You Are Not Your Thoughts

Man looking glum in black and white

The medical profession isn’t one for the faint of heart. Whilst the rewards – especially on a personal, emotional level – are unlike anything else, it’s also a profession that’s rife with stress, constant demand, a sense of overbearing responsibility and the feeling that you’re only ever two steps away from total burnout.

That’s why I do what I do.

The destructive influence of stress and burnout can’t be overstated. Both professionally and privately, they can lead to utter despair.

Helping those dedicated to this noble profession protect themselves from such a fate involves overcoming limiting mindsets – the thoughts and beliefs that allow stress to thrive, as the life you’d hoped to build for yourself  drifts further and further into the distance.

And I find that one simple truth often helps make great breakthroughs in this regard.

So I’d like to share it with you.

That truth is: The thoughts you have in your head are just that – thoughts.

Thoughts are merely an activity of your mind; questions and answers it constantly engages in.

When you’re in a good mood, these tend to be good questions leading to positive answers and thoughts. When you’re in a bad mood, bad questions, negative answers and discordant thoughts raise themselves instead. It can be as simple as that.

When you have bad thoughts, they can generate a bad mood – sending you into a self-feeding loop of negativity that sees poor thoughts nourish the bad mood, and vice versa, continuously.

It’s estimated that we generate somewhere between 20,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day, and over 90% of these thoughts are the same repetitive thoughts we have for most of our lives.

Let’s say we have an average of 50,000 thoughts a day. That’s 18 million a year. Scale it up and it’s 720 million after 40 years, or 1.3 billion thoughts in an average life expectancy.

We’re bombarded with thoughts – so it’s no wonder we identify with them from a very early age. This identification grows stronger and stronger, until it becomes a core part of us and we think we are our thoughts.

But here’s a bit of reality for you: Thoughts are like your hand, or your eye – a part of you, natural and connected. And yet you are not your hand, are you? Your hand is a part of you, but it isn’t the real you, the whole you. If you were to lose your hand, are you still the real you? Of course!

You’re still you, but missing one hand.

Thoughts are useful for solving problems, tackling tasks and puzzles, and for engaging creativity – but they aren’t useful for identity. Thoughts could be looked upon like a hammer. You use a hammer to hit a nail – to solve that problem – but we don’t carry a hammer everywhere we go. It doesn’t make any sense to do so – and if we do, we end up tempted to use it for all sorts of unsuitable applications.

Thoughts are exactly the same – useful for interpreting, completing tasks and solving puzzles, but not for constantly defining us. Your thoughts do not determine who you are, what you should do, or what lies ahead.

To help you adjust your perception when it comes to thoughts and identity, here are a few exercises I recommend you try…

1. The Camera’s Eye

This particular exercise is great for people who have racing thoughts – often leading to anxiety, depression and restlessness.

Sit in a room, quietly, and place a camera in one corner. Take a few steady breaths and let yourself relax as much as possible. Imagine watching yourself from the viewpoint of the camera. Look at your feet, your legs, your arms, and your chest.

Now look at your head. Look at your mouth, ears and eyes. Zoom in further… further… and then go inside your head and look at your thoughts. Keep watching your thoughts, letting them play out in front of the camera.

As you concentrate on this, your racing thoughts will focus, slow down, and eventually disappear. Those worrying, annoying, negative, low self esteem thoughts will slowly vanish as your film unfolds.

Why is this? It’s because you are shining your awareness on yourself. Your presence will outshine those worrisome thoughts of external concerns, making you feel more calm, more relaxed. This is the beginning of true self-identification. Keep it up, and you will come to the realisation that you are not your thoughts or thinking process. They are merely tools, just like the hammer.

If this sounds a bit like meditation, that’s because it is indeed a form of that. Depending on your aptitude for such a thing, it can take some practice before you get into the swing of it. Not all of us find this kind of visualisation to be an easy feat – but hey, when you’re looking for big results, you need big effort. So stick with it.

2. Thought Spectacles

Slap on your ‘thought spectacles’. These are imaginary glasses you place at the back of your head which allow you to see straight through to your thoughts.

Wait… what?

Alright, hear me out on this one.

Imagine sticking a pair of glasses or goggles on the back of your head. Now imagine that if you were to look through them, you’d see your thoughts – you could observe them, monitor them, once you take up position and look through these special glasses.

But you can’t see right the way through to the external reality that your actual eyes perceive, because just behind your eyes there’s a brick wall. There’s no through road here, my friend!

Your thought spectacles view your thoughts, and your eyes view reality. This way, your active vision, metaphorically, cannot turn inwards to what’s going on inside your head.

This separation is a good way of monitoring your thoughts while you socialise and interact with other people. If you’re the kind of person who gets caught up in introspection within social environments, doing this will help draw you out of your thoughts and into the moment.

When that brick wall forces you to choose between sitting behind yourself or sitting up front with what’s actually going on around you, you’ll soon become less reactive, and find yourself being more proactive in the here and now – dealing with the present situation instead of trying to untangle the unrelated thoughts floating around in your head.

I use the thought spectacles technique when I’m with my children. It keeps me in a proactive mode, and keeps the experience playful, spontaneous, more aware, and more caring.

3. Get Creative

Get creative and draw the thoughts you have. This is a good way of reducing any spinning thoughts in your head – thoughts that could spiral out of control and result in anxious behaviour or emotions.

Grab a pencil and paper and just draw whatever flows out of you onto the page. If you can’t draw, then write down your thoughts instead.

Make them visual, external, corporeal, and you will reduce their effect on you.

 

As I mentioned earlier, not all of these techniques will come easily. As you well know, it takes dedication and practice to make perfect – but the end result is more than worth it.

If you’ve been dealing with the effects of burnout, watching your professional and personal lives suffer and needing help to bring your life back to your own terms, just click here to contact me and arrange a call. I’d be thrilled to assist.

Peace, love and light to you.

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