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Watch Your Thoughts April 7, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Happiness, Life Balance, Meditation, Mindfulness.

Our minds love-to-go-a-wandering-along-a-mountain-track, creating unnecessary drama in our lives by:

* Conjecturing about what others think of us.
* Worrying about nothing, everything, anything.
* Acting as the ever-vigilent “inner critic.”
* Berating us for each slip of the wrist or tongue.

Through meditation, we learn to sit and mindfully observe our thoughts.  We notice the constant stream of chatter which consists, in significant measure, of blatant lies (“I can’t do anything right”), propaganda (designed to appease  or draw attention to the Ego), and figments of our fertile imagination.

Once we tune in and hear what our mind has been telling us for days, weeks, months, years, we realize why we often feel tired, edgy, and ill-at-ease.  It’s stressful to have someone sitting in close proximity chattering like a monkey, about the same old things.

When we practice mindfulness, we learn to watch our thoughts . . . without being swept away by them.

We start to see pebbles as pebbles, not boulders.  We begin to see things as they are, instead of as we are:

* We recognize emotions as they arise so that we can decide how to act instead of just re-acting.

* If someone criticizes us (unfairly), we let it roll off without internalizing it. It’s just their opinion and nothing to get hung about.

* We hear our “inner critic” and examine the truth of its pronouncements.

* When our “inner critic” starts harping on the One Thing we did wrong that day, we remind ourselves of all the things that we did with panache.

* We notice self-defeating thoughts that create unnecessary suffering as they arise and nip them in the bud.

* If we start feeling upset, we step back and observe what’s going on without getting caught up in the drama.

* We mindfully decide how to act rather than just re-acting when someone “presses our buttons.”

Once our mind is clear of non-productive thoughts (most of the time) . . . it stands ready to tackle the intellectual and creative challenges we assign to it, instead of spending hours engaged in exhausting busy work.

The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.  Reclaim the remote.

Aah . . . that’s better!

We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same. ~ Carlos Castaneda

What about you?  Have you ever watched your thoughts with detachment?  Any surprises?  Any untruths?  Any unsupported judgments, pronouncements, or opinions?

Related posts:  Better Thoughts -> Better Results * How To Eject Your Inner Critic *  The Awakening by Sonny Carroll * Attack of the Killer ANTsTraining the Mind (The Blue Lotus Cafe) * You Are NOT Your Brain (Always Well Within)


1. oldancestor - April 7, 2011

I used to be very skilled at angering myself about things that MIGHT happen. At some point in my glacially slow maturing process, I realized none of the stuff I was frustrating myself about ever came to pass.

That was one skill I was willing to let atrophy.

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

The best skill I’ve ever learned is mindfully observing my thoughts . . . and ignoring those that are not productive.

Aah . . . that’s better. 😎

2. SuziCate - April 7, 2011

I’m working on putting that inner critic in her place!

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

If you type “inner critic” into the search bar, you’ll find posts on ejecting the inner critic.

The best way to change the world is to change our minds.

3. Piglet in Portugal - April 7, 2011

We can be our own worst enemy!

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

We can, indeed, PiP! I’ve caused myself far more unnecessary suffering than anyone else ever did.

When we don’t worry about the “labels” that others choose to apply to us, we are free to be who we always wanted to be.

4. William D'Andrea - April 7, 2011

I wonder. What do you mean by “non-productive thoughts”? While I do have many thoughts, memories, feelings and ideas that are totally negative, I have often found a use for them in my writing. I don’t ignore any positive or negative things that go through my mind. They are the basis for my creativity. I put them to use.
I am a natural comedian, and when I am writing, this joker is wild.

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Oh, a non-productive thought might be . . .

I can’t do this. It’s too hard. I’ll never be a writer. Others are so much better, funnier, and more creative than I am.

Or . . .

I can’t lose weight. I’ll always be fat. I’m not going to even try to exercise. Why bother? It’s just a waste of time.

Or . . .

I don’t like being called a “label.” People should NOT call me that. They should know it hurts my feelings. Just because I’m sensitive doesn’t mean that I’m a “label.”

I’m sure, if I was writing about a neurotic character, I might be able to use some of this inner dialogue to make them believeable. But I choose not to have stuff like this floating around in my head day after day after day on the outside chance that it might come in handy “down the road” in my writing.

My imagination is fertile enough and my brain is clear enough that I’ll be able to remember what it was like to have these types of non-productive thoughts circulating endlessly around my brain, should the need to write about them ever arise.

Oh, wait! It just did. 😎

5. carldagostino - April 7, 2011

These questions are a good adjunct to any 12-step program

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Yes, indeed. Many of us are “addicted” to Automatic Negative Thoughts . . . ANTs.

Once we break our addiction to ANTs, other addictions often fall away of their own accord.

6. William D'Andrea - April 7, 2011

I am not overwhelmed by these negative thoughts. I just keep them locked in storage, for whenever I might need them.

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Good for you. Sounds like you’ve got your “monkey mind” under lock and key. 😀

7. Greg Camp - April 7, 2011

My inner critic is insistent, so I put him to good use. Since I earn my living as an English teacher, I doubt that I could silence the critic even if I wanted to. I’d feel hypocritical if I didn’t apply the same standards to my own writing that I do to my students’.

Regarding the mind as master or servant, I think that a disciplined mind is a wonderful thing to be.

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Aah, that’s what I call my “inner editor.” Definitely a valuable ally for a writer or speaker.

In contrast, my “inner critic” is the voice that harps on some minor transgression, or tells me I can’t (when I know I can), or complains incessently that I ate one too many cookies, or . . .

Inner editors are grand. Inner critics are best ejected. 😀

8. Cindy - April 7, 2011

Inner critic has been banished to the toolshed, at least for tonight …

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Excellent. Enjoy your wine without the whine. 😛

9. adeeyoyo - April 7, 2011

Oh, Nancy, you’ve verbalised what I have known for a good while – we are our own worst enemies! It’s only when we acknowledge this and take control bit by bit (and that’s hard) that we can move on. Thank you for such an inspiring post. 8)

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Thanks, Denise.

I doubt that I will ever attain “ethereal enlightenment” from meditation under a distant Banyon Tree, but being more mindful of my thoughts has made my life 250x better and easier and happier.

10. Carol Ann Hoel - April 7, 2011

Another engaging post, Nancy. Do I observe my thoughts? Yes, and my inner critic sits right there with me flapping her jaws until I have to tell her to shut up. I like the statement you made: “When our “inner critic” starts harping on the One Thing we did wrong that day, we remind ourselves of all the things that we did with panache.” Ha! I like this plan. My inner critic says I did nothing but screw up the entire day. She can take a hike.

Nancy, do you think I need a shrink? My inner critic says I do. She can shut up. Right? Blessings to you…

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

LOL. I’ve never thought, Hmm . . . Carol Ann might benefit from professional counseling.

The first time I told my inner critic to shut up was when I decided to paint 2 zebras. It told me You can’t paint zebras. Zebras are hard. Who do you think you are? Rembrandt? Paint something easier . . .

I told it to Shut Up and painted two zebras that I love to this day.

Our inner critic is a nagging naysayer. IT is the one who needs a shrink . . . or maybe just shrink-wrap! 😛

11. Debra - April 7, 2011

Yes, I am an observer most of the time. 🙂

And it amazes me the amount of trash that has been built up….due to ‘listening’ to society and ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’.:)

@Nancy…I bet you have had glimpses of enlightenment. Your writing says that to me.

@Carol Ann ~ I am not a doctor …but if your inner critic has been telling you lies before…then it is possible that when it says you, ‘need a shrink’ it might be lying:)

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Thanks, Debra. I have had moments, here and there, now and then, when everything “came together” and made sense, but I wouldn’t call it lasting enlightenment.

I do, however, feel much more “enlightened” about how non-productive thoughts have contributed to the suffering in my life and how the easy it is to “change the world” just by changing how we relate to it.

Be Here Now.

12. Tilly Bud - April 7, 2011

This felt like you were talking about me! I guess we’re all like this from time to time. I find I am less so now, as I pray more – a type of meditation.

It’s good to be reminded of the bad habits that sneak up on us. Thanks 🙂

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Nope. Not talking about you, or any one person. But every day I see people adding to their own suffering by the thoughts they think.

I am less like this than I was in the past . . . but old habits die hard. I still catch myself expecting OTHERS to change to accomodate me . . . instead of just ignoring opinions that don’t mesh with my own understanding of who I am.

It takes a lot less effort to change our view of the world than to change anyone else’s mind.

13. Paula Tohline Calhoun - April 7, 2011

“I doubt that I will ever attain “ethereal enlightenment” from meditation under a distant Banyon Tree. . .” You said that to see who would notice, didn’t you? 😀 LOL 😀 !!!

Unless, of course, you don’t WANT to attain ethereal enlightenment by meditating under a Banyon Tree. . .

Great post, Nancy! I love it particularly when you take the time on occasion to write a more “fleshed out” post that includes more meat to chew on. INITIALLY “negative self-talk” can serve a purpose, but they become so terribly destructive when we elect to hang on to them, instead of using them for a springboard to get us motivated to change and heal ourselves with the help of our true inner selves. Self-love is the key to love of others. By “negative self-talk” I am referring to those thoughts that encompass honest criticism of our own lives, and that can go one of two ways: either downhill to the hellish pit of self-hatred, or up to the sunlight of positive character development.

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Well, actually I said that for two reasons: (1) some people are afraid to try meditation for fear that they will lose touch with reality . . . when just the opposite occurs, and (2) to remind people that we can benefit from mindful meditation without turning into a smiling Buddha!

To me the “inner critic” does not engage in honest self-reflection. It’s just a nasty voice that makes us feel bad.

In contrast, our “inner editor” points out both the negatives and the positives to assist us to bring more balance to our lives.

Glad you enjoyed.

14. Rosa - April 7, 2011

“The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”
What a brilliant way to say this! It is so important to keep a strict watch on our own minds… Or we can have a tendency to dwell on all the wrong parts of our lives!

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Our minds like to keep busy. If we don’t give them something productive to do . . . they get in all sorts of mischief. 😉

15. kateshrewsday - April 7, 2011

A fantastic reminder of how grounding meditation can be, Nancy 🙂 Thank you so much. I loved this.

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

These days, even when not meditating, I am very observant of my thoughts ~ always asking, Is that true? Is that helpful? Is that a thought to hang onto . . . or should I let it drift away.

It has made life infinitely easier. 😀

16. barb19 - April 7, 2011

Something we all have inside us that we need to take control of. Thanks for the reminder Nancy!

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Thanks, Barb. In my younger years, I never questioned the way I looked at the world, and didn’t realize how my thoughts colored EVERYTHING I saw.

Now, I realize that when we control our thoughts, we reclaim our FREEDOM.

17. Cities of the Mind - April 7, 2011

Ugh, the endless search for perspective! I have in recent years learned to clamp down on perfectionism, but it still takes a conscious act of will to shrug off any mistake.
I have to go through the process of: Why did this happen?–>How can it be prevented in the future?–>Ok.–>No, really, ok.–>Seriously, ok already!

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

I hear you, Connor. I’m much easier on myself these days: I screwed up. Yeah, you did. Oh, well. There’s always tomorrow.

Besides . . . no one likes perfect people. They prefer to see a few dings and chips in our armor. 😀

Cities of the Mind - April 7, 2011

Well, that explains why I keep getting more popular. A few more “clever” life decisions and I’ll be able to run for high office.

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Well, that’s a refreshing scenario . . . a real person (rather than a puppet) running for Congress!

If you aren’t already a fan, may I suggest:


souldipper - April 7, 2011

Ain’t that the truth! Folks are uncomfortable until they find the humanness in the other.

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

We like screw ups . . . but not Screw Ups. 😉

18. libraryscene - April 7, 2011

you’ve struck a chord…ironically, as I type I watch the Black Swan, something tells me I shall seem peachy after this drama…

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Aah, let me know what you think of it. It’s in our queue.

19. jeanne - April 7, 2011

I have been in a funk from my stinking thinking lately…just what I needed to hear.

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Excellent commentary . . . stinking thinking. Good luck getting out of your funk. 😀

20. Penny - April 7, 2011

A really wonderful post. Your inspiration for writing is very intriguing as well as having the creativity attached. I also like creativity, its the lighthouse to design our own life and our own thoughts, and not getting hung up with what other people think. That is something, I gave up a very long time ago. Believe in yourself. I also fight an inner critic-but in the long run-it doesn’t matter, because I enjoy being me !! 🙂

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

Good comment, Penny.

Sometimes, when we are trying to shed some light on a situation, our motives are questioned. If I know that my heart is in the right place, I don’t worry unduly that others misunderstand the intent behind my actions.

Here’s to creativity and inspiration!

21. linda - April 7, 2011

It is very very difficult to do this having ADD. Imagine a little kid in a church service. Or it’s like a three ring circus going on in ones head. I am trying though. I like it when I am able to quite my mind enough for a relevant scripture to come into my mind that helps to calm me and get a better hold the situation.

nrhatch - April 7, 2011

I suspect it’s difficult for most people. Learning to meditate, like learning to play the piano, isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort.

My mind used to be incredibly chaotic and agitated at times, with thoughts careening around, bumping into each other. Now, it’s calm and placid (most of the time). As soon as I notice my thoughts getting agitated, I pause and focus on my breath and take a step back and see what’s really going on.

Now, it’s almost second nature. But that wasn’t always the case. Just the opposite. I would be all worked up about stuff BEFORE remembering to reclaim the remote.

22. eof737 - April 8, 2011

When I’m in that detached witness state… things go by like on a movie screen and I am not affected by the drama… Wish it were permanent.

nrhatch - April 8, 2011

Exactly. Instead, we’re just curious about the self-defeating actions of others. 🙂

23. Craig - April 8, 2011

Thanks for this refreshing reminder to step back from the momentum of my thoughts and to see them for what they are – thoughts. What a powerful thing to realize, yet so easy to forget. I tend to get very busy with my work and I forget to slow down throughout the day to step back and take a wider perspective. I’m going to do it now!

nrhatch - April 8, 2011

The first time I did it ~ someone was yelling at me. Instead of being “in the middle of the fray” . . . I watched HER yelling at NRH. Just watched and listened without feeling the need to jump in and defend myself.

When she finished, I calmly said, “From your perspective, I can see why you would think that.”

She knew she’d been heard and calmed down.

Then, we had a lovely chat . . . parting on good terms. Very empowering lesson to learn.

24. tahliaN - April 8, 2011

Oh yeah! You got it. Years ago I did a very simple thing, I decided to watch my mind. What a revelation. Now I do it automatically, all the time. I always know what’s going on in there – watch it like credits rolling across a TV screen. That image is in my novel too, meditation is a major part of the heroine’s training on how to defeat demons that feed on fear, anger, hatred etc. You get the idea.

nrhatch - April 8, 2011

Yes, exactly. I try to remain mindful at all times. I slip now and then, but for the most part my mind is not longer like a TV playing in the background with no one watching it.

I love that you incorporated meditation and mindfulness into your heroine’s training. Once we know what’s going on up there, we reclaim control and steer our ship more smoothly.

25. The Reason You Come - April 24, 2011

“The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master. Reclaim the remote.” This must be one of the best advice I’ve received in a long time, possibly the best advice I’ve ever received. Thank you!

nrhatch - April 24, 2011

Glad it resonated with you. I’ve found that when I remain mindful of my thoughts . . . life becomes easier.

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