Thoughts and Thinking – not the same thing

Thoughts can control you—If you think you cant do something you don’t do it and if someone questions you about the fact that you don’t do something that might indicate that they think you don’t do it because you cant --- them thinking that of you confirms your own self doubt so that even if you were then thinking of trying whatever it was you don’t because you feel that others “Know” you cant do it.

That complex mesh shows a little of how we interact with and affect each other with very little verbal interaction.

We act on our own thoughts but we also act on what we think others are thinking too—though we cannot be sure what we think they think is actually what they think


In fact the whole scene there described is an example of how thoughts control actions and affect  beliefs.. I have spoken of the link between thoughts beliefs and actions.

What I want to look at now is how we can, individually, use that knowledge.

In mindfulness we notice that “We are not our thoughts” and for some that comes as a shock. Some people think that their thoughts  are factual pieces of information and self generated guidance , this is the confusion because what they are describing are the products of the thinking process. These are two different things.

Thoughts are randomly generated by the brain, some can be classed as ideas, some are speculative the “What if ‘s and Why not’s” while others are tests.

Ideas come about from the processing of information held in the mind  by the subconscious  which creates millions of random links which from time to time come out as inspirational ideas. Other thoughts are conjectures more questioning than suggesting  the “what would it be like if-----“ type thoughts.

The testing thoughts are the scary ones, until you understand their purpose. When a thought comes to you ”Push X over that cliff” you feel worried that your own mind is telling you to do terrible things. What is happening there is that the mind is running a system check, it knows the boundaries within which you operate--- it knows what in normal circumstances you will and will not do. 

From time to time the mind wants to check that the boundaries are still there, that you have not changed what you will do, how far you will go--- so it throws up a suggestion that it feels should  cause a reaction. When that flash of horror runs through you the mind is satisfied that all is well but if you responded by saying something unusual like “ How would I do that or would  I get caught?” The mind knows that something has upset the normal state and that it needs to re-evaluate you, to help you be you. That’s why, if you get a worrying thought that catches you off guard  such as when you are under stress you might not react as quickly to dispel it—so the system then throws up a few more thoughts so that it can gauge if something has changed or if it is just a blip caused by your stress levels.  

If you then start to worry about those thoughts the mind knows that essentially you are still the person you were but that you are suffering, for example, from stress.

Your mind may try to help; this is the “Doing mode” the “see a problem solve it”  way of being. It is not unusual for your mind ( which always tries to help you) to get things wrong. That is why Mindfulness is useful. If you can recognise the signs of that process you can slow it  down, find a point of stillness and then set off on the correct course. That is the “being mode” the one that recognising that  dashing in is not always the best option and goes a step further and recognises that there are several  ways of dealing with a situation and a period of calm reflection will often allow those inspirational thoughts to come through and provide otherwise unthought-of of answers. This is where thinking comes into the equation

Sorry if this reads as heavy and cumbersome, it may be worth going back through it again to get the focus of what I am saying.

 Preconceptions that we have about how our mind works can limit  us and lead us to wrong conclusions . The mind is not infallible, it has lots of checks and balances that will keep us safe if we allow them to operate, sometimes we sabotage our own systems by over thinking things.

Blocking unwelcome thoughts is a mistake, acknowledging them, letting them just sit quietly on the side lines, bothering no one or else facing them  and  alternatively dealing with them are all possible ways to progress. Blocking them leaves them unresolved so that they keep coming back until  you actively notice them.

A common thread of unwelcome thought starts with “If only I had done XXX instead ofYYY” ----If you get that and just push it away, saying “Im not going to think about that” it sits and festers, it grows and seems to become a valid thought—simply because you are not dealing with it in any way.

This is where you have a load of choices: you might say , “whats done is done”, or you might say “if I had done YYY can I be sure the outcome would have been different” or you could say “yes from where I am now that would have been a better option”. The point is that your mind works to keep you safe, it gives you the best option at the time based on the information available. No matter what the outcome you did the best in the circumstances. Others may say that they would have done things differently but you were the one on the spot not them, who knows how they would have actually performed in your place—hindsight makes us all look clever.

So are we recognising now that by using various different ways of thinking we can  discover more  and better options? Are we recognising that  in claiming responsibility for our actions we are only ever part of a jigsaw of events, situations and progressions so that what we do or do not do is influenced by our thoughts and the thoughts (as much as the actions) of those around us.

Choices  are how we take control, the more choices we have the more tools we have. Being able to recognise  that not taking action in some situations is the most effective way of allowing a situation to resolve.

Our obsession with Doing gets in the way of just Being and just Being is for what we were put here. That is not a passive state it is one of openness, flexibility, alertness, awareness, it is so much more powerful than conventional thinking  allows us to realise---- try it and see.

If you struggle with this a mindfulness course might be a good choice right now. Contact me for details of courses near you

1234© Martin Williams 2015