You are not your thoughts.
Thoughts are not facts.
Thoughts are mental events that pop up in our minds, whether we like it or not, or whether we want them there or not. However, we have a tendency to treat our every thought as though it is the absolute truth. When a thought bothers us, we hold on tightly to it, attach it to ourselves and allow it to take all our power. We believe everything our minds say to us and take our thoughts very seriously. In ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), this is called getting “hooked” by our thoughts.
Just as we can become hooked by our thoughts, we can also learn ways to “unhook” from them. Rather than trying to avoid uncomfortable or painful thoughts, unhooking from our thoughts means seeing them for what they are, and separating ourselves from them. The more distance we have from our thoughts, the better able we are to live life on our own terms, instead of limiting ourselves because of our every thought.
What are some ways we can unhook from our thoughts and give them less power over us?
One way to practice unhooking from your thoughts is saying to yourself “I am having the thought that…” For example, one thought that tends to hook me is “I’m not good enough.” In the past, I would try to either avoid that thought entirely (“No! I don’t want to think that! It’s not healthy…STOP IT”) or I would argue against it (“But I AM good enough, here are all the reasons why…”). Neither of those worked for long. It just continued to give the thought more and more power over me, making me feel as though I had to get rid of it before I could move forward. Now, whenever that thought pops into my head, I practice saying “I’m having the thought that I’m not good enough.” Instead of giving that thought any power at all, I’m simply acknowledging that I am having a thought, and then separating myself from it.
It is important to note that doing this practice doesn’t mean your mind is going to stop saying things like this. That’s not the point here, remember, we aren’t trying to avoid or argue. We don’t have control over the thousands of thoughts that pop into our heads each day. The important thing is what you DO when you have these thoughts. Are you going to listen to them and hold on tightly, or are you going to practice separating yourself from them?
Remember, you are the thinker of the thoughts, you are not the thoughts themselves. Pay attention to your thoughts with openness and curiosity instead of fear and judgment. Allow your thoughts to come, and then to eventually go. You don’t have to follow them.
This is a practice, one that will continue for as long as you are human, and this is not something that will ever be perfected. However, the more you practice, the more you will be able to live a life that is consistent with your values.