How do you distinguish between what is truth and what is your perception?
Imagine this scenario: a person you know across the road doesn’t respond when you shout over to them and wave. How does this make you feel?
The responses can vary hugely.
Have I done something to upset them? Queue rumination about what you may have done to upset them, ticker taping 1000 scenarios through your mind.
They couldn’t be bothered to stop and talk to me. Queue embarrassment that they ignored you, followed by anger that they made you feel stupid in the street.
They were rushing to get somewhere and simply didn’t see me. Hey ho, move on and don’t give it another thought.
Depending on what sort of person you are, how you are feeling on that day and how your past experiences have shaped you, will affect how you respond to a situation.
‘The mind’s running commentary on the world is like a rumour. It might be true, it might only be partially true – or it might be completely wrong. Unfortunately the mind often finds it very difficult to detect the difference between fact and fiction once it has begun to construct a mental model of the world’.
Mindfulness: a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World (Mark Williams and Danny Penman).
So how can we deal with this? Especially if our minds are preconditioned to taking us down negative thought patterns.
Unhooking from the autopilot of thoughts
Using our breathing as an anchor to return to when difficult thoughts arise – becoming aware, letting go of them and returning our attention to the breath over and over can help to break the negative thought patterns spiralling out of control.
Observing our thoughts
We can visualise watching our thoughts as they pass through our mind, choosing not to follow them down the path the mind would like to take us down. We can view our thoughts in different ways – like clouds in the sky or leaves on a stream – we watch and let them float on by. Or we could be the observers on a platform at the train station. As we stand on the platform, we decide if we want to get on a particular train of thought, or just let it pass on through. We don’t have to step on if we don’t want to, we have that choice.
Being with our thoughts
Resisting difficult thoughts does not make them go away. If you try not to think about something, how many times does it pop back up into your mind?
By observing the thoughts with gentle curiosity, by asking ourselves ‘what is this?’, by allowing whatever arises to just be there, breathing into the experience as it arises and dissolves in the mind – can disempower it’s potency. We can allow ourselves to feel whatever arises with gentleness and self compassion, saying to ourselves as difficult thoughts arise ‘it’s ok, it’s ok to feel this way’, breathing and allowing it to pass.
It is always wise to take it slowly and carefully when approaching this kind of practice, maybe do it with somebody if approaching issues of difficulty. The most important thing is for you to create an environment where you feel calm and safe.
All these practices give us the space to observe, and from observation new kinds of thinking can occur. By listening to our minds, becoming familiar with our own thought patterns we can recognise and approach unhelpful mood patterns with more understanding, helping us to manage them more effectively.
My trusted journal
How I deal with negative thoughts:
- Pause before jumping into the habitual thinking patterns.
- Question what’s going on – is there another way of seeing this, does this fit with the facts, how could I approach this differently?
- Write down thoughts and feelings – allowing the pause to reflect on the meaning.
- Use one of the exercises above to reduce the hold thoughts have over the mind.
- Remember that thoughts aren’t facts!