Have you ever met someone for the very first time and seconds later you cannot recall their name? Or maybe you have had the all too common experience of arriving in your garage with little recollection of the journey home. All these everyday common occurences indicate that the average person is spending a large portion of their lives lost in thought.
It’s often been referred to as the monkey mind and many people can probably relate to the analogy of a playful child. The truth of the matter is that your brain loves to play. It is “on” every moment of the day. And if there is nothing entertaining in the outside environment it often resorts to playing indoors.
But what’s it playing with? You might be surprised to know it’s largely negative and useless thoughts. There are seven typical thoughts that commonly capture attention and steal it away from the important things in life.
1. What If’s (or living in the future)
“What if” thinking sucks your attention down a dark hole. Your life experience shows that you cannot predict, control or anticipate the future. So why do you do it? Your brain is like a threat detecting machine constantly scanning the external environment for potential harm. The trap comes when you create stories around these potential threats in the mistaken belief that thinking about them will protect you from them. In fact it does the opposite. You can invest so much time and negative energy in something that is not even real. When you are inside your head planning a future you can’t control, you have less attention to give to the things unfolding right in front of you.
2. Reruns (or stuck in the past)
Have you ever had a conversation that’s just gone around and around in your head? The more you replay it, the more confused you get, the more you “see” in the conversation, the worse you feel. Punishing yourself and for what ? Something you can’t change. Reflection is useful to learn the big lessons in life. Re-running becomes destructive when you keep going over things well after that lesson has been learnt. So many people find themselves stuck in the past. Going over and reliving something that they can’t change and in the meantime depleting the attention that could be given to something that could create their future.
3. Habits (or stuck in a rut)
You may not be aware of this fact, but every person has been training their brains since the day we were born. Once you have practiced something over and over again, your brain lays down pathways. That’s how you learn but that’s also how you create ruts. Your brain will always take the path that requires less energy. It does not know what’s right or wrong for you. It just practices what you’ve told it to do. And it gets very, very good at it. So if you worry on a daily basis or get frustrated on a daily basis, you will quickly become a master of your own misery.
4. To dos
Let’s face it so many people have a “to do” list running in their brains from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed (and sometimes it wakes you up too!) But the list is what you think “should” be happening today not what really “is” happening. And that’s where stress arises. You are rarely stressed about the one thing you are doing in this moment. Stress is created from the things you think you haven’t done, should do, or are doing next. And the result is that you usually end up overwhelmed and do nothing!
Fears have steered the brain since the earliest of times. The fight or flight mechanism has been alive and well since our ancestors dodged predators and had to compete for resources. In today’s modern world your challenges are different but you still have the same brain. It will try to stop you from taking opportunities when you might fail. Even though failing is the precursor to learning and success. It will convince you that you need to control the future. Even though you know that you can’t and letting go is the more effective option. It will persuade you to blend in and stay with the crowd. Even when standing out, being authentic and finding your voice are your truth.
6. Negative self-talk
Chances are your inner critic is alive and well 24 hours a day like a radio station that plays softly in the background. And while your attention is hijacked with this script, the negatives are all you will ever see. By focusing on this radio station of negative self talk, confidence is slowly depleted. What you focus on grows. And the more you focus on “I’m not good enough” the more you become just that.
If your own negativity wasn’t enough, you also catch the negative thinking of others! Negativity spreads like a virus. And conversely happiness is contagious! And thanks to neuroscience research there is a scientific explanation to why this happens. Every person has a set of mirror neurons whose role is to detect thoughts and emotions in others and experience them as if you were experiencing them for yourself. So be aware and don’t let your attention be hijacked by someone else’s problems.
Your attention is limited and when it is soaked up with destructive or useless thinking, there is little left to give to the things that really matter. Give up these seven types of thinking patterns and see how your life benefits from living in the present moment.