"Fish swim naturally in water. They don't 'know' they are under water, they just swim. Thinking is like this for human beings. Thoughts are our water. We are so immersed in them that we are hardly aware they are there. Swimming in our thoughts is our natural state. You can't take a fish out of water and expect it to live as a fish. But what would happen if the fish became aware of the water?" (From Steven Hayes, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life).
How many thoughts do you suppose your mind gives you each day? Hundreds? Thousands? Take a moment to imagine the implications of this. Hundreds - possibly thousands - of automatic, habitual, unchecked thoughts (including evaluations and judgments). Add to that feelings, sensations, action urges, and suddenly you have an entire sea of internal experiences!
Feeling overwhelmed? I've got your back! Let's break this down and start simple. If you want to become more aware of the thoughts you are swimming in, here are a couple of ways to get started:
1) Try writing down your thoughts as they move through your mind. Take a few minutes and write down as many thoughts as you can, as they occur. If you notice judgment thoughts (i.e., "I'm not doing this right"), write those down, too. Some people find this exercise helpful when their mind is particularly busy, affecting their ability to concentrate, make an important decision, or commit to a particular task. Putting thoughts to paper often calms the waters inside one's head, enhancing clarity and perspective. If your sense of humor is engaged and your mind is anything like mine, you might thank your mind for the amusement you feel!
2) Any time you feel your mood shift, ask yourself, "What just went through my mind? What am I telling myself right now?" It can be helpful to write these thoughts down, too. Stopping to identify the thought(s) affecting your mood can help you evaluate whether your thought is true, somewhat true, somewhat false, or completely false. Most of us are in the habit of "buying" our thoughts all day long (regardless of their degree of truthfulness). You might be under the impression that your mind is a truth-telling machine, only supplying you with accurate, well-balanced, truthful thoughts. Test it for yourself. Notice the thoughts that your mind is giving you. Experience the process of determining whether to "buy into" a particular thought or belief.
Ready for a swim? You've got this. Just notice, and observe what happens next.
For more related to this topic, visit https://www.mindful.org/how-to-practice-mindfulness/
For more "Just Notice" challenges, check back at www.DrSaraNett.com.