I've been thinking a lot about, well, our thoughts lately. How we think, what we think, why we think the things we do, and what kind of impact such thoughts have on our lives. Oftentimes what we're seeing and reading in the form of news will dominate our thoughts. From the potential pandemic of the coronavirus to our climate in crisis, how we think about these events can play a huge part in how they affect us directly. I would hazard a guess that most of us don't really spend a lot of time thinking about our thoughts. Yet, thoughts have such immense power over our entire beings that when you really think about it, what is going on in our minds is, effectively, ground zero for our life. It is where it all begins.
There have been studies done, none conclusive, about how many actual thoughts we have in a day. Some numbers have ranged from 12,000 to 60,000 (that came from the National Science Foundation in 2005). The NSF also revealed that of those thousands of thoughts, "80% were negative, and 95% were exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before." So, it's safe to surmise that there's a lot going on up there. Thoughts dictating and dissecting everything from what we see & eat, to how we will accomplish our next big achievement. We try to think our way into and out of situations and a lot of times, we overthink to the point of exhaustion. So how do we know which thoughts to really focus on and which to buff away?
The motivational speaker Bob Proctor divides our thought system into two parts: the paradigm, which is all our ingrained habits, beliefs, and assumptions handed down from our parents and their parents before them, generation after generation. The paradigm is where Proctor says we are "programmed genetically and programmed environmentally". Then there is our "conscious mind". This is where Proctor says our "intellectual factors" kick in, factors such "perception, intuition, the will, reasoning, imagination." It is here where we have the ability to control what we absorb and think. However, the more powerful of the two is the paradigm. That's what actually has a lot of control over us. It is where we don't have to put any effort into changing ourselves from the inside out.
So any time we try to think thoughts that challenge that paradigm we feel uncomfortable, it feels unnatural. It's as if we were brought up being taught that rock music is bad for us, and then as we grow older we start to question that teaching because actually, rock music makes us feel good, the music speaks to us, connects us to a sound or a movement. We may initially feel quite uncomfortable because we are starting to think everything we've been told/taught that we aren't "supposed" to think. We are rebelling against long held, ingrained assumptions. Yet it is in that discomfort where things start to shift, if we hold steadfastly on to our conscious mind. It often feels like a war is being waged for our soul, a war being fought between what we have always been taught and believed, to what we now know doesn't work for us anymore, and isn't what we believe anymore. The act of thinking thoughts that benefit us, that make us stronger, more confident, happier people isn't easy if it isn't something that was instilled in us. We have to actively ensure those thoughts reside in our frontal lobe, take centre stage so that eventually it becomes part of our paradigm. It's literally retraining our brain to focus on thoughts that help us rather than hinder us.
Buddha said "we are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think." I recently read that the Booker Prize winning author Bernardine Evaristo always writes an affirmation down before she starts a new project. For example, before starting to write the book that won her the Booker Prize in 2019 (Girl, Woman, Other) she wrote, "This novel is good." There is so much of what we do and what we believe, even when it comes to what we believe about ourselves, our current situation, our desire for different outcomes that begins with how we think. There is so much power in what resides in our minds. Yet it literally isn't something we think about much. I would challenge us all to watch our thoughts as we would a movie and see what comes up. For me, it comes down to holding on to thoughts that feel good, thoughts that lift me up, thoughts that aren't "comfortable" as the paradigm would have me believe. Remember, comfortable isn't always a good thing. Comfortable means easy, it also means resistant to change. As the clinical psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary says, "it's so much easier to be passive." But she would go on to add, "one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is to learn to be self-accountable." Being accountable also brings perspective, context, and in some respects, a sense of control over situations. This is helpful when so many things in this world are out of our control, such as the actions of others and yes, even the news in the world. While I know I can't control coronavirus, I can put things in context and think about how I can rationally respond to the news. While I can't control geopolitics or the climate crisis, I can think about educating myself on what is happening in the world and finding the most reliable and credible sources instead of shrugging my shoulders or automatically assuming the worst. That latter bit would be our paradigms thinking for us. I am training myself, however painfully, to push through my own paradigm to think how I want to feel, what I want to believe about myself in order to do all the things I still want to do. After all, as the French philosopher René Descartes once said, "I think, therefore I am."