Have you ever had an afternoon free, or even an hour you could be resting or doing something you enjoy, only to wither it away thinking about past disappointments, worry about the future, or replaying embarrassing moments or awkward conversations over and over? Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about something other than what we are doing. While it would be unrealistic to eliminate our negative thoughts altogether—the human brain is primed for distraction and negative thoughts can provide helpful information—but perhaps we can shift dwelling or ruminating on those that don’t aren’t offering such insights.
One example for me is ruminating on what other people think. Often, when we are worrying about what people think of us or what we’re doing, we are really just worrying about what we think they think.
This is not only a guessing game but one that actually has no bearing on who we really are. Yet we can easily obsess and spiral in this projection, and become stuck.
Perhaps here, we can take a lesson from the cosmos. Recently, I saw a documentary with astronomer Greg Quicke who mentioned that it is helpful to think of Pluto, not the dog from Mickey Mouse but the planet. There’s a lot of debate about whether Pluto should or shouldn’t be included in the solar system. But as Greg points out, for Pluto, what we think doesn’t matter so much.
We can be just like Pluto – again, not the dog. What people think of us really doesn’t change us—it’s about finding our own internal direction and feeling a sense of being okay in our place.
So, when I find myself overthinking instead of resting, or obsessing about what I think people think, I’ll say “Be like Pluto.”
It’s a simple practice, perhaps even a trivial one, but maybe a tangible step towards change. When I’ve experienced a period of unhappiness in my life I’ve often sought external change—my job, hairstyle or even home—only for such feelings to eventually find me again. After all, wherever you go, there you are.
So instead of getting stuck or making a drastic life change, we can perhaps become more aware of our thoughts and allow for the moment we are in.
This works for me sometimes, but I needed more mind-opening and booked a meeting with a friend and Shaman a couple of weeks ago. Besides having had an awesome new experience that opened my mind, she suggested a simple thought exercise that involved tracking your most common thoughts and devising a new set.
For the first week, I noted and catalogued my thoughts in a journal and take deep breaths while going inwards. She told me to just “freeze”, breathe, and observe. My themes were clear pretty quickly – worrying about the future; beating myself up for perceived flaws; negatively internalising other people’s actions or words; and ruminating on the past.
What was most startling when reflecting on this list was that each worrying thought was outside of my control. What people think of me, the future, and what other people do is not something I can change by mulling over it. For the most part, I can’t control what happens in my life, but I can control how I think about it.
Then I developed an alternative thought to each on my list. In the following weeks, each time I noticed myself falling into the mental loop of worrying about anything, I would tell myself, “I’m doing what I can now with what I have.”
If I found myself lost in thoughts of the past or replaying interactions, I repeated what she told me, “Be open to the surprises in the present.”
A simple reminder when I was slipping into another negative thought spiral was simply to ask myself, “Can I control or change this?”
She further told me that when we test and probe our most common thoughts, we begin to see how our thoughts are constructed—and how much control we really do have.
What became clear to me is that we can’t believe everything we think. We have choices. We can apply thought awareness, get creative and develop a new set of thoughts, or simply let our thoughts pass without overthinking or attaching meaning.
Negativity, stress and even worry serves a purpose—it enables us to think critically about our environment and actions. But that’s not to say our thoughts couldn’t do with a good spring-cleaning once in a while.
So, to reframe your thoughts or unwind from this spiral of thoughts, take note of them. Spring clean your mind. Focus on what you can control. And worry less about what you think people think, and more about what you think.
Spring-clean your mind with my friend(s) who are Shamanic Practitioner(s). It is an enlightening, awesome experience!
Be happy. Be healthy. Be open to something new.