As I write this paragraph, I’m in the midst of a lot of change in my life. Nothing that makes me extremely cursed, but it’s a lot. I essentially had the reset button pressed on most of my life, and that has ramifications that can a long time to shake out.
When events like this occur, the advice most people give is to “take some time” to adjust to the new normal. This event is not described in much detail ever, mind you. Just take some time for yourself and things will work themselves out.
It made me wonder, don’t we all have to do that regardless of our life circumstances?
Granted, my situation specifically calls for some time to myself for contemplation. Addiction recovery specialists teach when voids occur in our lives, it’s imperative we are careful with how we fill it. You wouldn’t want to replace a drinking problem with say, another harmful substance. It counterbalances the good deed with a worse one. Religious books even speak about what happens when you don’t replace voids properly. In times like these, its safe to say our decision making needs to slow down because it might not be as sound as usual.
Fact remains, taking time to think is something we should all do because we always have it. Work commutes, cleaning chores, workouts, and so many other moments give us chances to stop and think. As a result, I’ve been researching some of the better ways to spend time in thought and what it can mean for our personal health.
There’s nothing wrong with your thoughts.
Before we get into any kind of techniques or advice, we need to address the elephant in the room. Our minds are flooded with all kinds of thoughts every day, and thats okay.
Some are helpful reminders. The bathroom sink handle needs to be repaired, or you should have that skin spot checked out. The more you can process and document those thoughts, the more organized you can feel.
It feels good to handle those thoughts.
Other thoughts can feel dangerous out of context. The meeting today with your boss could be serious. Your reaction to the news last night could mean you have a hidden bias not previously addressed. Being divorced is hard, and there could be something deeper going on with you.
Dwelling on these topics scare the hell out of me, and having them can sometimes make one feel like there’s something wrong. In the most gentle way I can word this, please hear me when I say there’s nothing wrong with the thoughts that enter your head.
“Therefore when the mind knows itself and loves itself, there remains a trinity, that is the mind, love, and knowledge.” — Peter Lombard
I’ll say it again, there’s nothing wrong with the thought you just had. It’s what you do with it next that matters.
The point of thinking is to know yourself.
In her amazing talk at Agile2016, my good friend Pradeepa posited the way to become a better listener is to know yourself. By implementing some mindful practices in your routine, you can’t truly understand someone else until you focus on yourself first. It was insightful, but I think we should take that idea further.
Focusing the pursuit of knowledge internally is the key to unlocking your true potential.
“Know yourself to improve yourself.” — Auguste Comte
By taking moments of solitude and focusing your thoughts internally, you can increase the quality of your current relationships. Our memories are strengthened. We surely live with a greater sense of emphathy.
Granted, alone time means dealing with the potential for loneliness, but it doesn’t have to result in being eaten alive from the inside. In her book The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, Olivia Laing describes a hidden benefit of solitude: making a friend out of yourself.
“I don’t believe the cure for loneliness is meeting someone, not necessarily,” she wrote. “I think it’s about two things: learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many of the things that seem to afflict us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted.”
Don’t let your thoughts guide you.
Not to sound like a Tony Robbins disciple, but you have a say in what story your mind is telling you. In moments where it seems like your thoughts are getting away, you have every right to step in and do something with them. We must make specific efforts to guide our thoughts, and not the other way around.
“By stopping regularly to look inward and become aware of my mental state, I stay connected to the source of my actions and thoughts and can guide them with considerably more intention.” — Dustin Moskovitz
Thinking in a vacuum can be destructive. Many encourage solitary times of thought to be accompanied by pairing it with activity. Doing something with positive results can help you process things better. Go for a run. Volunteer somewhere. Write something down on paper (or…ahem…a blog).
Just do something.
When you engage in activies that help you process your thoughts, you can start rationalizing what is truthful. The more you can attach facts or can validate with others, the more light you shine. If your thoughts are truly something to be concerned about, it won’t seem as scary in the light and you can formulate a plan to address them.
Also, understand that feelings aren’t always your friend. Feelings are the result of emotions, and often they are the result of ideas not based in reality. I don’t mean to argue that emotions should be ignored. Don’t let your mind wonder off because of something that might not be true.
This is a journey we’re all on.
I have never needed to take my own advice more than this post. Knowing myself better and processing my thoughts are something I don’t know if I will ever master. Each day is a new opportunity to learn and share. Please don’t think you’re alone, and I invite you to widen your circle to prove it.