Watching your thoughts can show you what you have been hiding from yourself for a long time. If you master that, you’ll have less internal doubts.
To be straightforward, many people have trouble letting go of their compulsive thoughts because they read too many self-help books. Basically they consume too much information.
Realizing that my thoughts are not real and that they do not affect me in any way was very freeing. I learned how to change my thinking from negative to more realistic and helpful.
In this article, I’ll share my realizations and personal perspective on how to watch your thoughts if you want to live a more peaceful and growth-oriented life.
First, I’ll cover the theory and then I’ll explain you a practical three step process.
Emotions Rule Over Your Thoughts
You are an emotional creature by nature. When you feel happy, sad, angry, fearful, jealous, proud, etc., it’s easy to believe your feelings are true.
You may even start believing that everything bad happens to you. Or maybe you get so caught up in what others say or do, that you believe them. It’s hard to see things objectively.
When you’re feeling good, you don’t notice much else. However, when you’re feeling down, you tend to notice more details. And you focus on those details.
When you’re having a good day, you might notice the sun shining outside your window. When you’re having a bad day, you might notice everything wrong with your home.
Do you get my point? Your focus changes.
This is how your thoughts are constantly being created.
Thoughts are generated from emotional state and then manifest a particular worldview you want to focus on.
Thoughts Will Just Appear
When you think about something, you create an image in your mind. Your brain creates these images based on what you focus on. In other words, when you think about something, it’s because you’re focusing on it.
You might even notice that when you don’t pay attention to something, it will just disappear.
So, when you start thinking about something, there’s no need to worry about whether those thoughts will appear. They will. You can not stop them from coming up.
This means that if you try to control your thoughts by trying to suppress them, you won’t succeed.
Your thoughts will always be with you.
Understand Your Thoughts
The first thing to understand is that thoughts are mental events. That means that they are not physical things.
They are simply ideas in our minds. When you look at a thought, you see only its shape and color. There is nothing else.
But inside your head, there are millions of thoughts going through your mind all the time. If you could see inside your own head, you would see that there is a lot of activity going on.
These thoughts are constantly changing and shifting. Sometimes they are positive, sometimes they are negative. Some are happy, some sad, others angry, etc.
It doesn’t matter what kind of thoughts you have. The important thing is to realize that they are not real.
Your thoughts are a manifestation of your emotions. So, if you feel anxious, then your thoughts will reflect that emotion.
If you feel depressed, then your thoughts will also reflect that feeling.
This is why most people tend to think about themselves all the time. Because they are experiencing a lot of stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, frustration, etc., so naturally they think about themselves.
You Are Not Your Thoughts
As mentioned earlier, your thoughts are a manifestation of your emotions.
Emotional feelings are not static. They change over time.
So, as you become aware of your thoughts, you should also become aware of your emotional state.
You may find yourself becoming more aware of your emotions than your thoughts. It happens this way because your emotions are much stronger than your thoughts.
Very often, we ignore our emotions until they reach a level where we can’t ignore them anymore. We get upset, frustrated, worried, etc.
At this point, our emotions take over our thoughts. Our thoughts are still there, but they are just reflecting our emotions. Our emotions are powerful, so they usually win out.
We don’t have to fight against our emotions. Instead, we can learn to recognize them early enough so that we can do something about them before they escalate into full-blown emotions.
So, how do you know if you are having a stored emotional reaction?
Well, here are some signs:
- Feeling agitated, irritated, angry, or frustrated.
- Having difficulty concentrating.
- Feeling restless or unable to sit still.
- Being easily startled.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Focusing too much on yourself.
- Thinking about the past.
- Feeling guilty or ashamed.
The good thing is that these are all normal reactions for humans. We experience them every day.
When you notice any of these symptoms coming up, it’s best to acknowledge them. Don’t push them away. You’ll never be able to deal with them effectively if you don’t allow yourself to feel those emotions.
Once you’ve acknowledged your emotions, they will naturally dissipate and your thoughts will automatically go with them.
The Practice Of Watching Your Thoughts
It’s time to let go and look at your thoughts as if they don’t belong to you. They are a by-product of your emotions and your surroundings.
When you watch your thoughts, you can peel off layers of meaning from them. You can start to see through their illusions.
Naturally, you will then ask, “How do I learn to observe my thoughts?”
Well, there are three phases.
- This is silly
- This is messy
- This is OK
This is silly
In the first phase, when you sit and relax, the first few minutes you think “this is silly” or “why bother sitting and doing nothing?”
In this phase, you are not even noticing your thoughts. You are just noticing self-talk.
Your brain doesn’t want to stop talking to itself. But soon you’ll realize that self-talk will be replaced by other thoughts.
Keep in mind that it can take you up to 15 minutes to go from self-talk to observing thoughts. So, give yourself time.
But if you have any distractions while you are doing this, you can be certain that you won’t be able to fully notice your thoughts.
This is messy
Next comes the second phase, and it will take the bulk of your watching your thoughts practice.
In this phase, you are noticing your thoughts coming up more and more.
Very often, they repeat themselves. They keep going around in circles. And very often, what you’re thinking about is not important.
What’s important is that you start watching these thoughts and nothing else.
Do not try to suppress them.
Do not try to change them.
Your job is to observe them and let them go.
I call this phase “This is messy” because it is really messy when 100 different thoughts come up.
They are all mixed together and you’ll think they are making you crazy. But just be still and you’ll notice these thoughts will lose their power over you.
And then you’ll find yourself looking back and realizing that you can see there’s a generator for these thoughts. That’s when we start to understand that emotions are actually what we are suppressing.
You’ll observe your heartbeats, your breath, and your body temperature. You will notice if you are clenching your jaw, your hands, or your feet.
As you are doing this, you’ll notice a sudden relief that you cannot describe, but you’ll see that the thoughts that were bothering you are not so bad or complex anymore.
Finally, you get into the third phase.
This is OK
You’ll have a slight smile on your face. The tension in your face will be gone. You’ll feel relaxed.
After that, you will move on to doing whatever you need to do throughout the day, but with one noticeable difference. You have less tension, you can see things a bit more clearly and objectively.
One thing I want to say, even though it sounds obvious, is that you don’t want any distractions.
You can do this for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or even an hour, but the point is to be with yourself.
The point is to understand yourself. To befriend yourself.
If you can do this for an hour, you’ll know how powerful you are.
So, now that you know all three phases, here’s a short overview of how to watch your thoughts:
- Sit down somewhere comfortable where you won’t be disturbed.
- Close your eyes.
- Focus on your breath.
- Notice your heartbeat.
- Feel your skin.
- Take note of your surroundings.
- Let the world fade away.
- Breathe deeply.
- Now, notice your thoughts coming up.
- Observe your thoughts without judgment.
- Just observe.
- Don’t try to control your thoughts. Don’t try to change them. Simply observe them.
- Notice your heart pulsing and the tension in your body.
- Relax and let go.
- When you’ve finished, open your eyes.
Stay with this exercise for at least 15 minutes, and you’ll notice how much easier life becomes.
It’s not difficult to learn how to watch your thoughts. But it takes time and patience. There’s no shortcut.
But once you get started, you’ll find it’s worth every minute spent.
Living As You Master Watching Your Thoughts
I can tell you that after years of practicing watching my own thoughts, I’m living much better than I did before.
It’s amazing how many times I’ve had an experience where I thought something was happening and it turned out to be completely wrong.
When you learn how to watch your thoughts, you will notice that you begin to live your life differently.
You will no longer allow your thoughts to control you.
Instead, you will become aware of your thoughts and decide whether or not to act on them.
You will use your mind to focus on what matters most. You will become more objective and clear minded. You will also become calmer and happier.
The only thing you must remember is to never judge your thoughts.
We all have some that are negative. We all have positive ones. It doesn’t matter which ones they are. We all have them.
But when you learn how to watch them, you will start living a life based on truth.
My self-awareness has increased tremendously since I started using this method. I am able to handle situations much better now. I am able to see through people easily now.
I am definitely a lot happier and calmer than I used to be. Learning about myself has been extremely helpful, and watching my thoughts has been a big part of it.
FAQ For Watching Your Thoughts
Questions I’ve been asking myself about watching my thoughts for a long period of time were mostly about how to manage them, but hopefully after reading this article, it is not about controlling anything.
It is really about observing. Here are other common questions regarding watching your thoughts:
How do you observe your thoughts without reacting?
If you have negative emotions coming up, redirect your attention to your body. For example, focus on your hands. Are they flexed or relaxed? Then come back slowly to your thoughts. The point is to relieve the tension of that strong emotion and come back to a relaxed, observant state.
How do you get rid of annoying thoughts?
An endless stream of annoying thoughts is inevitable to occur as you keep doing this. Stop trying to fight or suppress those thoughts. They will come and go. Let them pass by. If you try to stop them, they will just return again and again. Instead, let them flow by. Do not resist them.
What if I find myself thinking about something I don’t want to think about?
Don’t try to force yourself to change your thinking. This is just a sign that there are suppressed emotions that need to be cleared, and after that is done, that process of thinking will be gone.
How can I watch my thoughts without judgement?
Are you judging water because it is wet? Your thoughts are just that — thoughts. They come and go. Nonstop thinking or judgement is giving some form of importance to them, and my guess is that if you are judging something, then it is not pleasant. So why would you give importance to something that is not pleasant?
Do I need to think positively all the time?
No. Positive thinking is great, but let’s be real, the world is not perfect. There are negative things in our lives. If you look at every good thing that happens to you, there are always bad things too. It is important to accept both sides. The point is to be calm and objective.
How can I suppress mind chatter?
You can suppress mind chatter, but there’s a better way because suppression implies constant effort to manage it. It is better to let them go, and you can do that by simply leaving them alone. Mind chatter is a normal thing that comes and goes; it becomes a problem when we focus on it.
You don’t need a meditation practice to watch your thoughts. You simply need to understand yourself better. Once you understand your own inner workings, you will realize what you need to work on. That’s why this exercise is so powerful.
When you know what needs to be improved, you take action and make changes.
Remember that your thoughts are only thoughts. They are generated by your emotions. Don’t judge them. Instead, observe them and learn more about yourself.
The point is to become aware of your thoughts and see things as they truly are.