All that we do and say begins with what we think.
Each time a new thought enters our minds, it triggers an emotional response that influences every action we take. Before long these repeated actions turn into habits and continue, shaping each day of our lives.
When we’re lost in thought our emotions run the show. Habits of impatience, greed, and anger take control over the things we say and the decisions we make. Learning awareness and calmly accepting each thought helps to relieve the feelings they evoke, improve our actions, and create a more peaceful state of mind. This practice, known as Mindfulness, represents the seventh step of the Eightfold Path in Buddhism and involves accepting and paying attention to our thoughts as they occur in the present moment.
“Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded.”
– Buddha, from the Dhammapada, Part III
Harmful Thoughts vs. Helpful Thoughts
In his own practice, Buddha explored two kinds of thought: thoughts that lead to suffering and thoughts that lead to peace. As each thought arises, ask yourself: Is this thought causing harm to myself or others, or both? Reflect on the benefits or drawbacks of each thought and notice how certain thoughts are just not helpful.
Take One Step Further
To break it down further, you may then ask yourself three questions: Is this thought true? Is the thought kind? Is the thought useful?
- Is the Thought True?
Many of our thoughts result more from judgments than from the truth. For example: I’m a loser, and no one likes me. Simply recognizing a thought as a belief and not truth, begins to dispel that negative idea and slowly chip away at the harmful thoughts. Even if you may not truly consider yourself a failure, again, you’ll realize, Wow – I don’t even really believe that.
- Is the Thought Kind?
Often thoughts from emotions manifest in an unkind, harsh way. Thinking of ourselves, others, or our circumstances in an unpleasant way creates negative energy and results in harsh words or cruel actions. For example, we get angry and impatient from sitting in traffic and may lash out and yell at another driver. When you notice yourself getting angry, reflect on the cause for those negative emotions, and the underlying reasons for feeling that way. Over time, the simple recognition of negative thoughts prevents you from having such a hostile reaction.
- Is this Thought Useful?
Much of our thoughts have no point at all. Thoughts that are unnecessary take us away from the present moment and possibly something really helpful to us. Becoming aware of the idle thoughts, helps us let go of them and become more present in our lives.
Training the Mind and Letting Go
Of course, noticing each and every thought presents quite a challenge. It happens so fast! We get lost in thought and before you know it, become angry and impatient, overreact, and speak or act out against others without understanding why.
Start by observing thoughts during meditation, and later try to incorporate the practice throughout the day. With practice, we learn to notice harmful thoughts as they come up, giving them less time to churn in our minds and impact our thinking. If you can simply recognize, anger is happening, and it’s unpleasant, the simple recognition can be a powerful tool for letting go.
Notice how practicing Mindfulness also reveals mental conflicts within ourselves and ways in which our thoughts trigger destructive emotions. Understanding the root causes for recurring emotional outbreaks can heal those issues within. In fact, psychologists use the method of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as a form of treatment for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and addiction.
Awareness of our thoughts helps us get to know ourselves better. The more we know ourselves, the easier it becomes to release painful things and replace them with thoughts of calm and kindness. We cultivate the ability to relax. At first, it’s a challenge, but just like anything else, becomes easier with time and practice.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
– Lao Tzi
About the Author
Allie Michelle is American born, but a citizen of the world, with a commitment to life experience. She is a lover of language, travel, music, fashion, and cooking. Above all, she is an optimist. She has practiced yoga and studied eastern philosophy for over 12 years. Currently, she works as a writer for various projects. For more of her writing please visit her blog: Olive Vintage.
Main picture: Nomadic Lass