In case you haven’t noticed, there is excessive chatter in your head. Thinking can undoubtedly be helpful, and has certainly played the largest role in our advancement as a species. At what point however, does thinking become unproductive, and even harmful? So many of the psychological struggles that people experience relate to getting too caught up in their inner dialogues.
The human mind and the ability to think has evolved over time to help us plan, prepare, predict, and problem solve. And that’s exactly what it likes to do, all the time. Without this, we wouldn’t be able to build rocket ships, solve mathematical equations, tell stories, or solve life’s problems. When thoughts are focused, and based on actual events that we need to think through or problems that actually exist, they help us. The problem is that life is filled with uncertainty and things that don’t go as expected. The intolerance of uncertainty, the desire to feel prepared, and a need to maintain control is what gets us caught up in the inner dialogue’s “mental trap.” Society and our early conditioning also teach us that the only way to ensure a successful and happy life is to obsessively think about the future.
Consequently, we get trapped in thoughts about events that haven’t happened, problems that haven’t transpired, conclusions that are false, catastrophic outcomes that are highly unlikely, and assumptions about what others are thinking, thought, or will think of us. Naturally, this keeps us in a state of worry, stress, and even hopelessness, and robs us of truly experiencing and living in the present moment.
Being in “autopilot” mode means getting so lost in the chatter in your head that you are no longer aware of what is happening within and around you. Each moment spent in autopilot mode, is a moment or experience lost.
In contrast, living mindfully by practicing mindfulness-based techniques and meditation, means to build full awareness of the here and now, and whatever it is that you are experiencing in the present moment (internally and externally) through observation, rather than judgment of that experience. While this concept may conjure images of the 1960’s counterculture or Buddhist monks, mindfulness based practices and therapies are playing an increasingly large role in modern psychology, and rightfully so. Research is unequivocally showing us that regular mindfulness meditation reduces the severity of several psychiatric disorders, medical conditions, can be as effective as medication for certain disorders, lowers stress, and improves immunity functioning. And if that’s not enough to convince you, social scientists that study “happiness” have confirmed that people who are the happiest are most able to live in the present.
If you are thinking this sounds good, but don’t know where to start please read Dr. Liana’s article, on “Developing Mindful Awareness.” For more information on Mindfulness-based psychotherapy contact Coast Psychological Services.