We’re inundated with advice articles; 25 things I learnt at 25, Advice to a younger me, The anti-advice advice. Everywhere you look someone is trying to teach us something.
And you know what, I kinda like it.
I like reading about what people have learnt about themselves, what they wish they had done and how they’ve changed. I like reading about other peoples lives when they were my age, and I like reading about the ‘mistakes’ people have made (makes me feel better about my own mistakes).
However consuming all this advice doesn’t necessarily mean I follow it, and most of the time I can forget it as soon as I’ve read it. It’s only when your forced to deal with something that you stop and pay attention.
If there was one piece of advice I wish I had received sooner it’s this…
You are not your thoughts.
I know it seems like it, they’re in your voice and only you can hear them but you are not your thoughts. Those thoughts that cause you pain, hurt and anguish are not you. Your thoughts come from your brain, a vital organ that is working how it supposed to without you getting involved. This is where your thoughts come from. It churns out thought after thought and tells you what it is thinking.
You don’t have to take these thoughts seriously or even pay them attention. Even though we know we do. For example, for me one fear driven thought about someone or something can lead to another, and another, then before I know it, I’m spiraling.
You are not the thinker of your thoughts. You are the one that hears them.
Think of it as watching traffic. You are the person watching, and your thoughts are the cars passing by. You can choose whether to acknowledge your thoughts and watch the traffic flow by or whether to fixate on them and watch as a traffic jam builds up. We make a thought an object (or traffic jam) by fixating on it. When we fixate and ruminate on certain thoughts we go round that roundabout time and time again without realising that the exit is within our control. Our thoughts feel real when we bring attention to them. But without attention it will disappear as quickly as it arose
You are the person who chooses how to react to the thoughts.
As soon as you realise you are the watcher, your instantly aware of how much control you have.
The reason this is one piece of advice I wish I knew earlier is because for so long have my thoughts overwhelmed, confused, frustrated and even tortured me. Times when I couldn’t turn them off and times when I was so fixated I couldn’t do anything else. For too long I believed them without knowing that my thoughts are in fact unstable. And that’s exactly how they left me feeling.
What I’ve learnt in the last year is that if you’re believing your thoughts and suffering it’s because on some level you’re interested in them. They’ve become part of your identity which can take time to remove. I’m still learning how. I’ve found that the cycle has slowed down it’s not as rapid as before. I can acknowledge some thoughts and let them go.
When the addiction to identifying to our thoughts is broken we can make space for silence and stillness.
So, if there’s one piece of advice I want you to remember if you’re in your 20’s and hooked on social media, 40’s and looming a mid life crisis, or 60’s (and beyond) and retirement is looming, it’s this… you are not your thoughts.