Can you think about not thinking? Probably not. Many of our body and mind functions are automatic. We don’t have to think about breathing or digesting. We might think about what we eat but the digesting is automatic. Tried controlling your breathing or holding your breath. It will go back to automatic very quickly. What about thoughts? Do we control the thoughts that enter our minds? I don’t. They just seem to enter as a continuous stream even when I am asleep.
So what is the best thing to do when your thoughts are not helpful? What to do when you catastrophise. Imagine you are about to give a talk and suddenly you feel panic because you think ‘What happens if my mind goes blank?’ What to do with this thought? The least helpful action would be to give the thought space to expand. You might try to get rid of the thought. ‘Go away!!’ It might.
I find the best strategy is to let thoughts drift by unless they are useful, in which case I let them in. If they are not useful, I let them continue to drift by and call them what they are – thoughts. Thoughts can’t hurt anyone… I sometimes say to myself ‘There’s that thought again’. It doesn’t like being identified as merely a thought.
Try it next time you get a useless or distracting thought. You don’t have to think all the time. Being aware is not the same as thinking. Sit quietly and watch your thoughts go by. It’s relaxing anyway.