By Sharon Stobbia, Life Coach and Matrix Practitioner, www.sharonstobbia.co.za
Can we really design a happier life for ourselves? According to studies in the field of positive psychology, we can now choose to indulge in ‘happy practices’ that are scientifically proven to put smiles on our faces. We will take a closer look at each of the 10 keys to happiness over the next few months. This month’s focus is on paying attention, with intention, to our thoughts.
We all have negative voices in our head. For some they are subtle, passive, and even deceive us into thinking they are there to protect us and keep us safe. For others, they are much more aggressive, and downright mean. Sometimes we are aware of their words and influence. Most other times we are oblivious to their destructive messages, and they impact our beliefs, sense of self, motivation, and happiness. One of the best ways to become savvy to the negative inner voices in your head is to practice mindfulness. To be more mindful means to be more aware of your thoughts, feelings and actions in the present moment.
The challenge with not being mindful of our thoughts, is that we treat our thoughts as if they were facts. We just simply accept whatever comes into our mind as truth without giving it a second thought. And we have these thoughts so often that we believe them as fact. But really a thought is not a fact. A thought is just a thought. And when they are destructive (which they mostly are), they have very negative ramifications.
You may have the thought “I am no good at this,” or “I’m fat,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or “Nobody understands me,” or even “I am brilliant!” Does thinking it make it so? Once or twice, probably not. But if we think about it constantly, our mind will accept it as truth, regardless of whether it is good or bad.
The monkey-chatter in your head exercise: The value in this exercise is to realise first how little attention we pay to our thoughts, yet how extremely powerful they are. Then learning to notice them can lead us to better control them to serve us for the better. Focus specifically on your breath –slowly in and out. Imagine your thoughts floating by like clouds in the sky, or leaves in a stream. Notice each passing thought and then the one that comes after it, and then the one that comes after that. You may notice that just at the moment you become aware of a thought, it passes and is replaced by another thought. That’s what happens – thoughts come, and they go. Finally, to end this exercise bring yourself back to the awareness of your breath.
When you start to pay attention to your thoughts through mindfulness with gentle curiosity and no judgment, you can observe your thinking more objectively. You can notice your thoughts, assess them for truth, then either accept or reframe them more positively. This is a powerful tool. Imagine catching even a fraction of your negative thoughts, assessing them for truth (which most aren’t), and reframing them in a more positive and truthful way.