A client recently told me, “I have to stop giving my power away.” Then she asked me how to do that.

“Awareness is the first step,” I answered.

The same day, another client told me, “Every year I have such high hopes for the holidays, and then it all goes to hell.” Then she asked me what she could do about that.

“Awareness is the first step,” I answered.

Giving the same answer to both questions got me thinking about when I first became aware (so to speak!) of the importance of becoming aware of my (our) thoughts.

There was a time, many years ago now, when I had a feeling that my life was not quite right. I was passionate about my work and my family, and I couldn’t tell you exactly what was bothering me, but something nagged at me.

During that time I started reading many different kinds of books: from self-help to spirituality, from motivational interviewing to quantum physics.

That’s when I found The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. I downloaded it to my mp3 player and listened to it while I ran. Listening to Tolle’s words, I felt a glimmer of hope. His words seemed very abstract, but they somehow spoke to me on a very deep level. I felt lighter and happier every time I listened to his book.

“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not ‘the thinker.’ “ –Eckhart Tolle

At the beginning of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle tells of how he spent the first 29 years of his life full of anxiety “interspersed with periods of suicidal depression.” One night he woke up with a feeling of dread. The world seemed “so alien, so hostile,” that he felt a “deep loathing of the world. The most loathsome thing of all” was his own existence.

He says the thought that kept repeating in his mind was: “I cannot live with myself any longer.” Then it occurred to him that whoever was thinking that thought was different than the “I” he was thinking about. He realized that he existed apart from his thoughts, whereas before he believed he was his thoughts.

This was a revelation to me. I had never questioned my thoughts before. I believed everything I thought.

It’s painful to believe everything you think.

Our brains are wired to notice the negative, to project fear and lack. If left unchecked, your mind will tell you you are on the verge of disaster all day long.

It’s exhausting.

Listening to Tolle talk about watching himself think and noticing that he was not his thoughts felt like freedom to me.

That was the beginning of my journey to free myself from automatically believing everything I think.

The thought I’d been (unconsciously) thinking that bothered me so much back then was this one: I have to keep working like this until I’m either out of debt or dead. (At the time, “working like this” was working 100-110 hours a week as a family physician with hospital and outpatient duties.)

Hearing Eckhart Tolle’s words helped me stop believing that thought, which was a relief because I was starting to think that being dead was more likely than getting out of debt.

Not believing that thought freed me to change jobs, rediscover my joy in my work, and to find a new calling as a life coach, which also brings me much joy. And that was only the beginning!

The first step was awareness. Noticing what I was thinking. Noticing that I believed the thoughts I was thinking. Now I’ve developed my “awareness muscles” so it’s much more automatic to know what I’m thinking and to question my thoughts.

For any problem we have, the solution starts with awareness. Once we have that awareness, we can move toward a change or a solution.

Do you know what you are thinking?