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Mindfulness and Mindful Thinking
What is mindful thinking? Well, I’m glad you asked. It is, after all, a very important question. And once you have the answer, it has the potential to change your life. I’m going to explain it in my own words – what it means to me, and how I use it to help myself.
Mindful thinking is the ability to be aware and conscious of your thoughts. To ground yourself in the present moment, acknowledging what you are thinking and feeling – but without being reactive to it.
First, think about the meaning of mindfulness. There are actually two definitions which describe what mindfulness is.
- The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
- A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
How awesome is that, right? I mean, think about it for a moment. The amount of control this allows you is downright magical. The craziest part is that WE ALL HAVE THE ABILITY TO DO IT.
Mindful thinking is built right in. It’s not something you need to change about yourself. You already do it, you may just not realize that you’re doing it. It’s really just about learning how to use it more often.
How do you learn how to use it more often? Just like you learn how to do anything else in life. You practice by using your self-awareness to become aware of your thoughts.
Here’s an example of what happens without practicing mindful thinking:
I have ADD, so anyone else who has this can relate…and a lot of you can probably relate even if you don’t have ADD. Life can be so chaotic sometimes, pulling you in multiple directions at once.
You know how one minute, you’ll be thinking about what you need to accomplish for the day. You’ll mentally scroll through the list of things you know you need to do, and then get started on your day.
The next thing you know – SQUIRREL – your mind has suddenly wandered off on some crazy tangent about how you forgot to check the oil in your car. Then you have to stop and check it, because what if it’s low on oil and your engine blows up?
And if your engine blows up, you’ll be stuck on the side of the road somewhere. If you get stuck on the side of the road, how will you get home? Isn’t getting stuck on the side of the road dangerous?
What if someone runs in to my car while I’m sitting on the side of the road waiting for help? What if…
Then, suddenly, you find yourself worrying about other things.
Did you remember to lock your back door? Will the kids be in good moods when they get home? What in the world are you going to fix for dinner?
Can you guess what happens? You know that list of things you needed to do for the day? You end up forgetting half of the things on your list.
Or, you run out of time to get them done because you end up having to stop to check your oil, and go back home to check the lock on the back door because you can’t stop worrying about it.
Is anyone else laughing hysterically at this because you realize you can totally relate? No? Just me? Well, this is awkward…
Don’t worry, I laugh at myself regularly. I think it’s good for the soul.
That’s it. That’s really all there is to it. Become aware of your thoughts so you notice your thoughts starting to wander, and reigning them back in. Basically telling yourself, “No, I’m not going to worry about those things, I have to focus on my tasks for the day.”
In reality, it can be hard NOT to worry about things, especially if you have anxiety. And if you have anxiety and ADD, well…just spend a day with me and you’ll probably feel like you handle your thoughts pretty darn well. Ha.
This is the cool part. Somehow, with having anxiety, depression and ADD, I am always consciously aware of my thoughts. Even when my train of thought wanders off.
This can sometimes be overwhelming. But my counselor has been working with me on retraining my brain, and teaching me how to use mindful thinking to become aware of my thoughts when they start heading in the wrong direction.
Once I’m able to understand the feelings that my thoughts are manifesting physically to my body, I know I need to stop and evaluate these thoughts and feelings. It’s especially helpful when my anxiety tries to creep in and create scenarios that are very unlikely. And when I start to have negative thoughts.
So, now that you have the answer to the question of what mindful thinking is, how do you learn to use it in your daily life?
I started off with some pretty simple strategies. First, I had to learn how to quiet my mind. My counselor at The Refocus Center taught me how to use meditation to do this.
Honestly, I didn’t think it would be possible to quiet MY mind – racing thoughts, anyone? But amazingly, it works. It’s actually a pretty cool experience. I realize that if I start becoming stressed or anxious about something, I have the ability to calm myself. No medicine, no one helping me through it. Just me, by using self-awareness to be conscious of my thoughts.
If you’re seeing a counselor, ask them about learning meditation techniques. Or, there’s tons of meditation videos online.
Here’s a quick five minute video on meditation for beginners –
Once I learned how to meditate, and actually took the time to practice, I moved on to the next technique that helped me a lot with changing my negative thoughts into positive ones.
This one is similar to the theory of Pavlov’s Dogs. It’s not quite to that extreme, but it has similar basic principles. I set my alarm on my phone to go off every hour, with a reminder message to “think positive”.
So every hour, I would hear that alarm go off, and I’d say to myself, “Ok, remember to think positive, remember to think positive.”
Eventually I started being able to remember it on my own. Whenever I would find myself starting to think negatively, or start worrying over nothing, I would become aware of it, and I would redirect my thoughts to positive ones.
Then I started to practice what I was learning in every day life situations.
Here’s how I started practicing mindful thinking:
While heading home on the interstate one day, I found myself stuck in traffic that was backed up and barely moving due to an accident.
Normally, I would immediately start to feel panicked (I would feel claustrophobic and trapped in these situations), but this time, I told myself, “You’re fine. You’re not in any hurry, you have nowhere you have to be, and it will start moving faster soon.”
And instead of sitting there worrying and panicking and feeling like I couldn’t breathe, I turned the radio up and sang along to my favorite songs.
Do you know how proud of myself I was when I got home? This was a huge thing for me, and I was able to get through it! Without the panic, worry or knots in my shoulders from tensing up and feeling nervous.
I became aware of my thoughts, which were creating the feelings I was having, and I was able to rationalize the situation and deescalate my anxiousness.
How and why mindfulness can help is another great article to check out. It gives you a better understanding of just how important and powerful mindful thinking really is.
If I can do it, anyone can.
Here are some great resources on what is mindful thinking to help you get started:
There are also some great books on mindfulness:
I’m still learning, but I’m pretty self-aware, which helps with all of this a lot. I hope this post answered the question, what is mindful thinking, and helped you to better understand it!
If you have any questions you’d like to ask me, feel free to post a comment on this post, in the discussion forums, or send a message on Facebook at facebook.com/anxietygirljess/
I’d be happy to chat, and answer questions if I can, or help you with finding more info if you need it!
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