“It’s not a matter of letting go, you would if you could. Instead of ‘let it go,’ we should probably say ‘let it be.’” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn
What’s the expression? An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. With that in mind, I resolved to never have an idle mind. I was largely successful, unfortunately.
In retrospect, I do not recall a time when I wasn’t caught up in my thoughts. I come equipped with a narrator in my head – at no additional cost. This means my thoughts have a constant running commentary.
I tried ‘not thinking’ and that worked about as well as telling myself not to breathe – forever. What usually happened is I spent several agonizing minutes thinking about not thinking and how I could achieve a state of not-thinking. Yes, I was that bad.
This constant overthinking generally led to bad feelings.
For instance, if someone paid me a compliment (why paid?), I would talk myself into believing that I wasn’t deserving of it, or the person was just being nice, or they just wanted a compliment from me. Yikes!
Knowing that I was overthinking did little to help me and often left me feeling trapped. My active mind scared me. No really, it did. At any time, it could start up and completely unravel me. I often just wanted to shut the darn thing off and be at peace. I failed miserably at Yoga and meditation by the way.
I over-analyzed everything. Simple conversations would become unnecessarily intense and uncomfortable. I found hidden meanings in every innuendo. My thinking knew no limits. It would scrutinize the past, present, and future. On the plus side, my creative writing was awesome at times.
My overthinking wasn’t just a burden on me, people close to me would say things like:
“Get out of your head!”
“You don’t have to overthink EVERYTHING!”
“Why can’t you just be normal?”
And the coup de grâce…
“It must be exhausting to be you…”
It was exhausting because I was constantly at war with myself. War? No, not war exactly. More like a long-pitched battle over a patch of land that wasn’t strategically advantageous but desired by both sides nonetheless.
I wanted to think less so I learned to smother my thoughts (kind of like I did my emotions).
As a result, drama and bad relationships became my vices. They enabled me to co-exist with my manic mind. I became a victim of myself and was completely out of control. As an aside, I was a really awful person during this time, but karmic loopback is a real thing. My dues are paid.
I came to a new understanding about my thinking…while thinking about it. Oh irony, how I loathe thee!
My thought: Our thinking is separate from who we truly are.
We are NOT our thoughts. We have a constant stream of thoughts meandering through our minds. However, we get to choose those with which we engage. Your power lies within your choice. You decide to which thoughts you pay attention.
Consider this, if you’re able to observe the fact that you’re overthinking, then you’re already aware of the separation of you and your mind. It’s really that simple-ish.
Like anything new, it’s taken time and practice (read: consistency) for me to allow this understanding to really resonate and to notice the benefits, of which there are many:
I’m more accepting of what is. I no longer feel the need to intellectualize and/or judge every facet of my life (as often). And with that comes a real sense of ease.
I experience far more contentment. A busy mind often ends in a dark place if left untethered. By not engaging in the endless chatter, feelings of contentment have become a familiar friend.
I’m more empowered. Knowing that I can choose which thoughts to engage has removed any sense of victimhood I previously felt.
What I’ve realized is that I don’t have to stop thinking, I simply need to be selective about whether I believe my thinking. Because most of our thoughts are just stories we make up, often regretting the past or worrying about the future.
Most aren’t true. At all.
It is exhausting experiencing such intense emotion from one end of the scale to the other. Yet, it was all a result of my thinking. This flood of thoughts that invaded my mind each time something happened would always be there, but it was my choice whether I took them seriously or not. So, I started acknowledging their presence when they showed up, then I let them flow through me. If I felt that familiar knot of anxiety in my gut, I would remind myself that none of those thoughts were real.
The key is to only really listen to my thinking when it’s telling ‘nice’ stories. Stories that make me feel good. The rest of the time I try to either consciously change my thinking direction toward better feeling thoughts, or I just let my mind waffle on, without paying attention.
It’s a bit like having the radio on in the background. And when a song starts that I like, I pay attention.
I choose when to pay attention.