Don’t believe everything you think

I recently saw a bumper sticker that said “Don’t believe everything you think.”

It caught my attention and led me down a rabbit hole on its deeper meaning.

As we go throughout our typical day, we are constantly thinking and unconsciously accepting the bulk of whatever random thoughts come to mind as truth.

If you ever attempt to witness this process, you’ll notice just how incessant it is.

One moment you recognize a thought that has just popped up seemingly out of thin air, bringing with it whatever emotions that arise, the next second it has disappeared just as quickly as it came to be and you’re already three thoughts removed from it. 

I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve heard someone say something along the lines of “don’t believe everything you think”, but have you ever stopped and taken the point literally?

Let’s use an analogy to tie this together.

Think about two different types of people:

The first one being a person that watches the news and buys into, accepts and defends each and every bit of information that it televises, regardless of how preposterous it may be, without much introspection involved.

The second one being a person that watches the news, but takes a moment to observe and evaluate what is being televised based upon their system of beliefs, with the openness to changing their opinion if it logically makes sense to. 

Which one do you believe is set up to live a calmer and more peaceful existence?

Humans are like a TV news channel, each broadcasting out from within their own individual thoughts and views.

We were never taught in school to become mindful of our thinking patterns or learn how to distinguish between and focus on the thoughts that serve us rather than emphasize the ones that are harmful.

So instead of growing up and being able to mentally prepare for the onslaught of impressions that bombard us on a daily basis, being the inherently lazy species that we are, we take the route of simply believing most of what we think, leading to unnecessary suffering. 

We have tens of thousands of thoughts each day, most of them being recurring thoughts and many of them being negative based.

If we want to live happier and less stressful lives, it’s absolutely essential that we make it a habit to practice taking mental steps back and noticing the stream of thoughts that flow through our minds.

Every time you do so, you’re strengthening your ability to become aware of future thoughts. 

And as time goes on you can get to a place where you’ll start to catch yourself mid thought and internally think, I have the power to choose whether or not I succumb to and accept this thought. 

“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts.” – Allan Lokos

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished

I first heard this quote “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” nearly ten years ago and it’s one that has stuck with me ever since.

Nature, being so massive and ubiquitous, having the ability to take its time and naturally achieve all it is meant precisely when it is meant to do so, it’s a fascinating concept to think about.

Whether we believe in fate, that our lives have already been predetermined and interwoven into the fabric of time way before we came into existence, or that everything is just random, there must be some form of magic permeating our universe that our brains simply cannot perceive or fathom.

As humans we are naturally wired to constantly focus on what’s next, using the present as a stepping stone rather than as a place to settle into.

We spend most of our time planning or rerunning variations of past situations in our mind.

We are always in a hurry, to finish whatever we are in the middle of doing, to grab our phones, to go down a rabbit hole of likely and unlikely scenarios, etc.

And yet, amongst all this rushing, we rarely feel like much of anything has been accomplished. 

So how do we go about extracting a sliver of Nature’s powers in order to slow down our lives yet still feel as though we are making strides? 

Is it possible for us to not only exist more fully in the moment but also feel a sense of certainty or faith, that all will be well one way or another?

I make it a habit to constantly return to the Stoic practice of the dichotomy of control, trying to separate in real time what is in our control versus what isn’t.

Nature seems to be a mysterious force that focuses on what it can do. 

Our minds are equally mystifying, but fortunately for us we have the ability to be conscious of our thoughts and actions.

We can practice becoming more mindful throughout each day, recognizing when we begin to speed up, when we start to talk negatively to ourselves and when we feel emotions that send us spiraling downwards.

We are capable of taking a mental step back and seeing the way we live our lives. Through this objective lens it’s possible to make the choice to not be so hard on ourselves and instead learn to exercise love and kindness. 

There’s nothing stopping us from becoming our own best friends, despite what may have happened in the past or the situation we find ourselves currently in.

It’s not something that will happen overnight. It cannot be rushed. 

But if we decide to make a small change today, a shift in mindset and perspective, the results will compound generously in a short period of time and you’ll discover the elusive realm where peace and fulfillment can be attained. 

Make the effort. Trust the process. 

The Lucky Accident of Life

We are alive, for now.

Most of us have our bodies, our minds, hopefully good health, and some family and friends to spend our time with.

It’s unfathomable to contemplate how many things had to go the exact way that they did in order for us to be right here, right now.

Don’t get me wrong, nothing is perfect and of course there are situations that we may look back on and only wish we could go back to fix.

But life doesn’t work like that and the more time we spend fixated on the past, the less time we have to appreciate or even recognize what’s right in front of us.

It’s truly a lucky and very fortunate accident that in this moment, we have what we do.

Out of the billions of people alive right now, many of them would risk it all to live the life we currently do.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

This isn’t to say that the problems and worries in our lives aren’t justified, but rather there’s always an opportunity to reframe our perspective. 

There’s never a better time than the present to take stock of our existence.

To take a mental step back, push all the bullshit aside, and notice just how much we have in our lives to be grateful for.

Ask yourself these two questions:

How much of what brings me peace and joy do I take for granted on a daily basis?

How devastating would it be to lose any of those things if it ended right now and I was never able to enjoy them again?

We must teach ourselves to catch these moments in the act and treasure them as the ultimate prize that life has to offer. 

Because for them to have ever occurred in the first place, and to still be fortunate enough to have them, is the lucky accident of life.

“We need to keep in mind that it is a lucky accident that we are enjoying whatever it is we are enjoying, that our enjoyment of it might end abruptly, and that we might never be able to enjoy it again.” – William B. Irvine

Profiting from the Present

Imagine that your life was like a business, where all of your thoughts, feelings and actions determined how healthy and thriving your company was. 

Based on your current lifestyle, would your business be a Fortune 500 company or one on the verge of bankruptcy?

It’s time to be honest with yourself. 

How often do you find yourself thinking positively and constructively, feeling motivated, grateful, fulfilled, at peace and in a joyful state, while taking appropriate action to reinforce those thoughts and feelings? 

On the flip side, how often do you think and feel stressed, anxious, angry and resentful? 

If you’re leaning more towards the latter than the former, a quality question to start asking yourself often is: 

How can I profit from this moment?

Are you profiting in the present and gaining from it or are you being taxed by it and losing?  

The present is literally all we have. The past is over and the future is uncertain. 

We must build and reinforce the habit of making the most out of our time here on earth

When spending time with family and friends, we have to appreciate these moments and extract maximum value from them with the understanding that they will not last forever.

When we find ourselves in tough situations, or forced to do things that we may not enjoy doing, instead of making matters worse by allowing our mind to wander and unconsciously accepting all our thoughts as truth, we have to take what we’re being given in the moment and use it to our advantage so that we can learn and grow from the experience. 

Our existence is ephemeral. 

It’s certain that it won’t last forever. 

Life isn’t easy. Difficulties and heartache will arise, but suffering is optional.

Every time you can remember, be sure to ask yourself how you can profit from each moment in your life while you still can. 

Make it your top priority that despite life’s circumstances, you will strive to cash in and live in a beautiful and prosperous state.

Start with this very moment. 

“Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.” Unknown

 

The role memories can play in our life

Us humans have the incredible ability to store experiences in our brain, as well as attach emotional significance to them.

Research has said that our brains can store the equivalent of 2.5 million gigabytes of digital memory, or another way to put it, we can essentially hold as much information in our memory as what’s contained on the entire internet. 

Whether or not that’s entirely accurate, we are born with and have access to this fascinating functionality within the mind that has evolved over time and is a powerful tool that we can use to our advantage.

Just think about something in your life ten years ago, around the year 2012. 

What do you recall? It could be anything.

You see what you did right there?

Practically without any effort, from out of thin air, a memory.

What’s crazy is that sometimes we don’t think about something for years, or we totally forget about it altogether, and then just like that, a simple reminder and poof, there it is. 

It’s inevitable that we all have a combination of positive and loving memories, as well as negative and sad ones.

While we may not have had much control over some of the negative ones that occurred and impacted us, we hold the power to choose whether or not we feed and strengthen them through our attention. 

Instead of making a habit of recalling past experiences that don’t benefit our lives and unnecessarily punishing ourselves, we can turn our focus towards the plethora of memories that fill our hearts with joy, love and laughter.

Just think for a second about a moment that brought a smile to your face, another that made you feel appreciated and valued, or one that made you excited or proud of yourself.

These precious memories that are stored within your brain are yours and only yours. You may have shared the experience with others, but nobody can access and feel them in the unique way that you see them through your mind’s eye. 

Despite the highs and lows that we will encounter on our journey, we can always decide to look within and recall and feel the emotion that these uplifting memories shine on our lives. 

Choose to cherish your ability to remember, as well as all of the memories that have impacted your life and helped make you who you are. 

“Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.” – Dr. Seuss

The Wisdom of Impermanence

Life is dynamic, constantly shifting and changing. 

Everything that is will one day no longer be. 

Understanding the impermanence of life can be a very powerful and beneficial tool. 

On one hand, when we face adversity, being able to tell ourselves that this situation will not last forever can be a simple yet effective reminder that assists us in getting through the difficult time. 

Every moment that we are experiencing the unfortunate circumstance, we are actually enduring and persevering. 

On the flip side, when we are in a more calm and content state, we can leverage life’s impermanence by expanding our capacity to see and appreciate the abundance that surrounds us. 

Every second that ticks is one second closer to no longer existing. Not just for ourselves, but for our loved ones, our friends, our pets, our species and the planet that we call home. 

When we take the time to absorb this reality and not just push it off to the side to deal with at a later date, we gain much more clarity on what’s important to us, what must be eliminated and how we want to live the remaining time we have left. 

By recognizing the finite time we truly have, that today or tomorrow or the next could very well be our last, we can learn to strengthen our resilience during tough moments while increasing our awareness of and gratitude for all that we’ve been blessed with and still have to cherish and enjoy. 

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” – Steve Jobs

Impressions and Judgements

Anytime an impression comes into focus (an impression being anything from a random thought to a situation occurring right in front of you) it’s typically and quickly followed by a judgement about it.

For example:

Impression

-Random thought – I have a lot of chores to get done and not much time to do them 

Judgement

-My day is going to be so stressful, leading to feelings of frustration and anxiety 

Impression 

-Situation occurring right in front of you – Someone just cut me off on the highway 

Judgement

-This person is an asshole, I almost hit them, leading to feelings of resentment and possibly taking your emotions out on others because of it. 

What the Stoics taught was that these impressions are not good or bad, they just are.

They exist outside of us, they may knock at the door of our mind, but it’s ultimately on us to decide what they mean to us. We can actively choose to view them indifferently, as nothing more than a thought or situation coming into our awareness in real time. 

Marcus Aurelius once said, “The only thing that changes and stirs the mind is the mind, and when external objects are presented to it, it has them conform to the judgements that it deems itself justified in making about them.” 

A deep understanding of this can enable us to slowly weaken the detrimental impulse of judging each and every impression that we become mindful of. 

We can bend and reshape our perception of reality by starting to recognize the incoming impression and deciding that we don’t want to let this lead to negative emotions and feelings.

We can ask ourselves, “What is this impression of?”, and define or describe it so that it loses its power. 

If your judgement comes into play and you feel emotions arise, you can begin to see the story that your mind creates to justify the reaction. 

This mental chatter is normal, but it’s imperative to comprehend that you are not this bickering.

Detach from it and just observe the judgmental thoughts as if they were being projected on a screen in front of you. 

Each time a judgement about indifferent impressions comes to light, remind yourself as soon as you can that your chief aim is to live in a cheerful and peaceful state and that being caught up in these intruding mental objects prevents you from doing so. 

“The first thing is not to be carried away by the intensity of an impression. You should say: Hold on a moment, impression. Let me see what you are and what you are an impression of. Let me put you to the test.” – Epictetus

Moments for the last time

Take yourself back to a memory from years ago, something you cherished, that now looking back was the last time (or one of the last times) you had the pleasure to do it unbeknownst to you. 

We all have certain experiences for the final time. It could be spending a specific holiday with family before you moved away, a recent routine with a loved one that for whatever reason stopped or a childhood tradition with your parents or siblings that you simply grew out of as you got older. 

The sad part about these moments is that most of the time we don’t know when it’ll be the final opportunity we get to experience them. 

One day they are just gone forever. 

But imagine being able to go back to a “last time memory” and relive it with the knowledge that this was the final time. 

Think about the presence you’d have during those precious seconds and how unimportant life’s plethora of petty distractions would be. 

Try to envision the abundance of appreciation you’d feel for this invaluable time being spent, knowing you’re making the absolute most of this final moment. 

There’s nothing stopping you from applying this last time concept into your life. 

It’s a certainty that many more moments will be the final one that you get to enjoy doing something, regardless of how big or small it may be.

Make sure you have the mindfulness to remind yourself throughout your day that any experience could be the last one and let that increase your capacity to savor and be thankful for them with all of your heart. 

Below is a poem I wrote that relates to the topic.

You gotta appreciate,

You cannot wait.

Cause you never know,

When it’ll be your time to go.

You gotta learn to love,

Just look at the stars above,

There’s a reason we’re all here.

The time will come,

As you grow old,

When it’ll be the last one,

Yet you’ll have a fulfilled soul.

Because you learned how

To be thankful for the now. 

The Calm and Kind Approach

Life is filled with inconveniences, unnecessary annoyances and delays that disrupt our peace of mind and put us in a bad mood.

And when it comes to people, we typically lash out and use them as punching bags when things aren’t going the way we believe they should.

We’ve all been there…it’s normal and human. 

But instead of instinctively reacting with anger and frustration, which not only leads us down a negative path that day but also strengthens the habit of repeating this reaction in the future, wouldn’t it be much more pleasant to respond calmly and kindly? 

And I’m not necessarily saying to just be passive and let others walk all over you, but more so just approach each situation from a composed perspective. 

When we are pissed off our emotions get in the way and take charge, typically ending with us regretting saying or doing something. 

On the other hand, when we are calm we can visually and mentally see with more clarity. And when we have a better view of a circumstance, we have higher odds of controlling our responses in a productive manner.

There are endless variables in life that are out of our control, they always have been and they always will be. You can continue to subconsciously meet them with resistance and fill your existence with suffering or you can consciously choose to calmly greet them with kindness and understanding. 

The sooner you’re able to accept this indisputable point on the dichotomy of control, the quicker you can begin to focus your energy on what is in your control, such as your character, your perspective and how you choose to respond to the events that present themselves.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius 

Putting Perception into Question

Our species is blessed with the fascinating intricacies of the mind. 

Humans are capable of incredible feats and possess vast potential that most of us never tap into even a fraction of. 

Regardless of what you pursue in your life, we all (at least most of us) deserve to live with an abundance of joy and love in our hearts.

Yet, even with this incredible and unfathomable brain of ours, whether we achieve tremendous heights professionally or not, many of us live with a persistent sense of fear, agitation, dissatisfaction, worry or doubt. 

Why is this? 

And more importantly, how do we overcome it so that we can bathe in a life overflowed with contentment and peace? 

This can be achieved by putting our perceptions into question. 

Built up over the course of a lifetime, most of the day is spent pre-programmed by our deeply rooted habits. 

We tend to live on auto-pilot, allowing our mind to be the one in the driver’s seat, thinking, acting and reacting just as it has always done so.

And as the saying goes, if you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always been getting. 

A vicious cycle indeed.

But, it’s possible to observe and be a witness to the daily thoughts in our head, as well as the emotions we feel from those thoughts and the actions that typically follow them.

No other living thing (as far as we know) is capable of this ability to not just think, but be aware of the thought as you do so. 

With this in mind, we can learn to not only become more aware of the circumstances that bring us negative emotions, but begin to analyze why they do so. 

This enables you to monitor the rampant thoughts that have previously gone unmonitored and typically led to the feelings you don’t want to feel. 

By questioning why you are perceiving a situation in a certain way, you are accessing a level of consciousness that has rarely, if ever, been utilized before. 

Understanding that our thoughts and views are pliable and can be molded to best serve us is wisdom. 

And making the choice to put in the effort to adjust our perceptions so that we can minimize negativity and enhance positivity is what the wise do. 

In this realm of mindfulness, favorable change can be made that will last a lifetime. 

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” – Epictetus