The noisy mind


This is not an overt promotion of my book, which is available via my website for you Android lovers or the Apple bookstore for worshippers of the fruit. I have not just named this post out of a combination of laziness, self promotion and marketing. No, this post is actually about the noise in our heads and how we can try to deal with it. (Other than downloading my book, which is now available at the links above.)

Ok seriously now we all suffer with critical internal dialogue, thoughts about the myriad different tasks we need to complete or the chastising self deprecation when we wear the wrong outfit, “heels just don’t go with capri trousers Tom!” But if I am typical of a small percentage of the population then many of us block this noise out with some other sort of noise or distraction.

Tom's tooling

The other day was a prime example of how much noise is in my head and how often I manage to block it quite successfully. I was working on a small carpentry job that I needed to finish off and was tooling away to my heart’s content, whilst listening to The Covers Volume 1 by Madilyn Bailey. (It’s a good take on a few well known songs.) Unfortunately with the volume up high I managed to drain the battery in my wireless earphones and had no juice left in the charging case. I’m not adverse to a little silence though, so I cracked on with the task in hand. The silence lasted all of a minute before my brain kicked in and filled it with thoughts. These thoughts weren’t all negative as I was happy with how the job was progressing and I’ve been working on a good deal of positive self talk recently. But it surprised me how much the music had masked my inner voices.

How many thoughts?

On average we have over 12,000 thoughts per day (research shows this figure can be up to 50,000), with most of them being of a negative nature and repetitive. Alongside these thoughts we can experience voices of an inner critic. These can appear in different forms from the condemning parent to the inner child to name just two. These personalities come from experiences as children in interactions with people around us, often parents or other adults we are close to. Even if the thoughts produced are false they can be extremely damaging if we don’t deal with them properly.

It’s not surprising then that we try to avoid these thoughts and inner critics through distractions such as music, podcasts, tv or games. But is distraction and avoidance the best tactic for managing what can be a very damaging part of our lives? By absorbing more information to distract from what is happening everyday in our heads we aren’t addressing the problem, but rather covering one noise with another.

The obvious downside to the “distract and escape” method is that it doesn’t stop your thoughts or the inner critic from returning, it merely delays the inevitable. Until negative chatter is replaced with positive self talk, affirmations and proof of success then this noise will continue. When it comes to thoughts we cannot stop them, but they only exist in our heads for as long as we focus on them.

What we can do to help reduce the impact of thoughts and negative thinking, is to begin by listening and not distracting our minds with other noise. When we can listen to our thoughts and ask rational questions we begin to deal with them head on. It takes work to sit and listen without reacting emotionally to what arises. But like any skill, as you practice you will become better at recognising your repetitive thoughts, and be able to let them pass without attaching to them.

I’ve been working on reducing noise in my life by removing social media and unnecessary distractions or procrastination. At the same time I am neutralising my negative thoughts and inner critic, with questions and examples of success. It’s extremely easy and powerful to say “stop” and then ask questions of a voice or thought. I’d say that nine times out of ten it cuts that thought or critical voice off and doesn’t go any further. Two years ago this would have been a very different story and a testament to the support I’ve had from professionals and loved ones as well as my own continued work.

Tom's important tip of the day

None of this needs to be hard work, it just takes effort. If we cut out podcasts, music and tv for 10 minutes a day we can listen to our minds. We can take that time to notice what thoughts arise and then watch them disappear. If they stick around we can question them with “why? where’s the proof? how likely is that to happen?” or a thousand other queries. Those thoughts don’t have much substance to them once you start grilling them. Then we can think about our successes (however small they may seem) in order to begin training our brain to think more positively. Ten minutes a day is all we need. Let me know how you get on.

Tom


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