“How do I turn my damn brain off?!”
That’s a very good question.
In today’s article I’m going to share a super simple technique that can help calm down your mind, and reduce anxiety and worrying.
Let’s get to it!
Step 1: Take A Small Step Back From Your Own Mind Activity
The solution to fixing the “mind-full-of-negative-thoughts-all-the-time-syndrome” is to take a small step back, and gain at least some small degree of awareness of your own thinking activity!
As you’re here reading this article you’ve probably already figured out that:
Your own thoughts can cause a lot of suffering and pain.
This is the first realisation towards developing thought awareness; which means that you’re already on your way to a more peaceful, quiet mind.
Most humans on earth are “lost in thought” so it’s not like it’s a rare problem, but for some of us it’s just particularly bothersome.
What Does it Mean ‘Being Lost In Thought’?
So you can get a better sense of what I’m talking about here, I thought I’d start off by giving an example from my own life where my thinking mind was basically ruining my life.
From the time I woke up at 7 AM, until I fell asleep at night at around 11 PM, I was stuck in my own cocoon of thinking.
It was as if I was blind to the world around me because all I could see was ruminating thoughts.
My mind was pretty much taken over by repeating, very controlling, negative thought patterns and it was not pleasant.
It would start of by lying in my bed, perhaps thinking about what was wrong with me and how this was ruining my life…
…and then that thought would lead to another one, if my future would be ruined as I felt like my mind was completely insane and it was making life unbearable…
…which in turn would lead to another negative thought…
…and so on and so forth.
Not Seeing Anything But Unpleasant Thoughts
My thoughts would often consume 100% of my conscious attention 24/7, unless I had the fortune of being snapped out of my thinking patterns by something, for example being engaged in an exciting conversation with a friend and for a short while simply forgetting about thinking.
Just this brief respite from 24/7-crazy-mind-activity can be such a relief, as if an enormously heavy burden on your shoulders is lifted.
But of course I would then be right back to my usual state of ‘lost in thought’ and these thoughts would be negative, anxious and/or compulsive thoughts which made me feel like crap.
And so before I knew it, it was 11 PM and I was in my bed about to fall asleep, still thinking and worrying about stuff.
…not a SINGLE time, was I able to take a step back and gain some distance to my own thinking process.
It was like I was being dragged along on this crap roller coaster ride that I didn’t even want to be on.
Worst part is that I didn’t even realize that I was on this crap roller coaster ride, it was just my normal state of being. My crap thoughts had become my identity and my life… a very crap life.
Perhaps you can relate to some of this if you’re prone to excessive thinking or have OCD or OCD tendencies!
Alright so you might be wondering:
Well, what are you supposed to do in order not to be consumed by your own thinking, and be “in charge” of the monkey mind and not the other way around?
Well, first let’s about what thoughts even are and how they work.
Step 2: What Even is a Thought?
Okay so let’s get one thing straight:
Thoughts come and go all the time.
Funny thoughts, silly thoughts, anxious thoughts, depressed thoughts, happy thoughts, weird thoughts, scary thoughts, disturbing thoughts… from nowhere they’ll enter into your consciousness and you can’t really do anything to stop them from appearing.
In fact, if you’ve ever tried to “stop thinking” by sheer force you will have quickly realized that now you’re thinking even more about how to stop thinking.
So a first step towards a better relationship with your mind is understanding that all sorts of thoughts pop up randomly, and that’s just kind of how the ‘monkey mind’ works and there’s nothing to stop it from happening.
Now, here’s another important thing to realize:
Thoughts expand and grow upon receiving your conscious attention.
So if you have a problem with ruminating and worrying, and try to stop it by “stop thinking”…
…well that’s not going to work too well.
Paying attention to negative, anxious thoughts will only make them bigger and bigger and bigger!
From my experience, it’s impossible to stop negative thinking by using shear force and “thinking your way out of them”, or trying to only “think positive, happy thoughts”.
You’ll just end up thinking even more about how to stop thinking.
Yeah – it’s frustrating to say the least.
Thoughts Are Kind of Like Clouds
Now, a pretty useful analogy of what thoughts are is to think of your thoughts as the clouds in the sky.
Some days there can be an awful lot of black clouds around weighing you down and it’s dreadfully rainy and stormy.
On these days you can’t really see anything of the sky above:
And then other days there’s not a single cloud in the sky and it’s nice and sunny:
Well, here’s the thing:
Regardless of how bad the weather is currently and how many dark clouds (thoughts) there are in the sky…
…the sky beyond the clouds doesn’t really care whether there are terrible storms raging – it’s always still and peaceful.
It can sometimes feel like you will drown from your own negative horrible thoughts.
So here I’ll use an analogy:
On a dark rainy day where everything is miserable and you can’t see anything outside of your thinking mind, all you have to do is get on an airplane.
You go up and up and in a few minutes you’ve left the storms behind and have access to that quiet, calm sky that contains all of the dark clouds.
And that’s exactly what we’re going to do next, we will go through the actual practical steps of how to get on that airplane and go beyond these dark clouds!
With some practice it is actually possible to observe your own thoughts, just the same way that you can observe your own arm moving up and down.
This kind of perspective where you gain some distance from your own thinking activity can help with not being so devoured by your thoughts.
Of course this is easier said than done, but once you can do this to even a small degree, you realize that maybe all of those negative recurring thoughts that go through your head doesn’t define who you really are, and you can just let them be without engaging with them.
Step 3: Use Your Simple Common Sense!
When your stuck in your mind, thinking, pondering and ruminating endlessly about things, you tend to feel ungrounded.
Sometimes you can’t really describe it, but something doesn’t just feel quite right.
There may be feelings of restlessness, uneasiness, nervousness, fear and anxiety.
(Back when I was REALLY struggling with my overthinking mind, I would on a regular basis think until my entire body was in physical pain due to large amounts of stress hormones being released.)
As I mentioned above, trying to “fix the issue” of overthinking by using your mind and “thinking your way out of thinking” is always going to fail.
I wish it worked but it just doesn’t.
And as we’ve discussed, it’s impossible to stop thoughts from arising.
Well… what the hell are you supposed to do then?
That’s a great question.
Really the only alternative to excessive thinking and being stuck in your mind, is to be present, now.
A Very Simple Exercise For Quieting Your Mind
As a simple exercise, try to feel the sensations in your hands for just 5 seconds.
1… 2… 3… 4… 5…
Just doing this for 5 seconds can be quite hard if you’re accustomed to endless mind chattering.
Likely your brain will start asking questions immediately: “what’s the point of doing this”, “what am I going to have for lunch today”, “I should be doing something else than this”, “this is not going to make my anxiety go away” and so on.
That’s completely fine, just try to bring your attention back towards your hands.
If you can manage to count to 5 and feel whatever sensations are in your hands – the texture of whatever your hands are touching at this moment, if you feel heat or cold, feelings of restlessness or comfortableness – then you’re present here and now.
By doing this you’re shifting your minds attention away from your thinking process, towards the present moment…
…voila, you’re not thinking!
You can also try feeling your feet on the ground for 5, 10, or perhaps even 20 seconds if you’re up to it.
Feel whatever sensations are in your feet – tense, relaxed, cold, hot – and also try to feel the stillness of the ground beneath your feet that holds you.
1… 2… 3… 4… 5… and 6… 7… 8… 9… 10…
If you can do this for even a brief moment – becoming aware of the different sensations in your body – then you’ll likely feel a bit less “un-grounded” and maybe a bit more relaxed.
At first this can feel a bit uncomfortable if you’re not accustomed to “checking in” with your body on a regular basis.
You might encounter some feelings of tightness, even fear and anxiety, in different body parts – this is completely okay, you’re not doing anything wrong!
Most of my life I was completely ignorant to what was going on in my body and would often distract myself with entertainment or drugs to avoid uncomfortable feelings and sensations.
I think Eckhart Tolle puts it nicely:
“Whatever you accept completely, you go beyond.”
When you try to avoid, escape or resist unpleasant thoughts, feelings and emotions you’ll never be free of them. It’s only by being present and allowing whatever feeling to arise that you can go beyond these “undesirable” things.
In Any Moment You Can Choose to Be Either Present – Or To Be Absent
Just to make this concept as simple as possible – in any given moment you have the option of either:
A. Giving attention to your thinking process, a.k.a being stuck in your own head where there’s an endless source of questions and things to ponder and worry about.
B. Giving attention to the present moment and connect with the stillness that is always here and now, where there are no thoughts or questions and you can peace.
This is definitely easier said than done, but at least you have an option to “going crazy in your own head” all the time, even if it only means the smallest glimpses of what it feels like to be thought-free.
A Few More Helpful Techniques
Now besides feeling and touch there are other sense perceptions that can help accomplish the same thing i.e pulling your attention into the here and now and quieting down the thinking mind:
1. Try to listen attentively to whatever sounds are in your surroundings.
Listen carefully and try to listen “beyond” the sounds themselves – the cars on the road, the wind outside the windows, people speaking, noise from the street, birds outside.
2. Look at your surroundings.
See what is there and try to not add any mental commentary to what you’re looking at. Look at the details of whatever you’re seeing and really try to examine it very carefully.
Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice!
Using your common sense is one of the best techniques for quieting a chattering mind.
Over the years it has helped me greatly reduce my suffering from rumination and I now feel like “a normal person” (whatever that is lol).
But as you’ll very quickly discover, it’s awfully difficult to just sit still and feel the different sensations in your body, look at your surroundings and listen to whatever sounds are there.
The reason why it’s so difficult is that we’re very accustomed to thinking, all of the damn time.
We’ve been conditioned to think and ponder and worry and fret. No one ever taught us the importance of just sitting down and being present here and now.
Usually the only times when we are pulled back into the present moment is when something extraordinary or unexpected happens, for example an accident that you have to react to, or you see something beautiful, or you look into someones eyes that you really like.
Well, this is why you have to practice being present, and you have to practice consistently on a daily basis.
One of the best ways of practicing this is by doing what we’ve discussed:
Using your common sense by feeling, looking and hearing.
When it comes to practicing I don’t think there’s any cookie-cutter approach that works for everyone.
However you can try to make it a habit of throughout the day feeling your feet on the ground, looking at your surroundings and listening. Especially when you catch yourself thinking about useless crap.
Meditation is also a very helpful tool for reducing mental activity, but it can be overwhelmingly frustrating to sit still for 30 minutes and try to “not think”, which is why I don’t think it’s for everyone.
Another alternative is physical exercise which often is a very effective means of reducing mental chatter.
And lastly for anyone that wants more help with this, I’ll leave you with a guided meditation that I have found to be super helpful for quieting my mind and being present here and now:
Alright that’s all, I hope that this article will help you with shutting your mind up!