A client recently described a situation where she basically watched herself behave like a self-conscious, insecure teenager (she’s middle-aged) and she couldn’t stop herself.
“I told myself to stop thinking about it and I did…for about 10 seconds. Then I was right back in my head, wondering what he thought of me. The more I was in my head, the more awkward the situation became.”
She asked me what she could do to stop perseverating on the situation.
“Awareness,” I said. “Once you become aware of your thinking, you can choose to stop it.”
“I did choose to stop it,” she said, “but then I did it again. I kept realizing I was doing it, stopping myself, and then doing it all over again. It was exhausting!”
“You’re practicing,” I said. “The more you practice, the better you get at becoming aware of your thoughts, and the less effortful the process becomes. Eventually, it becomes automatic.”
“When?” she asked. “I’m not getting any younger.”
I laughed and said that it took years. “But living the years unaware of what you’re thinking is exhausting, too.”
I told my client about a fight I remember having with my husband years ago and all the negative thoughts I had about him, about myself, about our marriage. I was so focused on my thoughts I wasn’t living my life. I was in a fog, not really present for days and days. Eventually, the thoughts seemed to let go of me, but not until days or weeks had gone by. That was exhausting.
Nowadays, I still get upset and think those negative thoughts, but I’m much quicker to see them as thoughts, not necessarily (or likely!) the truth. When I do, I choose to let go of the thoughts, get out of the fog, and go back to being present in my life, instead of missing it while I live in my head.
Another way of saying this is I don’t believe everything I think. Do you?