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Why you aren't as happy as you could be - #3

Reason #3 you aren't has happy as you could be:

You’re letting your mind chatter without supervision and management.

One of the things our brain does is generate thoughts. All day long, your brain creates sentences that you process. Sometimes you generate thoughts on your own volition, but regardless of how much you do that, the brain is also constantly chattering and creating its own sentences and presenting them to you. If you let your brain operate unsupervised and unmanaged, like most people do, you’re not taking advantage of your potential to have more happiness in your life and more control over your life.

For better or worse, evolutionarily, our brain is designed to produce mainly negative thoughts. Its main goal is survival of the species and therefore survival of you. It has evolved to drive us to seek pleasure and avoid pain. That served our species very well. But those negative thought patterns that helped keep us alive in the past (e.g., “stay in the cave”, “if you come across food, eat everything in sight”) aren’t always so helpful in the modern world. 

If you aren’t watching your brain carefully, you are going to buy into the thoughts it generates. You are going to take them as truths, or as observations of the world, instead of interpretations of the world. Negative thoughts can turn into repetitive thought patterns and stories we believe about ourselves and the world, without us really noticing this is going on. It is just a part of our life; we don’t even question it. This is a big deal, because thoughts have a huge influence on our emotions, our mood, our behavior and the actions we take, or don’t take, in our lives.

Some examples of modern thoughts with negative content:

  • “I shouldn’t try something new; I might fail.”

  • “Today sucks.”

  • “That better never happen to me. I could never make it through that kind of tragedy and loss.”

  • “I don’t feel like exercising today.”

If you take these thoughts as truths, you can see how they will affect your mood, your behaviors and your outcomes. Thoughts can lead to insecurity, low self-confidence, sadness, hopelessness, fear, reduced energy, poor attention/concentration, lack of present focus, guilt, inaction toward life goals, avoidance, poor health habits, and so on.

Many psychological therapies of the past (and still practiced) instruct clients to try to stop negative thoughts from occurring, or to change every thought to something more realistic or helpful. This is impossible. 

Many self-help gurus instruct people to have only positive thoughts. This, also, is impossible.

What we can do, though, is learn to supervise our brains and ultimately become managers of our mind.

Step One: Awareness (supervision).

The first step is just being aware that the brain functions this way. We need to understand that many, if not most, of our thoughts on a daily basis are generated by the brain, not purposefully created by us. When you know this, then you can start to become more aware of the thoughts your brain is generating, and you can start seeing which ones are helpful for you and which ones are not. 

You are simply noticing your thoughts at first, and realizing that they are just that – thoughts. Sentences your brain created. By doing this, you are starting to provide some supervision of your brain or your thinking mind. You are observing rather than “fusing” with those thoughts. You are separating yourself from your thinking mind. You can’t be your thoughts if you are watching your thoughts. 

Step Two: Management.

As you increase your awareness of your thoughts, you can start to be more deliberate about which thoughts you “fuse” with – which thoughts you focus on, identify with, believe—and which thoughts you would rather not “fuse” with. Please note you are not getting into a power struggle with the thoughts; you are simply knowing they are there, acknowledging them, and knowing that you don’t have to “fuse” with all of them.

When you observe yourself having the thought that you don’t feel like exercising today, and then you decide whether that is a thought that serves you, you are freed up to decide for yourself what you are going to do (exercise or not exercise). 

When you have the thought and “fuse with it” (ie, experience it as a truth, rather than observe it), you are likely to decide not to exercise. 

I am 99% sure you will be happier if you exercise, but you didn’t even give yourself that chance to be happier when you immediately fused with the negative thought.

In addition to being more deliberate about which thoughts you want to fuse with, over time, you can also start to create thoughts that are helpful to you, and focus your attention on these thoughts that serve you. 

To recap:
The human brain generates mostly negative thoughts.
Thoughts color emotions and influence action (or inaction). 
Happiness is a by-product of action aligned with values. 
When you are managing your mind so that you are living more in line with your values, then you are experiencing more happiness as a by-product… and more meaning, fulfillment and joy along the journey.
You are sure to experience more unhappiness if you don’t practice managing your mind. 

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