Yesterday as I was painting the baby’s room, my husband was outside shoveling rock for our backyard.
He had his music playing and I could hear Randy Travis crooning, “I’m gonna love you forever. Forever and ever, amen…”
And then it stuck in my head like an earworm.
It’s a catchy song that just kept replaying over and over and OVER in my head, until it started to get annoying. But by then, I couldn’t get it out.
Earworms are similar to invasive or negative thoughts, and this leads me to a great question I received last week from a Soul Sister.
She asked: “I’m wondering if you would consider writing something about what to do when you have negative thoughts or when you can’t seem to get something off your mind?”
Maybe you’re like me and the first thing you try to do is ignore it? Or try and think about something else? Then I usually get to the mad place where I’m arguing at my thoughts to “shut the F#UK up already!”
There’s a Buddhist saying that states: whatever we resist persists.
So how do you control your thoughts then?
Simple answer: You can’t.
But you can learn to work with thoughts so you don’t have to suffer from them.
Jack Kornfield explains that the mind secretes thoughts like salivary glands secrete saliva. It just happens. They have no shame, and will go anywhere!
The good news about this is that thoughts are aren’t personal. They don’t mean anything, and just because they are there, doesn’t mean they are true. Thoughts are just what the mind is secreting.
Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath.
Imagine that you can see your thoughts floating by through your mind’s eye like clouds in the sky.
Notice, that you can notice your thoughts without engaging with them, or actively thinking about them. They are just there floating by like subtitles across a movie screen.
Every once in a while, you will get hijacked by thoughts and start engaging (thinking) with them. When that happens bring your attention back to your breath and notice that you can notice your thoughts once again.
You’ll notice that by viewing your thoughts like this, you create space between you and them. You can watch without getting tangled up in their nonsense.
So, what about the annoying earworm of Randy Travis, or invasive and negative thoughts?
If you begin to meditate regularly (the above exercise is one form of this), you’ll start to notice that your thoughts tend to repeat themselves. In fact, I’ve heard that we have something like 60,000 thoughts running through our minds every day, and 80% of them are reruns from yesterday.
There’s not much new in there.
Our minds tend to repeat the same old tired record over and over again.
When you understand this, it can lessen the suffering of resisting your thoughts which is really what causes the suffering.
Your mind is on a loop no matter what, but some thoughts within that loop seem to cause more suffering than others. Not because some are better or worse, but because of our relationship to them.
We like the thoughts that make us feel good, we don’t like that thoughts that bring us down.
But all thoughts are just what they are: thoughts.
Thoughts aren’t real and have no gravity or power, unless we give it to them by believing them or buying into the story they are telling us.
Now you might say, well that’s all good Tina, but what the heck do I do when I’m spiraling down and can’t seem to get enough space to see them without being sucked into them?
In my course 21 Days to Calm, each day has different bite sized exercises that help shift this kind of thinking.
One of those exercises which is particularly helpful is inspired by the work of Byron Katie:
When you have invasive or negative thoughts that are persistent, ask yourself: Is this actually true?
Most of the time we don’t question our thoughts, we just believe them.
This is another tool to create space between you and your thoughts. Let yourself question the thought or belief and pick it apart. Is it true? Is there a real likelihood of this happening or coming true? Is there any evidence to support this thought? Would other people see this as true? What’s the worst case scenario, and realistically, would this happen?
This exercise is even more powerful if you write it all out and then reading it out loud to yourself.
Thoughts have the most power when they are general and kept silent internally.
For example, say I had a day where I was feeling really bad about myself.
I was feeling ugly, fat, incompetent, and generally not good enough. My mood was low and I couldn’t seem to shake these terrible thoughts.
Here’s the process:
- Create space. Notice that I’m noticing. Create space by noticing these are thoughts, not facts and have no bearing on reality.
- Question the thoughts. Then, pull out my journal and ask myself: Is this actually true?
- Poke holes in the story. If I’m not convinced, I might choose to look at this through a good friend’s point of view: would they agree with my thoughts? Of course not.
- Look for evidence. Is there any evidence to support these thoughts, aside from feeling that they are true? Nope again.
- Worst case scenario. What’s the worst case scenario? (Most of us never actually go here. We just have this general dread of what could When we don’t name it, it becomes something huge and looming rather than something you can face head on.) So, worst case scenario is: that I will be like this forever and no one will love me and I’m going to be sad and lonely for the rest of my life.
- Read it out loud. Umm, crazy town, right?
Yet we’ve all been there.
Thoughts can be very compelling and they don’t fight fair, because they are already inside of us and know our worst fears.
Yet it doesn’t make them true, and you don’t have to give them any more attention than the thoughts that notice the sky is blue, or that your co-worker has cool hair today.
And Randy Travis’ earworm?
Same thing, notice that I’m noticing and let it run through my mind without attachment.
Eventually it gets tired because I’m not giving it energy by fighting it, so it moves on to something else.
I’d love to hear from you now! How do you work with negative or persistent thoughts? What’s the song that always gets stuck in your head? You can share your comments below or in the Soul Sisterhood Facebook group.
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Thank you for letting me in your inbox and your life my sweet friend.
Love and Light,