❝Don't let the troubles in your head steal too much time; you'll soon be dead.❞ -Dave Matthews
I'm curious if this has ever happened to you: you notice somebody, say online, do something you find despicable. This person's actions get you thinking about how bad this person is. These thoughts about how bad this person is triggers anger inside of you. Now you are thinking about all the ways you have every right to be angry at this person, making you angrier. Then this added anger makes you think about all the other things you could be doing with your time, which triggers even more anger mixed with a little bit of guilt.
And you ride this thought/emotion loop for an hour before you realize you're not present with your family.
It's easy for us to identify with our thoughts and emotions or identify ourselves or others with behaviors. But there's a lot of power in letting go. By breaking this identification, you can let these mental and physical states go when they're no longer useful.
PEOPLE AND BEHAVIORS
The language we use is important because it both shapes our beliefs and is shaped by our beliefs. For example, telling your daughter that she is bad or even that she is being bad creates the narrative that she is a bad person. Telling her she's a good person but has done something bad separates her from the behavior.
Similarly, being disappointed with your spouse differs from being disappointed with something they did or didn't do.
If you are arguing with somebody, you can reframe the discussion away from being a you versus the other person situation and towards a situation where it is you and the other person versus the problem.
People are not their behaviors. Breaking the identification between people and their actions separates their character from what they do.
The Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire measures your level of mindfulness among five interrelated components. These components are observing, describing, acting with awareness, nonjudgment of inner experiences, and not reactivity to inner experiences. They can be helpful in gaining an understanding of the areas of mindfulness in which you may want to focus.
YOU AND YOUR EMOTIONS
Thinking of our emotions as part of our identity removes our ability to feel like we're in control. If, for example, I think I am angry, then I'm more likely to act in a way that an angry person acts. If I think I am sad, then I will act out how I think a sad person acts. It can start to feel like I don't have a choice and that my emotions drive my behavior.
Instead, if we can start to see emotions as information for us to use, then we can start to learn what our emotions are telling us and use that information to make the best choice going forward.
There's a difference between saying, "I am angry," and saying, "I feel angry."
You are not your emotions. You experience emotions.
YOU AND YOUR THOUGHTS
We generate a lot of thoughts. We have around 60,000 thoughts every day. If you've ever spent any time doing mindfulness meditation, you know just how wild your thoughts can be. They jump around faster than you can pay attention to them.
It can feel as though our thoughts are a part of us. And when this happens, we can become lost in thought. We end up thinking without knowing that we're thinking and we get yanked around by whatever our thoughts happen to be. We are a victim of whatever our last thought was.
Breaking identification with thought helps you see thoughts for what they are. Thoughts are just passing ideas that you don't have to give any attention to.
You have thoughts. You are not your thoughts.
EVERYTHING COMES AND GOES
When you begin to break identification with your behaviors, emotions, and thoughts, you start to see that everything simply arrives and then leaves. If we don't pay attention to them or only pay attention insofar as we get any helpful information, then we allow ourselves to let them go when they're no longer useful.
Thoughts, emotions, and feelings are nothing more than passing guests that want the best for us.
We don't have to let ourselves be pulled around by our behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. We can let them go. And letting them go gives us freedom.
You get one life; live intentionally.
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References and Influences
Ben-Shahar, Tal: Happier, No Matter What
Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote
Dalai Lama & Howard Cutler: The Art of Happiness
Feldman Barrett, Lisa: How Emotions Are Made
Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis
Hanh, Thich Nhat: You Are Here
Hanson, Rick: Hardwiring Happiness
Hanson, Rick & Forrest Hanson: Resilient
Hanson, Rick & Richard Mendius: Buddha’s Brain
Harris, Dan: 10% Happier
Harris, Sam: Waking Up
Irvine, William: Guide to the Good Life
Irvine, William: The Stoic Challenge
Kabat-Zinn, Jon: Wherever You Go, There You Are
Krueger, David & John David Mann: The Secret Language of Money
Manson, Mark: Everything is Fucked
PositivePsychology.com: Mindfulness X
Reivich, Karen & Andrew Shatte: The Resilience Factor
Wallace, David Foster: This is Water
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.