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What Do You Think About What You Think About?

Thoughts from a recovering over-thinker.

(Stands up nervously and looks around the room. The chair makes an embarrassing squeak and everyone in the room turns to me. I cough and clear my throat.)


"Hi I'm Rik and....and....and.....I'm an over-thinker."


(The room erupts in applause at the incredible bravery of finally having the courage to admit this shameful secret.)


I've been in recovery now for several years, with the odd, inevitable relapse, but I'm slowly piecing my life back together after almost forty years of hardcore over-thinking.


Recovering from over-thinking is challenging though, because thoughts are still there, day and night. It's akin to a recovering alcoholic working in a pub. So, the real challenge is not the thoughts themselves but rather the relationship you have with those thoughts.


What I have had to learn to do is to understand my thoughts better and, in many ways, to give them less power and credibility.


One of the biggest breakthroughs I had was when I realised that my thoughts weren't important. That was a biggie. Having spent most of my life invested in the thinking process and taking my thoughts 'very seriously', this consideration was a considerable blow. It's almost as bad as when some idiot tries to tell you that the tooth fairy doesn't exist.


When I embraced the idea that perhaps my thoughts weren't as important as I had always believed them to be, there was an immediate sense of levity. I investigated further.


I started to see how I gave everything in my world it's meaning. Objects, people, situations. All of it was just my thoughts about it, not the actual thing. So something as simple as my journal. It's just a book, just paper and card, essentially meaningless, apart from the meaning and importance that I give to it. My house, my dog, my car, my phone, my family, my friends, my job, my street, my neighbourhood. It is my thoughts about them which provides any meaning whatsoever.


So if the objects are just objects then where do my thoughts on these things come from, and why do we have them?


Essentially, we are just re-iterating the past and projecting it onto everything we experience. This is for good reason too, it's for our survival. We learn things through experience and then our minds use this experience to help us navigate our way in the world more efficiently and effectively. So for example, we understand how doors and door handles work and this helps us get in and out of places. If every time we got in a car we had to learn how to drive it from scratch, we wouldn't get very far physically and metaphorically.


So, the mind is great at learning things and then calling on that knowledge to help us function. But, the mind doesn't know the difference between doing this and doing the same with other experiences. So, it uses shortcuts and then projects past meaning onto new things, hoping that it's helpful, and sometimes it just isn't. It stops us experiencing the world fresh and new because it regurgitates previous knowledge.


Essentially, what we experience as our thoughts is just the past. The same goes for feelings and emotions. It is the past projected onto whatever we experience. So, in many ways, it could be said that all we experience is not for the reasons we 'think' it is. It is the past playing out, projected onto the present moment experience.


That is why thoughts are not as important as we believed they were. Over-thinking is a constant re-hashing of the past, then projected onto an unknown future. Is it any wonder we are often stressed, fearful and anxious?


So, just about the best thing I learnt to do was to understand that my thoughts didn't mean anything. That wasn't to say I wanted to get rid of them, or that I always wanted a clear mind. Rather, I became more tolerant of their presence and less discerning about the preference for either good or bad thoughts. I tried to treat them as more or less the same.


Of course, this sounds simple but isn't easy to do, as we are very attached to the meaning we have created for the things in our world. It takes daily practice to start to embody this. It takes vigilance to see where we are projecting thoughts, and therefore the past, onto situations.


But, the main thing for me was to start. Every day there are little victories, moments where I catch myself in the process of over-thinking and projecting thoughts onto something else, but in these moments where I become aware, a little bit more freedom and space opens up inside me. This steadily compounds to create momentum, confidence and conviction in lessening the grip and power of thoughts and indeed over-thinking.


Ironic and cliched as it sounds - there is no time like the present.

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