for me it’s a work in progress.
Next time you hear your inner critic rising…
Take a breath. Look at the ‘movie’ you are telling yourself and ask;
What is this about?
Why do I feel this?
Where does this come from?
Is it serving me?
Focus on the positives about yourself. Say thank you and accept gratitude when someone pays you a complement or shows appreciation towards you. Treat yourself with the love, kindness, and the compassion you would give to others.
Planting seeds of positivity.
A wonderful way to plant the seed of positivity is through the practice of ‘gratitude‘ or mentally repeating positive affirmations. Taking time each day to reflect on the things you’re thankful for can also help to increase your overall well-being and zest for life.
Many studies over the last decade have shown that people who consciously count their blessings tend to live a happier life.
Before you go to sleep, spend a moment to draw on the positives in your life. Express gratitude for the different interactions you’ve had throughout the day.
Just like an affirmation, a Sankalpa can also be used in daily life. A Sankalpa is a short positive present tense statement that you repeat mentally to yourself during the practice of Yoga Nidra. It is an incredibly powerful tool that helps to support inner and outer change. Often, we develop a Sankalpa around something we would like to happen or how we would like to feel. It is always worded as a short, positive sentence, e.g. “I will be in good health,” or I am happy and healthy.”
Meditation is about developing awareness, particularly self-awareness. Despite what you may think, meditation does not require you to switch off or suppress your thoughts. Rather through self-enquiry practices like Antar Mouna (Inner Silence Meditation) you are encouraged to observe and understand your thoughts and their origins.
With this meditation you look a little deeper at the different aspects of your life, through a different lens and without any attachment. In doing so you become more present and aware of the moment.
I like the reference which describes this mindfulness meditation as ‘remove the unwanted weeds in the mind.’ This is where you sift through your thoughts, memories and clear out what no longer serves you.
But you have to dig deep to make sure you pull out the weed at the root! Because you know what happens when you don’t pull a weed out at the root, it grows back!
Practising Antar Mouna enables you to exhaust these unwanted thoughts and helps you to clear your mind. Once you remove these tensions of the mind you will begin to experience more energy. Your decision-making to come from a place of clarity. Life will start to take on a new dimension.
Access a free 10 minute mindfulness meditation practice by clicking this link.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like to read…
Discover the power of Sankalpa in your daily life.
How to deal with difficult emotions as they arise.