We have all kinds of thoughts, all the time.
Positive thoughts, sad thoughts, longing, excitement, pain, nostalgia, fear. Some thoughts are meaningless and mundane, others are revelatory. The National Science Foundation estimates that we have 50,000 thoughts each day, 95% of which are repeated each day.
I used to think that just because I thought something, it was what I believed. That the thought represented some Truth within me.
I would think, I haven’t gotten enough done today, and take the thought at face value, automatically believing it and consequently feeling bad about myself.
I would be out at a cafe and think, those people over there are laughing at me, and instantly believe it, causing my confidence to drop a little.
I never used to question my thoughts, I never used to think, maybe they are laughing at something someone at the table said and one of them just happened to make eye contact with me. And anyway, if they were laughing at me, then what the hell is wrong with them? Not me, them.
There are darker thoughts too. Thoughts like, what if this fight with my partner marks the beginning of the end? Or what if I never fully regain my health?
There is a blurry and confusing line between fear and intuition. How do we know whether a thought that produces a “sinking feeling in our gut” is due to our internal compass telling us something or our lizard brain, trying to “protect us” from pain?
There is one simple realization that has helped me deal with the negative thoughts that appear in my head. It is this:
You get to choose which thoughts to believe.
Just because you think something, that doesn’t mean that you believe it. You get to decide which thoughts you accept as truth and which you reject.
Uchiyama refers to thoughts as “mental secretions,” which is pretty amusing and really lowers their value. As I’ve begun meditating over the last few months, I’ve become more and more aware of my thoughts and I’ve noticed just how many of them are total rubbish and don’t serve me in any way.
Becoming aware of your thoughts and questioning them can give you space to consider the tricky ones that might be intuition or might be fear. It can give you space to really think about what’s going on for you.
Fear-based thoughts tend to arise quickly and intensely, making us want to act NOW. Intuition is based on signs over time. If you feel as though you need to change something this instant and it is a fairly new feeling, it’s likely fear. Give it time and question it because it might not be true.
The interesting thing is that, although false and insignificant thoughts will always be around, the more you question and reject your negative thoughts, the less frequently they appear. When I was in my teens and early twenties, I used to think all kinds of terrible things about myself. I rarely have thoughts like this anymore because I worked so hard to replace them and build up my confidence.
I’m writing this post because the notion that your thoughts are not your beliefs and that you can choose which thoughts to believe is a simple but profound idea that has served me well. I thought it would be helpful to share.
However, I’m also writing this as a reminder to myself. During stressful times, it can be hard to remember that you have agency and that you create your reality by choosing your thoughts and directing your focus. But you do, and you can.
Do you question your thoughts? How do you know the difference between intuition and fear/resistance?
Emilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe scientist. Learn more about Emilie here.