During the entirety of my life, I’ve always had this ability to fall away into my thoughts. This was mostly when I was bored sitting on my bus ride to school, sitting in class, or about to fall asleep. I’ve always thought I had some special power; that I was able to think inside my head with such clarity, that I may be able to do it better than others.
When I sit inside my head, it’s like I am having a conversation with myself. However, the person on the other end has lots to say (even things that I myself didn’t even think of thinking). When I was in school, the conversations in my head were a distraction but only a distraction, they didn’t really affect my life in any great way but was more or less a place to cure boredom in an era of no cell phones. Sometimes I would use my imagination and dream up fun scenarios or think about what it would be like to be an astronaut floating through space. Little did I know that the relationship I had with my thoughts would change so dramatically.
As I grew older and as the stresses of life started to pile up, I found myself arguing with my inner thoughts, more often than I had found comfort in them. I always felt like I was talking to myself in my head all this time. Now that my thoughts were negative, I wondered why I would want to make myself so miserable with these thoughts.
If I had some deadline in the future, I found myself worrying about it constantly, and endlessly stressing over something that I might not even have control over at that present moment. My thoughts started to drudge up the past as well. I found myself in the shower thinking over the actions of the day, analyzing everything I said in a negative way. I would think of every conversation I had thought-out during the day, and then my brain would say things like “what you said to that person was really stupid” or “you made an ass out of yourself with that terrible joke”.
I would then start to re-asses the entire day as if it wasn’t what I originally thought it was. There I was thinking I had a good day but as I dwelled on it, my brain was making me out to be this terrible person that says all the wrong things. My inner thoughts were turning against me and I had no idea why I would do this to myself.
Luckily, being young and successful, my inner monologue couldn’t really affect me very much. I was young, I owned a home, had a great job, had friends, and was active in school and in tons of hobbies. It wasn’t until I lost my job that my inner thoughts got louder. As soon as I hit some hard times in my life and didn’t know how I was going to pay bills my inner thoughts seized more control. I found myself living in my head more often, listening to the endless banter of my brain letting me know my problems in chronological order. Replaying them over and over.
It seemed as if my brain wanted to remind me constantly that I was struggling and that the future was unforeseeable and scary. I became obsessed with the future, worrying constantly that I might not get a job, might not make enough to pay my bills, might work for a terrible boss or not have the freedom I once had. All I could think about were negative ideas about my future, and there didn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.
During this time, my girlfriend watched the documentary “The Secret”, and it was all about positive thinking and getting rid of any and all negative aspects in your life. She desperately wanted to help me as I fell into this world of negative thoughts. (This theory, the law of attraction – which says that like attracts like, in a nutshell is that whatever thoughts/feelings you put out into the universe, you get back. So, if you wake up one morning and stub your toe, and say to the world, “this is going to be one of those days”, then the universe will conspire, and you will in turn have one of those days.)
We basically control what kind of life we want to live by the thoughts we have. If we want to have a great day, we have to expect to have a great day. This can go into even tiny details of your speech, for instance, instead of saying, “I hope I don’t hit traffic”, you change to a more positive statement like “I hope we have clear roads”. This kind of redirection of the mind was very hard to do in the beginning. I would say that it took almost a year to stop talking in a negative way automatically. It wasn’t easy, but the support system with my girlfriend was everything. Each time one of us would say something negative, we would correct each other on how to say it in a positive way. We actually rewired our brain to think positively automatically. This works really well for getting what you want out of life and being a much happier person. However, even though you may be actively looking to stay positive about every scenario in your life, your brain seems to want to fight you every step of the way.
It’s almost 3 years later after we learned the law of attraction, and I can tell you it works. We started in a 700-square foot condo with no job, in a state we didn’t want to live in. Within a few years of applying this theory, we owned our own business, moved to an amazing new state, got married, and have been living a wonderful and happy life. However, from time to time, my anxiety of the past and future would torture me.
I literally had all that I asked for in life, so why was my brain still worrying about everything? Why was I still so stressed out, even though I had been given everything? How could I still be worrying about the future when, for the past 3 years, I received all that I asked for? Was my brain ungrateful?
At that point I started to question every aspect of my life. Since I’ve become an adult, year after year my anxiety and my depression seem to be getting worse and worse, even though my tangible life had everything I wanted. I had no issues with health, wealth, love, or anything else, so why was I living in my thoughts, worrying about the future, or dwelling on the past? It’s didn’t make sense - I had this new positive outlook on life, but my inner monologue wanted to show me anything negative whenever it had a chance.
I felt like each time I sat in my head I was unable to think of anything positive. It was like the more I let my brain take control, the more negative my world became. It got so bad that I would grab my head and yell “shut up” to my thoughts, as they felt like they were starting to run on auto pilot and my brain began sharing its critical opinions of everything I do. Before going to sleep, or right when I woke up, I would have crippling anxiety about the day - worrying about any tasks I needed to complete, or on occasion it would torture me with aspects of my past.
I decided one day to just Google my problems. To my astonishment, what I was going through seems to be happening to almost every human on this planet.
I found a book by Eckhart Tolle titled The Power of Now. What I discovered in this book has changed my life forever. The entire book wraps around this one idea, which is, your inner monologue or your “eagle” as the book describes, is essentially your own worst enemy. Now the book doesn’t want you to interpret your inner monologue as an enemy, because it is still you, but it’s a natural evolution of your brain to want to take over. Basically, your brain/eagle thinks it can run your life better than you, and wants to protect you at all times. It goes into this natural state of protection by wanting you to dwell on the past or the future. Your brain lives on the time spectrum that humans created, clock time, and it’s constantly worried about it. The book mentions something that, once I read it, completely changed my life.
Your inner monologue or thoughts are not you talking to yourself, but your mind trying to survive and take over to help you with your life.
This is very hard to comprehend, but the basics of what I discovered is this:
When I thought I was working something out in my head, what I was really doing was dwelling on the past or future and creating worry, anger, or fear. (I even had a system, where I had to “work something out” and I would think about it for a long time, but what astonished me is that the more I thought about something, the worse I felt). Even though I thought thinking about something would help, the exact opposite is true. Our brain wants us to do two things constantly. It either wants to dwell on the past (whether it’s something traumatic or just everyday problems) or it wants us to worry about the future (no matter how good or bad the outcome might unfold). That’s it. The brain itself wants to live in the past or the future and seems to never care about what’s going on in the now.
Throughout my entire life, my inner monologue has been on and actively attempting to “help me”. There have been times when I tried to not think of anything at all, and it’s impossible. I end up thinking about not thinking, or thinking about other things going on, but never do I not think. Never do I have a clear mind, and I never even considered being able to turn off my thoughts, even for a moment.
The book helped me turn my thoughts off with one simple exercise. I couldn’t believe it worked, but it works exceptionally well. All you do is this:
Observe your thoughts.
That’s all. Literally just sit and wait for a thought to pop in your end. Most likely you will have a second or two of quiet, of no mind. As soon as I felt that quiet, it was like I lived for the first time. Somehow my thoughts turned off and it was peaceful. As if before I lived in a busy annoying city all my life, and for a brief second, I was living in a cabin in a remote forest, with no sounds at all. It was tranquil and beautiful, and it was so fast.
I became obsessed with chasing this quiet. I practiced as often as I could to listen to my thoughts, and each time I gained a few more seconds and I was able to quiet my thoughts even longer. Each time it was quiet, I was present and completely aware of my life. As if this spiritual side of me that I never knew was there was awakening, and I was being connected to everything and everyone. It was as if all my problems melted away in that instant. I no longer worried about past or future, I was just present, and I was just here, living my life, with no other thought at all. As if I was a tree with no responsibilities other than breathing and living and enjoying the world that is around me.
When you are thinking over something, you are usually not thinking of something positive, but thinking of it in a negative way, and thinking of it in a time spectrum of either past or future. If you are living in the present, then you are at peace. As I practiced being present and quieting my mind, I discovered the more I enjoyed the day. Focused on the days tasks and forgetting about the past or future, I became increasingly happy, beyond what I ever felt before. When something used to annoy me like traffic, I would catch myself falling into my thoughts, thinking of all the stuff I need to do that day, thinking I’m going to be late or worrying about what I needed to accomplish. Annoying situations would set me on a path to fall into my thoughts and my thoughts would only make the situation worse.
Instead, now if something made me mad, I would listen to my thoughts, hear them and just know that they aren’t me, but they are my “eagle”, it instantly turned them off. It was as if I found the off switch to my negative thoughts, and all I had to do was know they aren’t me talking to myself. All I had to do was listen to my thoughts, know they aren’t me but my brains natural instinct to try and protect me. As soon as I knew those thoughts weren’t me, they quieted and no longer fueled any anger or worry about the situation. Traffic or whatever was bothering me, no longer mattered because I wasn’t dwelling on it, I was just living in the present, dealing with it.
I started using this practice every day, and it worked wonders. If something was due in the near future, let’s say taxes, the old me would worry about it every day until it was done. Now, when my brain starts to drudge up worry, I smile at my thoughts, know they aren’t me, and they instantly go away. I know I’ll get the taxes done eventually, but why do I need to torture myself until I do them? Why would I dwell on them and make myself miserable until they are done? I know they are going to get done. I’d rather be present and not fall into my worrying thoughts. This has even helped my relationship (as sometimes you might get into an argument with your partner, and then all of a sudden you are in your head, thinking of every negative thing they ever did to you, so you can get even more angry and think of even more negative thoughts.) Your brain might even play mental movies of past events to stir up even more conflict. Now when I have an argument and I start to fall away into my thoughts, I remember my brain isn’t on my side, and I have to remind myself that those thoughts are not mine, but my brain trying to take over. This has silenced those thoughts and created a life that lives in the present, doesn’t worry or stress over the past or future, but directs all attention into the now, into the present, enjoying life as it’s happening, instead of constantly worrying about what’s to come or what has been.
Overall, you don’t want to consider your mind your enemy. The book describes this as a dog chasing its tale. The dog can’t hate its tale, it’s part of himself, so it must learn to live with it. That’s why you smile at your thoughts, as if you caught the burglar stealing and the burglar disappears once you catch him. Once you are aware that your thoughts aren’t necessarily there to help you at all times, you can learn to remain present and live in the now. Doing so will remove all the stresses of life, remove any anxiety about the past, and remove any worry about the future. We live in a world with endless beauty. It’s worth it to remind yourself that you live within this beautiful world, and to enjoy your life as you live it rather than constantly trying to live for the future. We can have everything we want in life with a positive attitude but doing so requires both you and your thoughts to be aligned with this goal, and the only way to do that is to take control of your thoughts and live entirely in the now.