You ≠ your thoughts

TL;DR: Not all your thoughts are true. You are not the same as your thoughts.

And that’s it. But why is it good to internalise this? Let’s begin with the easy stuff.

You are not your thoughts

You can grasp this viewpoint when you think about how people are able to observe their thoughts. People also have the ability not to think (although usually only for a moment). Even when people think, they have the ability to interrupt a thought, to comment on it, to analyse it, to exchange it for another one or to stop thinking for a moment. If we were the same as our thoughts, we shouldn’t be able to do any of this and would be entirely at the mercy of our thoughts.

Meditation, mindfulness, yoga and other traditions originating from the east and focusing on awareness skills have at their core a teaching that we are not our thoughts. We have all sorts of thoughts and feelings. However, they are fleeting. “I” am something more permanent, something else.

This viewpoint is central because we have a habit of dashing and running around after our thoughts. We are easily led by our thoughts and we don’t pay attention to what or how we think. We don’t remember that thoughts themselves are subjective interpretations. And we don’t question our thoughts, which leads us to the next thing.

Not all your thoughts are true

As the main character in the world inside our head, we tend to think of ourselves as a reliable narrator. We think that what we make up internally is true. And in a way it is, since our subjective experience is always true for us in the moment.

And yet our thoughts might not be. We may have interpreted the world incorrectly. We can for example be hungry or tired, which affects our thoughts. We might not have all the information, which affects our thoughts. Our values might change, which changes our thoughts as well. We can change our opinions, so a thought we thought to be true is replaced with another, and we don’t even notice that we have just changed what’s “true”.

Our brains carelessly put in equals signs that we might not even notice. We think that how I experience this = true. We think that our interpretation about what happened = true. We think that our memory = true. Sometimes they are true. Sometimes they are not.

It might be paralysing to spend all day questioning everything you think. Instead, it would be good to, from time to time, examine those persistent thoughts that we think are true and that nevertheless seem to do more harm than good.

Try the four freeing questions

I found Byron Katie’s The Work, which is to say, the four freeing questions thanks to Saku Tuominen. Katie has four questions that help us free ourselves from the prison of our thoughts. They are:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

By asking yourself these questions you can catch thoughts that are not true and that your life would be better without. These questions can help you develop and refine your thoughts.

Thoughts are just thoughts. They are fleeting and changing. Not all of your thoughts are true. They are just data and interpretations based on the moment. You are not the same as your thoughts. You have the ability to think about your thinking and to change it. You are something else.

Or what do you think?

Your email address will not be published.