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Mindfully Observing our Thoughts: Engaging a Superpower

Working with clients daily who struggle with the endless, negative and unhelpful babbling that the mind often seems to have an abundance of, I am regularly guiding these individuals to engage in light-hearted, positive self-talk while trying out a superpower he or she might not know they possess - to be mentioned later. While exploring strategies for casting away this unhelpful chatter, we will often playfully brainstorm ways of reframing as much of the negative blather as possible and eventually find a way to flip the dissenting, obtrusive thoughts on their backs and kick them out of the door. Sounds simple...until they come back with their jagged, brain eroding teeth.

A courageous and effective first step to knocking these "little buggers" out of the park and out of your head is to simply observe them. Yes, it is really that simple...or is it? Knowing what you are up against is a helpful first step and here are a few common and tenacious thought patterns you might find yourself drifting into:

  • Catastrophizing—This is the mind’s “what if” game. It snowballs the worst-case scenario of the future with worried thoughts: What if this happens? What if that happens? These thoughts amplify anxiety and depression.

  • Blaming—This is a mind trap in which some uncomfortable feeling is expelled by holding ourselves responsible for another’s pain or holding others responsible for our pain. The problem here is that when you perceive the 
issue as lying outside of you, you give your power away to affect change.

  • Rehashing—This is when our thoughts reflect on past circumstances, going over them again and again, often in an effort to figure something out.

  • Rehearsing—This is the mind practicing some future event, playing through, again and again, the possible ways it may unfold.

Mindfully observing our thoughts not only helps us become more familiar with the way our minds automatically operate but also frees us from having these thoughts (the sharp-toothed, brain nibbling, obtrusive little buggers) take over our moment to moment existence. This observation superpower provides us the space to engage in being selective while choosing where we pay attention. The good news here is that when we practice observing our thoughts, we gain the strength to keep them in their place. This doesn't mean that our automatic thinking will disappear forever but like superheroes trying out a new superpower, the more we observe, the stronger these powers become and the more free we are to fly away into the realms of our own creation - the way we choose to see and experience the world around us.

Be well!


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