Annie Dillard, in her beautiful book, The Writing Life, says, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”
We keep talking inside our heads most of the time. This habit of self-talk often takes over our moods and affects our decision-making. What is worth evaluating is how much of this incessant mind-chatter is negative, or self-defeating. Negative self-talk is just like cutting yourself with an imaginary razor. It’s self-mutilation on a mental level.
Upon analyzing deeper, I find that “thinking” is actually the greatest addiction ever. Our minds are addicted to thinking. Right now, stop reading this. Sit still for three minutes.
I guarantee you that within a single minute, your mind will start wandering about random stuff, like how much more time till three minutes, what’s for lunch, etc. The most important faculty in your life is out of control. It is leading you into an abyss that ultimately leaves you drained, restless, and feeling very bad about yourself. The point of this exercise? To make you conscious of self-talk.
General self-talk is fine because it’s almost a pseudo sense of self. It only creates havoc in your life when this pseudo-self carries negative connotations, constantly taking you to bitter incidents of the past or conjuring disastrous outcomes all the time. We all suffer from the ill effects of negative self-talk, but the issue is, how to control it?
I’m going to go into a spiritual angle here. Stay with me.
Celebrated spiritualist Eckhart Tolle battles negative self-talk by practicing a state of “Not Thinking,” i.e. the state of being consciously present—in the moment, wherever you are: train station, conference room, wherever. You need to slow down the over-activity of your mind. How do you do this? By embracing the simplicity of the present moment. He calls it the “inert presence.” Others call it “mindfulness.” Again, how does one do that?
Eckhart gives out some methods.
1. Understand Negative Thoughts
Every negative thought is an entity in itself. Like every entity, it wants to grow. It wants a larger part of your consciousness and attention. Do not allow this to happen. Eckhart believes that there doesn’t need to be an intellectual understanding but a simple realization that this is what the mind does.
Once you know how thoughts work, you will learn to allow a thought to arise without following it further. You will not give into the subconscious thought followup that breaks inner calm.
2. Do Not Follow Your Negative Thoughts
Acknowledge and allow negative thoughts to arise. Let’s say you’re listening to a presentation and your mind wanders to a negative remark your wife made yesterday. Acknowledge that a thought carrying a negative incident of the past has arisen inside your mind. Now, leave the thought. Consciously imagine the thought being suspended in isolation. Do not allow yourself to follow the thought into the next one. Keep your presence intact.
3. Use Your Senses
When you notice your mind hovering over negative thought patterns, just break your chain of thoughts then and there by using any of your senses. Clench and unclench your hands, take deep breaths, put your hand over your heart, and physically will your mind to settle down.
Look around you. Watch the trees or flowers; trace a painting or the shape of your fingers. Use your senses to perceive things around you deeply. You can do this wherever you are.
The founder of Art of Living, Sri Sri Ravi Shanker, propounds another method to do this, i.e. deep breathing. The ancient Yoga technique of “Pranayam” greatly helps settle the mind when feeling anxious or restless.
Key Takeaways That You Can Pin Up
Be conscious of mental chatter. When it is negative:
• Take deep breaths and become mindful of the moment.
• Allow the thought to arise. Do not follow it through.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about where all our internal negativity comes from: our childhood.
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