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The problem with our unchecked mind

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Our mind is a wonderful tool. But if it goes unchecked, it can wreak havoc on your life and your happiness. The better you understand the workings of your mind, the better the two of you will live together. Here's a start.

The mind is a wonderful tool. I love it. I love science, I love research, I love reading books. – The problem comes in when our thoughts take on a life of their own.

All of these, science, research, reading, have a lot to do with the mind, with thinking. (Even though to be fair, the inspiration usually comes from a place different from the mind.) I am also convinced of the importance of self-inquiry for personal growth. Inquiry also relies on the mind. It relies on using language, on coming up with alternatives, on seeing connections and parallels. So I generally see a lot of value in thinking.

The problem comes in when our thoughts take on a life of their own. You think you don’t know what I’m talking about? Okay, let’s see … this morning, while you were preparing your breakfast, what was going on in your head? Ah, you were thinking about the conversation you had last night with your friend on the phone? Ah, and then, you were mentally rehearsing the conversation that you might or might not have with the unpleasant colleague at work later today? Ah, and then this took you back to how last year, one day got really upset with your boss's decision-making and unloaded on another colleague, way too frank and way too much? .... THIS is what I’m talking about! Much of the time while we are engaged in one thing, our mind wanders off and starts thinking about the past or future. This takes us out of the current activity and prevents us from getting into a flow, prevents us from getting the most joy out of the activity at hand.

When our thoughts wander off, they take us out of the present moment – and usually to a place of worry and anxiousness.

Also, look at the content of these WANDERING THOUGHTS. Most of the time, they are not of a positive nature. Often, they are of the “should”- or “should not”-type. “In this situation, I should have been more ….” and “I really should have remembered …” or “I should have not said …”. Other times, they are worries, like: “What if I forget …” or “What if she does not … “. Sometimes they are even worries strung together, like beads on a string: “What if all the people I have invited will actually come to my party? Will there be enough food? What if we run out of food? Or drinks? I guess we could still go buy something. Whom would I ask to go buy food then? Or would I go myself? I guess I could ask my friend Sandra. Shall I then give her the money upfront or after she comes back? What if I don’t have any change? …” and here you have your beautiful necklace of worrying thoughts.

Our thinking mind's capacity to project the future, to anticipate negative outcomes, and plan ahead has evolutionary been helpful for survival.

It’s perfectly normal for our mind to go back to past situations and evaluate, and to go into the future and to plan. It’s even normal that your mind projects negative outcomes and tends to plan for worst case scenarios. In our evolution as a species, being prepared for the worst and planning ahead based on an evaluation of past experience has been tremendously helpful. A true lifesaver in many cases. But in our modern lives, this tendency of the mind becomes problematic where it goes unchecked. And “problematic” not for abstract reasons. Our unchecked mind has very real effects on our lives: it zaps our energy, it carries us out of the present moment, it colors our mood.

Look at your own life, very concretely: How does it affect your experience of an activity when your thoughts are elsewhere at the same time? How does it affect you when your mind wanders off uncontrolled and begins to plot the day’s worst case scenarios? How does starting and ending your day with the "shoulds"and "should nots" make you feel?

For me, observing how my mind works and figuring out how to quiet it more successfully more often is an ongoing quest. So I would also love to hear from you: what are your thoughts on this topic, what are your experiences with your thinking? Also: what has helped you to reign in your wandering thoughts and your hyperactive mind? Message me to share your experiences with me and inspire the upcoming post on this topic.

If you’re curious to read more on the topic, you could check out “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt or Byron Katie’s “Loving what is”.

If you’d like me to accompany you in your own journey of getting to know and befriending your mind, get in touch with me.


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