Caught up in thought

We often have no idea how much of our time we are caught up in our thoughts. Over the years, I spent a lot of my time in my head, caught up in thought patterns that occupied much of my day (and nights), never switching off, never getting off the train of these thoughts. And eventually I burnt out, my brain switched off for me and I had to start again. To find another way in order to heal and become well again. I had to leave my old way of being behind and find a new way.

We have no infrastructure in our society to teach us to check in, to see what’s going on inside and ultimately how to change it, if it’s not going well for us. But if we know where to look you can find, and indeed, learn a way. I didn’t initially know where to look but fortunately, with guidance, I found a path and that’s where mindfulness came in for me. I learnt that thoughts could be changed, rerouted, rewired to where I wanted them to go. I learnt that thoughts were not necessarily fact, that I didn’t have to believe everything my brain told me to be true.

Stuck in the groove

The brain seeks danger, it’s our survival mechanism. It doesn’t look for peace and equanimity, that hasn’t keep us alive since caveman times! So every worry, every stress, every negative thought is the one that the brain picks up on, chews arounds and spits out when it’s done analysing it. We let our thoughts play out where they choose to go. They lead us and we follow, with no idea that we can be in the driving seat, not our thoughts.

We have approximately 60,000 thoughts a day and many of these are repetitive. Think of a stuck vinyl record with a scratch in it. The needle gets stuck in the groove and repeats the same part of the song over and over again. Now think of our thoughts in the same way. The repetitive ones get stuck in a groove and we fall into that groove every time we slip into autopilot (automatic thinking rather than conscious thinking). And when these thoughts are negative, it creates an unhealthy environment for our brains to function in.

My 4 A’s

For me, this is where my four A’s come in. They have been a useful tool in helping me to halt negative thought patterns and reroute my way of thinking.

My first A is Awareness. I notice what’s going on, the busyness, the ticker-taping of thoughts as they run through my brain. And by doing this, I have stepped out of autopilot. I am aware. I have paused to take note of where I am.

I then Acknowledge, my second A. On pausing, I’m able to take stock of what’s here. And by acknowledging what’s here I can make a decision as to what to do next. Do I resist, ignore, grasp at or do I listen and Accept? (My third A).

And my final A is Action. With acceptance of what’s happening in this moment, where do I choose to go next? Where do I place myself and my thoughts in this next moment, and the next, and one after that?

Acceptance not apathy

Acceptance doesn’t mean an apathy to what’s going on, nor allowing the situation to take control. Acceptance of what is here, purely in this moment, allows for a softening. We don’t need to grasp or resist, we just need to accept that what is here, is only here for now and the next moment may bring something different.

Acceptance allows space and space allows us to choose where to go next rather than being dragged down the rabbit hole of our own minds. We take the action.

You have the choice

Do we choose to halt the flow of thoughts by bringing ourselves to this moment, through an anchor that works for us – our feet on the ground, our rhythmic breathing, the sound of birds in the trees?

Do we choose to recognise that the only moment we can affect is now, as the future has not happened yet and is therefore not here to affect? Just staying in this moment, knowing the only moment here is now, can help bring agency back over your thoughts.

Can we find an activity to move us out of this sticky thought pattern? A chat with a friend, doing some form of exercise (I find this particularly powerful in bringing me back to a point of focus), engaging in a hobby you enjoy that fully immerses you. Even the simple act of getting up and putting the kettle on can interrupt the thought pattern!

Sitting in the driving seat

When we recognise that we can choose, we no longer are the slaves to our thoughts, we are in the driving seat. We choose where to go, where we want to be.

Awareness – Acknowledgement – Acceptance – Action – my four A’s and a powerful tool that has allowed me to have agency over my own thoughts. And with this agency, I have begun to feel free.