What does ‘managing our mind’ mean?
We all have a tendency to believe our thoughts to be true.
Yet, not all of our thoughts are accurate or even founded. We are great storytellers, and constantly interpret the world around us. We make inferences and create juicy stories about every experience we have… but are they really true?
Learning to observe and question our thoughts is the critical power that allows us to manage our mind… and change our life.
In 2005, the National Science Foundation published a summary of research conducted on the number of thoughts humans have per day. They found that we have between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts each day.
Equally interesting is the fact that 80% of these thoughts are negative and – remarkably – 95% are exactly the same thoughts as the day before. So the vast majority of our thoughts are recycled from day to day.
Managing our mind does not mean emptying it of all thoughts.
It doesn’t mean that we control everything that comes in, like a hypervigilant gatekeeper.
It just means that we become more conscious of what’s passing through it and manage it proactively. We learn to observe and investigate our thoughts. We clean up the inaccurate and unhelpful beliefs we have accumulated over years of living. Because these beliefs are what keeps us stuck.
Imagine for a moment, that your mind is like a river flowing in a loop, with thoughts and beliefs floating on it like objects. Some of these objects may have been given to you when you were a child – they might have been helpful at the time, but as it turns out, they no longer are. This could include beliefs such as “children should be seen, not heard” or “People with money are selfish and inconsiderate”.
Through your daily experiences over the course of your life, you have collected beliefs and stories without being conscious of it. While on the surface it appears inoffensive, the constant repetition of these thoughts means that they become ingrained in your mind’s programming and they lead you to feel and act in certain ways.
If one of these beliefs happens to be “I’ll never amount to anything”, it’s easy to imagine the impact it would have on the decisions you make along the way and how it defines your journey through life.
How to manage our mind?
Learning to observe our thoughts and emotions
The first step in being able to manage your mind is becoming more conscious of what’s flowing through it. Developing a mindfulness practice will help you to become more aware of the thoughts arising, and remind you that you are the watcher of these thoughts (rather than the thoughts themselves).
Being the observer opens up choices: it offers the option to investigate these thoughts and to be intentional about those we choose to hang on to because they support the life we wish to live.
Your mindfulness practice will also help you to tune in to the emotions you experience. Emotions are powerful messages, which signal that something requires our attention.
Investigating and reframing our thoughts
Noticing our thoughts and recognising our emotions gives us the material we need to investigate.
One of my favourite tools to do this is the unSTUCK method created by Shira Gura. It’s a simple, 5 step process which will help you to explore and reframe your thoughts. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity, the more you use it, the more you will appreciate how powerful it is. Each letter of the word STUCK stands for a step. Here is how it works:
- Stop – take a pause, stop what you are doing for a moment. Take a few deep breaths and allow the emotion you are feeling to run through you.
- Tell – what emotion(s) are you feeling in this moment? Can you label it?
- Uncover – this is where you uncover the thoughts that are hiding behind your emotions. Simply ask yourself: what am I thinking that is triggering me to feel this way?
- Consider – investigate your thoughts. For each of them ask yourself: is this thought really true? Is it serving me? Who am I being when I have that thought? If you identify that a thought is inaccurate or simply not serving you, consider what else is in the realm of possibilities. What other way of thinking could you adopt in this situation, that would be more supportive.
- Kindness – Close off the process by practising self-compassion. Remind yourself that being stuck is part of our human experience. It doesn’t make you ‘less than’ or inadequate, it makes you human! Acknowledge yourself for your willingness to do this inner work and get unstuck.
So next time you feel stuck, whether it’s on sabotaging yourself, anxiety, anger, or any other difficult emotion, try these 5 simple steps and see if you can get unstuck.
Getting unstuck certainly requires courage but it is incredibly powerful. Most importantly, this method gives us a sense that we are not powerless. Whilst we often can’t control our circumstances, we can be very intentional about the way we think and live.