Noticing Thoughts

June 2, 2023 by

By John Schorling

Thinking is obviously necessary to accomplish many tasks- around the house, at work, for hobbies and leisure activities.  Yet our minds continue to generate thoughts at other times, thoughts that often distract us from our present moment experience, and often increase our stress as negative thoughts or worries arise.  We live our lives in the present moment, and if we are caught up in thinking about the past or the future, we may miss what is unfolding right now.

Humans have an innate negativity bias, so the thoughts that arise are often worries about what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future.  When thoughts arise, recognizing whether they are about something over which we have some control or whether they are focused on something beyond our sphere of influence is important.  If the thoughts are about something we have control over, we can focus on how to address the issue.  For instance, if we are worried about money, we can look at our budget and see where we might spend less or earn more.

If the thoughts are about something over which we have no control, perhaps an event in the past that had a negative outcome that is still bothering us, we can first recognize this.  It can be helpful to do this periodically throughout the day, to notice what thoughts are arising and note whether it is something that we have control over or not.  If not, we might label it as a worry and just let it go, bringing the attention to our present moment experience, perhaps noting breathing or sensations in the hands or feet or the flowers we are walking by.  This is just what we do in meditation, notice thoughts arising, letting them go, bringing the attention back to our present moment experience.

We can practice doing this in meditation, and we can also then bring this practice into our daily lives. What we pay attention to influences how neurons are connected to each other in our brains.  The more time we spend worrying or ruminating, the more connections are made about the worry, which can then facilitate more worrying.  Letting go of these thoughts and focusing on something else can decrease the number of these connections, which can then lead to less worrying. Every moment we are aware of our thoughts is an opportunity to do this, to choose where we place our attention and to make our lives our practice.

Filed Under: Monthly Musings