How can I eliminate bad thoughts?
This article was last updated October, 2018.
note: we link to our free guide to mindfulness and meditation at the bottom of the page (no email required).
Here is this weeks installment of "Question and Answer Tuesdays!"
"I want to be able to eliminate my bad, destructive thoughts. Is there a certain type of meditation I should practice to help me do this?"
This is a variation of the most common misconception that exists when it comes to meditating: that you are supposed to stop thinking.
Meditation is not about
If you try to do any of these things, you will meet with frustration and quickly give up the practice.
And, to Renee's specific question, the "Ironic process theory" states that if you deliberately try to eliminate certain thoughts, you will actually think about them more.
For example, try not to think about a pink elephant.
Okay, including a picture of one at the top of this article makes the exercise more difficult. But, even without the picture, you would most likely be thinking about a pink elephant right now!
Trying to suppress thoughts, trying to force yourself to think only positive thoughts, and trying to completely stop your mind from thinking are all fruitless ventures.
The good news is, you don't need to do any of that!
Thoughts are just thoughts. It isn't the content of your mind that matters, it's how you let it condition your behavior (decisions, actions, reactions). This is where meditating can help, provided you practice equanimity when you do it. Equanimity dictates you view all thoughts impartially, and don't label them "good," "bad," "positive," or "negative."
Exercising a non-judgmental view is key to realizing the benefits of mindfulness and meditation - so, hold the intention to stop judging the contents of your mind!
Thoughts are just thoughts. They come into being, exist, and cease - provided you don't build a story around them which perpetuates their existence and gives rise to more thoughts. And, provided you don't try to cling to "these" and push away "those." Your mind constantly attempts to do this, and labeling only makes it easier:
When you meditate, strive to notice your thoughts without prejudice. Strengthen your awareness, and see them for what they are: temporary phenomena that come and go, like clouds moving across the sky. Instead of getting caught up in them, you can choose to simply let them pass by (let them be as they are, independent of you and your attention).
Thoughts are just thoughts. They hold power over you only if you let them. They hold power over you if you blindly follow them wherever they lead.
Unfortunately, people generally go through life like this - they operate on autopilot, being pushed and pulled around by their minds. As a result, their daily existence is mired in what we refer to as "the struggles of life":
Mindfulness and meditation help you escape these struggles.
As Guy Finley says,
The only reason your mind won't stop its endless chattering is because you won't stop listening to it.
Stop dealing with the symptoms.
Stress, anxiety, self-confidence issues, the inability to stop bad habits, problems with sleep and focus, and on and on and on.
These and the other things we struggle with every day are only symptoms.
The good news is, they all share the same root cause. The bad news is, if you don't address that root cause, the symptoms will keep coming back no matter what you do.
That's why we wrote "An owner's guide to the mind." For almost 20 years, people have been using it to address the root cause of their daily struggles.
Click here to view the contents and learn more.
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