We all have them. We notice them flowing through our minds. We share them with others. Some are pleasant and some are not. They help to shape our view of the world and others. So how do we put our finger on just what a thought is? Thoughts can be described as a sequence of words or pictures that convey information. They can also be described as events in the mind. If they are true we call them facts but thoughts also include judgements, theories, goals, dreams, fantasies, predictions, memories, assumptions, ideas, opinions, daydreams and beliefs. Imagine a radio being on in the background. It is always playing, pouring out its information, music and news. Sometimes the music is soothing and relaxing, sometimes there is a talk show playing – perhaps with an opinionated and critical host. We all have our own radios playing in our minds. Some people know it as their inner voice, others call it their inner critic. Sometimes our radio’s volume is soft and sometimes it plays so loudly that it can seem impossible to give attention to anything else.
The thing with thoughts is that they want our undivided attention. When they have our undivided attention, we may call it being focussed, lost in thought or being a million miles away. This kind of thinking can lead to great creativity. However when its unhelpful thoughts that have our attention, we can call it worrying, stressing out, rehashing the past, ruminating or being anxious or preoccuppied. The thing is, when we get caught up in these kind of thoughts, they can begin to take charge. Remember how they want all of your attention? Well when they have it, then they have free reign to weave whatever stories they like. Usually these stories will be ones that are critical, self defeating and unhelpful.
Thoughts can be true, they can also be untrue. Often untrue thoughts will make a most compelling argument for their truthfulness, convincing the mind that they must be fact.
Facts about thoughts
- Thoughts are merely sounds, words, stories or bits of dialogue
- They may or may not be true
- They might or might not be important
- Thoughts are not orders – we don’t have to obey them
- They may or may not be wise – don’t automatically follow their advice
- Thoughts are never threats – even the most negative of thoughts in and of themselves are not deeply disturbing or frightening.
- We can choose what attention we give to them
Remember, thoughts are stories, events in the mind – they are not you.