Last updated October, 2018.
note: we link to our free guide to mindfulness and meditation at the bottom of the page (no email required).
It's time for another installment of "Question and Answer Tuesdays!"
"I enjoy your articles and get a lot from your blog posts. But, when I read something like what you posted on Medium last week (Stop trying to control your thoughts), it confuses me. I have a lot of negative thoughts, and thoughts that I don't want to continue. They put me in a bad mood, and they make me unhappy with myself. So I do want to control them to the extent that I make them go away/stop thinking them. What is your advice?"
Read your words - you said "they put me in a bad mood," and "they make me unhappy with myself."
My advice is stop judging yourself so harshly! Your problem isn't the thoughts, your problem is your aversion to the thoughts. This aversion perpetuates attachment - it's like the old saying:
"Whatever you fight only becomes stronger."
We are conditioned to judge what happens and label it as "good" or "bad." If we label it as good, we cling to it and try to keep it from changing. If we label it as bad, we push it away or try to repress it.
Both lead to suffering.
In your case, you want thoughts you label as bad to go away. But, when they don't go away (or go away and then come back!), you get frustrated, upset, and the cycle of judgment continues.
Trying to control thoughts is a futile task. Instead, learn to drop the labels and view what happens from a neutral perspective.
How do you do that?
By strengthening awareness. Awareness allows you to notice thoughts without getting caught up in them. And, it helps you develop the skill of moving your attention away from them when they aren't useful. This is commonly referred to as "letting them pass."
You will find that thoughts are temporary - they arise, exist for a time, and cease (they come and go). You can watch them pass like clouds in the sky. And, in doing so, you realize the "content" of your mind doesn't matter; what matters is not indulging thoughts, and turning something temporary into something permanent (remember our quote above: "Whatever you fight [indulge] only becomes stronger").
Take the time and energy you previously spent trying to control thought and reallocate it to building a consistent meditation practice, and bring mindfulness to your daily life. The benefits can be life-changing.
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.