Have you ever been in a car with a bad driver who doesn’t realize that they are?
Have you ever been the bad driver?
Behind the wheel, it’s easy to get used to your own driving style. The unsteady adjustments stop feeling so unsteady and the sudden jolts stop feeling so sudden. You begin to anticipate your own habits until you forget how ‘off’ they really are.
In the same way, you can also turn a blind eye to the tenor of your thoughts. But unlike driving, its not always easy for someone else to notice and call you out.
The Culture of Our Thoughts and How It Hurts Us
Bad thoughts are often familiar – an ingrained habit for most people. We don’t usually realize how they are hurting us. We don’t realize that persistent rage, jealousy, self-judgment, and shame are all cues of an unhealthy emotional state. Making things even harder, negative thoughts and emotions disguise themselves as the truth. Yet, there is a difference between self-awareness and self-judgement. One is necessary for growth. The other is a hallmark of unhappiness.
Separating the thoughts that elucidate from the thoughts that harm is very hard. We tend to deceive ourselves in any way we can, whether it’s telling ourselves we’ll wake up after “five more minutes” or rationalizing breaking up with an ex as “all their fault”. We pick the stories we want to tell about our lives. Our thoughts feed off of these stories. Yet, despite these narrative patterns – these thoughts of confusion, anger, jealousy, shame, and self-deception that we run in our head – we must find our truth. We must find our authentic self.
The Art of Thought-Watching and Finding The Truth
So how do we thought-watch? Practice. Notice a thought – any thought. Give your ideas a moment to breathe without you tangled up in them. Give your ideas a moment to exist without you judging them. Breathe. Meditate. Close your eyes; relax. Simply become aware of your thoughts. Act as the lighthouse looking over the shore. And when you find that thought, detach. Feel yourself as a third party to your own mind and look at it from the outside. If you can watch a thought without being caught up in it’s own messy entanglement, that’s the moment you see the truth.
Why does this work? Because regardless of your own toxic patterns, thinking, with the sole intention of looking at your thoughts without judgement, stops these impulsive loops. Instead of being swept up in a rage over your ex, you simply think about the things that happened, both on your side and theirs. Instead of being swept up in the embarrassment of failure, you simply look at the few things that went wrong and the things that were out of your control. You see the value of a thought rather than be controlled by it.
What It Takes to Find Our Authentic Thoughts
When you strip away whatever excess you put in front of your thoughts, you get valuable glimpses at truer, more authentic ones — thoughts that are reliable, thoughts that are clear. In principle, this sounds easy, but in practice, it’s hard. Detachment itself is a mild form of mental gymnastics and, it’s impossible (if not, unhealthy) to simply be detached all the time.
But, to figure out what you want in this life, to figure out who you want to be, you have to take time to reflect. In essence, you have to get in the passenger seat and stop driving. Rather than constantly be consumed by the sway and pull of a thought’s emotional energy, you have to strip your thoughts down to the truth. Be mindful, be reflective, and at all costs, get to the facts.
When you get in the passenger seat, when you detach, you get to see what’s wrong. You get to see what you can fix. And when you have the opportunity to see the weak points and fix them, that’s when you finally can move on and drive.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”