In today’s post we turn our attention to our thoughts. These are the narratives that run through our minds all day. Thoughts can be experienced in different ways. They can be the voice we hear in our mind, they can be memories,they can be an image, or they can manifest like a short video clip in our mind.
There are a few general themes that apply to thoughts. They tend to be more on the rational and logical side, but (and this is a very big but) not always. Like feelings, our thoughts are naturally temporary and tend to come and go as they please. However, it is easy to get stuck in a loop with certain thoughts playing on repeat in our minds. In the introduction to this series, we talked about control and how our thoughts fall somewhere in the middle of the control continuum. This is part of what makes thoughts so interesting and sometimes tricky. There are times when we can successfully redirect our thoughts away from something unpleasant or toward something pleasant. However, there are times when our thoughts are outside our control. This can be uncomfortable and overwhelming. As with feelings, it can help to remember that our thoughts cannot harm us. The only thing a thought can do to us is make us think the thought.
Another thing that makes thoughts complex is how they interact with our feelings and behaviors. Our thoughts can be strong influencers of how we feel. They tend to influence our feelings, but (another big one) sometimes can be influenced by feelings. They can also motivate us to take action or keep us from acting. However, these relationships can work in reverse as well. Sometimes, our emotions can influence what we think about.
There are a few common ways in which we can struggle with our thoughts. One is when we become fused with our thoughts. This occurs when we can’t see where we end and our thoughts begin. You are not your thoughts. This is related to another pitfall, which is believing that our thoughts are true. Just because you think it, doesn’t make it true.
Also, one of the big takeaways of this series is that many people do not know the difference between a feeling and a thought. To help with this confusion, I’ve posted a mindful emotion exercise here, and will be posting a thought-focused guided imagery here soon. One thing I appreciate about mindfulness-based interventions is that they are experiential. Rather than simply talking about what thoughts and feelings are, these exercises help to experience the difference between a thought and a feeling. In the final post of this series, we will focus on behaviors and more specifically, how to act in a valued direction.