The Importance of Controlling Your Thoughts
Have you ever had the experience of having a problem, where you are caught up in thinking about all of the possible negative outcomes that could occur. Have you ever experienced the anxiety caused by the uncertainty of what could happen?
If so, you have been the victim of your thinking.
The fact is, it is just a bunch of thoughts. A mix of real time conscious thoughts underpinned by an unconscious programme that has developed in early childhood, through adolescence and adulthood until it has become a default mechanism for the way you perceive and understand your world.
And these immaterial thoughts and programmes can have tremendous material consequences in your life. They can cause you to suffer from anxiety, make you depressed, make you angry and aggressive. They can compromise your immune system and make you physically and mentally ill.
The truth is that your thoughts create what you experience so your life becomes a mirror of your internal processes.
I learned something many years ago and that was that I can’t control everything that happens in my external world, but I can control what goes on inside of me. I can choose to control my thoughts, which is true freedom.
Many people also want certainty in their lives. They want a predictable future as they believe that will give them stability and happiness. But life doesn’t happen like that, because life has a way of throwing a curved ball at you every now and again and when that happens happiness quickly disappears and that is because it isn’t true happiness. What they mistook for happiness was momentary pleasure based on the temporary absence of fear and uncertainty.
There are so many external factors that you can’t control. Something can happen in an instant that can change the direction or the meaning of your life.
As someone who runs a business I regularly have to deal with situations that I wasn’t expecting.
Like many of you, the recent pandemic caused us an unprecedented level of uncertainty. We had to cancel and reschedule courses, refund those who had paid who now couldn’t attend or who had become ill, and all of this while still having to pay all of the expenses that come with running a business.
I also have to answer a lot of emails and paperwork and oversee and manage the marketing and development of our business.
In short, even though I pride myself with my ability to plan ahead, invariably something will happen that needs my urgent attention and as a result the things that I had planned to do become a lesser priority, but nevertheless, they still have to be done.
The key to dealing with everything is in the way we choose to think about it. Shit happens, but we can choose how we respond to that and that is the control we all have, unless of course we choose to give that control away and react instead of responding.
And this is a key benefit of meditation. It helps us create a mental buffer that gives us the space to think about a situation instead of just reacting to it.
I’ve also come to learn another fundamental truth and that is that creativity and true freedom exists in the unknown realm of the present moment.
So if we let our thoughts run riot by reacting to a situation by thinking of all of the negative outcomes then we are projecting our mind into a future, and the more we do that the more predictable that future becomes.
And if what has happened has occurred before then we can take our mind back to a past event and relive it and then project that thinking into a future that is based on a past event. In short we let our familiar past create our predictable future.
And all the time we are doing that we miss out on the opportunity to be in the present moment.
There was once an eighth century Buddhist master called Shantideva who said:
“If something can be done about a situation, what need is there for dejection? And if nothing can be done about it, what use is there for being dejected?”
It’s never what happens to you that determines how you feel or act. Everything is determined by the way you choose to think about what has happened. The perspective and meaning that you give to it. This is your power, but it is also your curse.
You see, when you think a certain way neurological networks are created in your brain. And the more you think about something in a certain way, the more those networks grow. This is known as ‘Hebbian Associative Learning’.
So if you become angry you create a network for anger and the more you become angry the larger that network grows and the easier it becomes for you to repeat that response.
In addition, a part of your brain called the hypothalamus produces chemicals that flood your body and interact with every one of the 50 – 60 trillion cells in your body.
A negative thought will create toxins whereas a positive thought will create nutrients.
But here’s the thing. Your body becomes addicted to the chemicals you create and needs it’s fix, so if you are someone who chooses to think negatively about things, to react in a negative way, with anger of hostility, then you create a larger network in your brain and produce toxins that toxify every cell in your body and you rinse and repeat that process because you body will soon crave it’s next fix!
In short, the only person you are killing is you!
However, change your thoughts to a more positive way of thinking and do that consistently and the networks associated with any negative thinking begin to break up and get replaced with networks associated with positive thoughts.
Your hypothalamus produces nutrients that nurture every cell in your body and the more you do that the more your body will crave it’s positive fix!
I know which one I prefer!
This is why the old saying is so true that ‘If you become angry or hate another, that’s the equivalent of you drinking poison in the hope that it kills them!”.
The situation is never the problem. It’s the way you choose to think about the situation.
I was talking to someone today who was telling me how ‘things’ annoyed him. He was saying how irritated and annoyed he was because his clients took too long to settle his invoices. He was telling me how pissed off he was with certain people who say one thing and do another, and let’s face it, we’ve all heard similar things.
But here’s the fundamental flaw in that conversation. It isn’t his clients or ‘people’ who piss him off. It’s him. He chooses to be pissed off.
And if you ever hear anyone say, I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am, that is a very flawed statement to, because a) you can help it, and b) if it’s a reaction then what you have is a large network in your brain that has developed and grown because you keep repeating the same pattern, and c) you also probably very addicted to the toxic chemicals so another reason it’s just the way you are is because you need your fix!
We should all learn how to discipline and control one’s own mind.
Our thoughts are nothing more than exactly that. A thought. And you are the creator and therefore the controller of your thoughts.
And if you understand this then you can take control of your life and create a happier life.
You also need to stop trying to control everything, simply because you can’t. You need to let things go, particularly past events or situations that no longer serve you. Especially if they are toxic and negative.
One thing you can do is to actively become more conscious of your thoughts and the patterns that control your thinking and meditation is a great way of doing that.
Writing your thoughts down when you have them will help you spot any patterns in your thinking so that you can then take intentional steps to change those patterns.
Don’t be too hard on yourself as you need to be as non-judgemental as you can, even on yourself, otherwise you feed the very thing you are trying to change.
Simply by observing your thoughts you can start the process of changing them.
I hope that helps you take more control of your life.