Thoughts are not who you are
We are not our thoughts - although they certainly can appear real when we're spinning in them. People have got confused about this and many personal development teachers are stuck in the thought realm, teaching people to try to rearrange their thoughts or think the right positive thoughts in order to somehow get what they want.
Thoughts are clouds in front of the always-confident reality of who you really are. We are tempted to go into thinking rather than listen to our guidance; we are tempted to do it "our way" rather than to let go and let Life/our Higher Power do it. Love creates Reality - the ego and its mind chatter has nothing to do with it.
And yet going into the clouds of (over) thinking is OK - and it's more than OK, it actually has its benefits. That's why creative people overthink sometimes, amazing people do it - we all do it. It's part of life. As I often explain, thoughts are more like a weight machine, a tool you can use to evolve you. But sometimes we're overwhelmed by this overthinking and it feels like the thoughts are using you, rather than the other way around.
Some ways to deal with thoughts
When people get stuck in overthinking, the first thing they tend to do is knee-jerk try to avoid or push away their thoughts. Whilst it's understandable to resist something you don't like and it seems to make logical sense - it doesn't work very well. We've all heard the phrase what you resist, persists.
Intrusive thoughts are just thoughts you resist. They're not such a problem if you don't resist them, they are just thoughts that come and go. If you were to treat a person how most people treat their thoughts, of course you would get a reaction and you'd create a scene. It's your reaction to your own push back that creates the problems. And so we want to dare to do the total opposite - to welcome our thoughts with open arms. As shown in the classic poem The Guest House by Rumi - which talks about welcoming all thoughts and all emotions as friends - it's about non-resistance, and it works. It's love, not resistance, that casts out fear and clears the mind. When we do this, the thoughts work on our side to evolve us but we're not controlled by them.
Clearing your mind doesn't mean you'll miss out on wisdom - quite the opposite. You are more guided when you are clear-minded, you have an accurate view of things and you know what to do at the right time. When you're clear you can hear your guidance.
Sometimes we may go through a real positive shift and suddenly all these horrible thoughts come in. This a process some traditional New Thought teachers describe - and it's actually a good thing. When you go through a positive shift, negative thoughts can be released, like a detox. It's like the mind chatter is being unmasked for what it is and there's certainly a gift in this, it can mean you've gone up a level and the old ideas are just trying to pull you back. To deal with this, you can just not give the contents of the thoughts the time of day. Through my work, you remind yourself that they are weights at the gym which are a workout for you for the better. And this is another perspective that will get you to embrace them.
One of my favourite practices to apply non-resistance is the Icon Switch, which is from my book Feel Better, No Matter What. I was struggling with obsessive thoughts when it came to me. It's a really good one in that it helps you apply many of the ideas I'm sharing in this article - it is about distraction, doing something else and also unconditional love.
How to use the Icon Switch
The Icon Switch is where you create a scene in your mind of a situation which is the opposite of the intrusive thought about the situation that is on your mind. Every time the intrusive thought comes up you overlay with this scene, which is like one of those short sequence GIFs you see on social media. So you are not meeting the thought with another thought or even a statement - you are letting the thought happen but overlaying it with this sequence
So as an example you might be scared of someone who's being threatening - and your overlay would be a short scene you imagine of you at a party, surrounded by your loving entourage. Every time the thought comes up of being scared of this person, you overlay it with the scene of you at the party surrounded by people who love you (in other words the opposite of the fear thought). By doing the process, you are non-resisting thinking of that person and so it has less power. At the same time now, you are almost welcoming the image as it's your opportunity to take the workout and go into the gains of the party.
Worrying about money means you are creating money, so if money worries are on your mind overlay a scene with you winning the jackpot on the lottery or buying something big. Worrying about a loved one's safety is evolving to/praying for them being happy and empowered and living their best life. So overlay the fearful thought with a scene of them enjoying life and standing tall and being successful. Worrying about natural disasters, see an overlay of a scene of relaxation like a spa. Your fear thoughts may get detailed - as the ego often does - but you want to meet it with a more zoomed-out overlay.
Turning weights to gains
In Feel Better, No Matter What, I say it's like when you are at the gym lifting weights whilst imagining a muscly body. You don't try to resist the weights, you go with them, but at the same time you know the weights themselves aren't the main event, the gains are. So you're not thinking thoughts and being interested in them. No, you can accept them and at the same time have no interest in their content.
More ways to help
Meditation is so powerful at clearing your mind - just make sure you are doing enough. Things really shifted for me when I increased my meditation and although it was difficult at the beginning, it became a sanctuary to go into. If you find it difficult to get into meditation, some people like to chant (for example Nikki Slade's chanting, which I recommend) or doing something physical such as tapping - where you speak aloud words of accepting where you are whilst anchoring it in with physical motion. Self-enquiry can be helpful, which is about questioning the thoughts (for example using the teacher Byron Katie's four questions). As I've said, when the mind chatter is welcomed, it dissolves. Self inquiry does this - you listen to and welcome and then gently question the thoughts. You can also do the "What's Good About…" or Freedom processes or Gratitude 150 from my book to really start seeing the good in where you are. All of these practices I've found are around non-resistance and love.
Don't listen to thoughts - listen beyond thoughts
When you go into overthinking it's a reminder for you to take your practices of self-love and meditation etc more seriously. Sometimes, it's a nudge into action and getting on with your projects (being busy in a dynamic hobby or interest is a great way to replace an overthinking habit). It's a nudge to choose to clear your mind. It's time to give up the interest in analysing thoughts - which is the best thing of all to give up. Instead, give everything to the practices - and listen within.
Love yourself enough to do the practices for yourself and then fill your mind with love so there's no room for overthinking. This work is about getting out of the way - getting our thoughts out the way - and giving our Higher Power right of way.
You can attend Michael’s talk ‘Love Creates Reality – How to let go and receive’ at 13:45 on Friday 17 November at the Mind Body Spirit Festival. Access to this talk is included for FREE with your entry ticket.
You will find more ideas and the practices mentioned in this article in the books Emotional First Aid and Feel Better, No Matter What now available from Watkins Publishing