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How many hours do you think a day?
“I’ve never thought about that before,” you are probably thinking. So let me make this clear: you think all the time, but have never thought about how much time you spend doing it. That sounds like an addiction to me. I know because I’m a thinker addict too.
Thinking too much is a common problem, but when it gets out of hand it can lead to problems sleeping, doing nothing, or even mental health problems. It is also difficult to diagnose, let alone cure.
I can say to myself
If I eat too much, I can say to myself, “I am eating too much. I should be eating less.” If I work too much, I can say, “I’m burned out. I should stop working.” Likewise, if I drink too much, “I should stop drinking. I need a bottle of water.” But if I think too much, it is not enough to say, “I think too much.” We need a different way of dealing with it.
The problem is, most people don’t see thinking too much, also called brooding, as a problem. When someone complains about brooding, we often associate it with being in a spiral of negative thoughts. And on the contrary, we think positive thoughts are good. But I think that’s a mistake. Positive thoughts can also be harmful.
Most counselors sell you negative thoughts as bad and positive thoughts as so. That sounds right at first. But the truth is that if you think too much – negatively and positively – your brain clogs like a drain. The result? Foggy thinking. And that leads to wrong decisions.
You are not your thoughts
Thinking is generally not considered something to be overcome because it is so closely related to our sense of identity. Marcus Aurelius expressed this best in his meditations: “Our life is what our thoughts make of it”.
What he means by this is that our life is very much shaped by the quality of our thoughts. I believe in that too. But many believe that we are even our thoughts.
You say to yourself: “I can’t help it that I have these thoughts. That’s me.” No, it’s not you. You can determine which thoughts to ignore. I like what Eckhart Tolle said about this in his book Jetzt! The power of the present writes: “Freedom begins when you realize that you are not the thinker.”
The only way to stop identifying with your thoughts is to stop following all of your thoughts. Instead, choose to live in the present – where you have no time to think, just experience.
How do you live in the present?
Thinking is a tool. Instead of constantly using the tool for the 16 or 17 hours that you are awake, only use it when you need it.
But how does one do it? Here are the 4 points that made me stop rethinking:
- Raise your awareness throughout the day. Realize that too much thinking takes you away from your goals, not them.
- Watch your thoughts. Whenever you have a thought, don’t follow it straight away. Instead, just notice that you have started to think. If you do, your brain won’t get carried away right away.
- Limit your thinking to certain times. For example, sit down doing your daily journal, and take time to think. Give yourself a certain amount of time – let’s say 15 minutes. In these moments, it’s perfectly fine to work through your thoughts. What we are trying to stop is constant thinking.
- Enjoy your life. Let go of all your thoughts about yesterday and tomorrow. No matter how much you want to achieve in the future and how much you have suffered in the past, guess that you are alive now.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you to enjoy doing the dishes. That is not my style. When I do something I don’t like, I’ve learned to just do it without judgment.
But when I do something that I really like, no matter how big or small, I really enjoy it. When I listen to music, watch a movie or spend time with my family, friends or girlfriend, then I am in the moment.
I don’t think about my goals, failures, or things that I have to do tomorrow. I am only here. Now. Just like the moment you read these words. When he’s gone, he’s gone forever. Realize this on a deeper level and you will never dare to leave the present.
Are you with me? Don’t think too much about it.