It seems that just as we can have behavioral habits, we can also have thinking habits that cause us to suffer.We all have them. Those issues, ideas or patterns of thought that hijack us. It could be a gripe about a spouse or a belief about ourselves. And when these thought habits arise, they can seem SO real, perhaps because of their intensity or persuasive arguments.
It is helpful to remember, however, that the makeup of intense or uncomfortable thought habits is exactly the same as the makeup of other thoughts that we are able to see as transitory. And by recognizing them as such, we suffer less.
Let me tell a personal story to illustrate
One of my painful thought habits is about money and business. Every couple of weeks or so a thought storm occurs within me that tells me I’m a failure, that I haven’t done enough with my life, that I will never feel successful, that no matter what I do, I’ll always be a failure.
This thought storm almost never fails to get me swept up in its whirlwind. My mood crashes through the floor and I become unbearably grumpy.
For a while – a few hours, sometimes an entire day – I completely buy into this thinking and believe every word of the thought storm/habit. Which leads to more ugly thoughts, self-condemnation, and suffering. (And before I learned about the principles of mind, consciousness and thought I bought into this thought habit entirely and took action because of it, which led to more problems. That’s a post for another day.)
When this happened to me recently I was caught up in the thought habit for several hours. It was a miserable day, and getting more miserable by the minute because I couldn’t see my thinking for what it was. Just thought.
That’s all it was. Energy coming to life within me. Except that although there was nothing personal about it I was taking it personally.
It’s normal and human to get caught up in thought storms like this. We are designed to experience thought and we also seem to be designed to believe those thoughts, often unconditionally.
Late in the afternoon on the day of my most recent thought storm/habit I took a break to go for a walk and remembered something I’d once heard Michael Neill say. He sometimes mentions that he experienced suicidal ideation as a teenager, which naturally caused him all kinds of suffering. When he was introduced to the Three Principles he began to see that labeling those self-destructive thoughts helped him to a) see that they were just simply thought, and not something be afraid of or listen to and b) create a bit of space between himself and those thoughts.
So as I walked along the street in the village where I live, the memory of this story from Michael popped into my head. And I realized my ‘I’m a failure’ thought storm was just the same as Michael’s suicidal thoughts. And that perhaps if I gave the storm a label, I too would be able to create a space between the storm-habit and myself.
So I decided to call it The Failure Story.
In other words, I’d found a way to remind myself that I am not responsible for the content of my thinking. Thinking is, to use the oft-cited metaphor, like the weather. It comes and it goes. Sometimes sunny and calm, sometimes stormy and violent. In either case, we are the sky, unaffected by whatever is passing through it.
Predicting storms makes them less scary
No doubt, wherever you live, you have noticed weather phenomena related to that area.
When we label events like this they become less scary. And they become predictable as well.
Do you have a habitual thought storm?
Can you think of a thought storm that you have on a regular basis? Something that with some predictability comes to life within you. A swirl of ideas and thoughts that seem real and cause you to suffer.
If you can’t think of an example right now, that’s okay. Because I guarantee you, one will occur to you eventually. Just like the sun rises every morning, thought habits seem to return with some regularity.
If you’ve thought of a regular thought storm, great. Now try giving it a label.
The [Fill In The Blank] Thought Storm.
The next time that storm comes to life within you, see if you can wake up to what it is. You might not wake up immediately, which is fine. But eventually, you’ll catch on to what’s happening. And by labeling what you’re experiencing, you’ll likely be able to create some space between you and the storm.
Why does this matter?
A thought storm is not the truth, no matter how real it feels. The slippery nature of habitual thoughts like this, and habitual thought storms, is that they feel real. They feel like they’re the absolute truth and that we must pay attention to them and take them personally. When I experience The Failure Story I absolutely believe it, even though I understand the nature of thought. No wonder I feel like shit when that happens!
However, The Failure Story is only as ‘real’ and solid as a cloud moving through the sky. In other words, it’s not solid or real at all. It’s there in my head temporarily, the same way clouds float across the sky.
Thought habits may be intense and theatrical, like a really good thunderstorm, but they are still just made of thought.
And when we are able to see them as such, perhaps with the aid of labeling them, they are less likely to have a negative effect on our lives. We will be more quickly able to return to our innate state of calm and peace.Do you have a thought habit that you can label as such? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.