A Personal Question:
What are you thinking - right now? "I'm reading your article!" you say. Well, take a little bit of a closer look. What's spinning in the back of your mind? Is it that big deadline that's looming at the end of the week? Or how you're going to deal with your mother-in-law this weekend? Or maybe you're worrying about your finances?
Are you even aware of the thoughts going through your head right now?
What about... now?
Some Bad News From the Thought Police
Scientists estimate that an average person will think at a rate of roughly between 1 and 4 thoughts per second while awake. That's well over 60,000 thoughts during a typical day! And, of all this jabbering going on in your head, it's estimated that you've thought over 95% of your thoughts before. So, not only is your mind generally on a constant hamster wheel, but it's also doing this spinning continuously, unproductively - and unoriginally.
The Power Between Your Ears - It's Not What You Think
Enough bad news? OK - now here's the other side of the story. You have within you the greatest, simplest, and most powerful tool imaginable. It can lead you to great prosperity, joy, and fulfillment - or it can drop you instantly into the depths of despair and negativity.
No, I'm not talking simply about the power of thought - not even a fraction of those thousands of stale, repeat thoughts running through your head right now will be of much use to you. (Trust me; nope, not even the one wondering for the tenth time whether you turned the stove off this morning). But what is powerful is where you put your attention within all this clatter.
Mr. Webster Says:
"Attention: Concentration of the mental powers; a close or careful observing or listening". So how does that apply to you? "Concentration of the mental powers" - all too often, we give away the concentration part of our attention to things utterly undeserving. Thoughts of worry, negative predictions, minor irritations, and daily minutiae are hardly productive, and take up too much room in your head.
And this leaves very little space for the second, critical, aspect of attention: "a close or careful observing or listening". We, as a culture, don't like to sit back and listen. We prefer to be constantly inundated with forceful messages which grab our attention and don't let go. We too often forget to sit back and actually listen to the small voice of intuition. You know, the one that already has the answers that we're trying so hard to figure out.
Try It Now
Give it a shot. Really. Stop for a minute, and focus actively on your thoughts - concentrate. What are you thinking? You know, that quiet and incessant little buzz behind your eyes; that unsettled feeling - what's behind that? Now shift your attention to listening, see if there's a message waiting for you. Just below the surface, what is it saying? Listen... You're now learning to distinguish the noise of your mind from the voice of your intuition, your inner knowing - all through the tool of attention.
You Are Not Your Thoughts
There's huge power in putting your attention actively on your thoughts. This helps you to separate the you from the thought. You are not your thoughts, you are having thoughts, they are passing through your head. You are bigger than your thoughts, and you can choose whether or not you want to give them power. And you do this by either giving them your attention, or by allowing them to just float on by.
Head and Heart
And it's not just thoughts that you can focus your attention on. As cognitive psychologists and holistic healers have known for years, emotions and thoughts are deeply intertwined. One influences the other, and both influence your physical biochemistry. So learning to actively focus your attention on the thoughts and feelings you want, while letting go of those you don't want, could be the best thing you'll ever do for your health, your well being, and your happiness.
"Great", you may say. "But it isn't so easy to catch my thoughts and feelings, or to do something about them. I don't even know how I feel half of the time, and the thoughts go by so quickly!" Fear not - here's are a few simple exercises.
Use Your Words
One way to "catch" your fleeting thoughts and feelings and to focus your attention on them is to "use your words". Just like a parent may tell an unruly and whining child who is about to pick a fight to "use your words" to explain what's bothering him, so can you gently nudge yourself to discipline. This may seem silly, but it's remarkably powerful. Write down or speak out loud (or into a tape recorder) exactly what the thoughts and feelings are. Articulating them clearly gives them shape and focus, and allows you much more freedom to act in a way that supports your growth.
Thanks For Sharing
Now, as for how to manage the spinning and repeating thoughts, here's a very simple and effective trick. Just like a parent knows not to take everything their child says too seriously, you can also learn to distinguish helpful thoughts and feelings from destructive ones. You can simply tell your thinker - "thanks for sharing. I will take your comments under advisement. Now, please move along".
So how does all this relate to helping you find "what's next", or guiding you to "a you-er you"? Very directly, actually. If you practice putting your direct attention on the jabbering of your mind, articulating those slippery thoughts, and consciously and purposefully telling them "thanks for sharing!" and then purposefully re-focusing your attention where YOU choose, you will begin to create the space for your true inner voice to come through.
Plant the Seeds:
Now it's your turn. Take a couple of minutes and try these exercises. Really. Try it now. You never know - hey, what's next...?
1. Practice noticing your thoughts. Try the exercise in the "Try it Now" section above. Really.
2. Use your words. Get over feeling silly, and actually write down what your thoughts are. Try speaking, try using a tape recorder. Experiment. Notice which thoughts show up over and over. Note your top 5 - make friends with them, and thank them profusely for sharing. And remember - attention is power. What thoughts are you giving your power to?
3. Choose consciously. Once you become aware of the thoughts going through your head, you can begin to make choices. For example: "Hm, I've been thinking a lot about how unhappy I am in my job. Thanks for sharing. Duly noted. I think I'll choose to focus my attention elsewhere right now, thanks."
P.S. So - what are you thinking... now?
4. Try it out: set aside 5 (just five!) minutes every day to just BE. No distractions, no thoughts, no worries, no to-do lists. After a week or two, see what you got from this experience.
This piece was written by Inna Nirenburg. Inna is a powerful life coach and workshop leader. She uses her deep wisdom and intuition, as well as a concrete actionable process, to help you answer the question "What's Next?" in all areas of your life. See http://www.heyWhatsNext.com for more information.