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Automatic thoughts and what to do about them
Automatic vs intentional thoughts, what's the difference?
Time to read: 4 mins & 21 seconds — 870 words. Written by Joseph Pack.
We are addicted to our thoughts.
It’s a benign addiction. It’s not going to kill you. But make no mistake, it’s an addiction.
There are two types of thoughts:
Those you control
Those you don’t control
Let’s called the thoughts you don’t control “automatic thoughts”.
These are the 10,000 thoughts infiltrating your mind throughout the day. The worries, the anxieties, the stories we tell ourselves.
A story I repeatably tell myself is that I’ll run out of money, become homeless, lose my kids, and destroy my marriage.
This story (which has no basis in reality) creeps into my mind at the most inappropriate moments — during dinner with my kids, during meetings, and while walking my son to sleep in the evening.
I didn’t want the thought. But I got it. It was automatic.
The other type of thoughts, those you control, are very different. These are the thoughts you actually want. Let’s call these “intentional thoughts”
Einstein used these thoughts to create the theory of general relativity. Thomas Edison used them to invent the lightbulb. Beethoven used them to write symphony after symphony.
These thoughts are powerful.
But there’s a problem.
We’re so addicted to our automatic thoughts that we rarely get chance to delve deep into our intentional thoughts.
Do you think Einstein changed the course of modern physics with 10,000 automatic thoughts rattling around his head?
Stopping those thoughts is essential to living a great life.
But how do we actually do that?
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Stopping automatic thoughts
Your automatic thoughts serve a purpose.
They deflect you away from darker thoughts lying below the surface. Thoughts of past traumas. Memories you’ve buried deep inside, hoping to never deal with again.
The busier your mind is, the less you have to deal with the darkness below. Hence the benign addiction.
This is why ADHD and trauma are often linked. Our busy ADHD minds are doing a job — a job to protect us from the past.
Herein lies another problem:
Our mind needs to release those dark thoughts
But to release them, we must experience them
So our ADHD goes into overdrive
It needs to release those dark thoughts because while they’re buried deep within us, and aren’t immediately obvious, they are governing our behaviour.
We need them out. If we do that, we’ll be free from our past conditioning.
A side effect of releasing those thoughts (and associated traumas) is a quieter mind.
The best way to do that is with meditation.
The point of meditation
Meditation is so misunderstood it’s almost funny.
Meditation is NOT about forcing your mind to be quiet. It never has been. Anyone telling you that has no idea what they’re talking about.
Meditation is about creating another object of attention for you to focus on instead of focusing on your busy mind.
Objects of attention commonly used in meditation include:
I use a mantra.
If you have ADHD, use a mantra.
A mantra is a sound (or word) we silently repeat. I repeat the sound “AYAM” for twenty minutes, twice a day.
Here’s what happens during my meditation practice:
The first few minutes = me focusing on both my mantra and my thoughts.
This is good. I’m not trying to remove the thoughts. As we’ve said, we’re never trying to forcefully remove the thoughts.
As we continue repeating the mantra, something wonderful happens.
We start to focus more on the mantra than on the thoughts. Suddenly, the mind gets quieter and quieter.
If we repeat this daily, we start to get very good at focusing on the mantra and ignoring the thoughts.
But then the darker thoughts arise.
We must continue repeating the mantra and allow the dark thoughts to play out. When we do that the trauma attached to those thoughts releases.
This has happened to me many times. It always makes my mind quieter. And it stays quieter.
The more trauma I release, the closer I get to being able to use my brain as it should be used — the way Einstein used it. With control and without the distraction of the 10,000 thoughts.
Is meditation the only way?
But it is the most effective.
The only way to be aware enough to release the darker thoughts is to practice being aware. We practice being aware through meditation.
The process of focusing on the repetitive mantra is a process of strengthening our awareness — working on our Awareness Muscle.
As you get better at this you’ll notice opportunities during the day where darker thoughts are trying to come up.
“Great! This is another chance to release trauma”, you think to yourself.
But you’re not sitting down the meditate. You’re at work. What the hell do you do?
You start repeating the mantra.
A mantra I often recommend is “I can handle this”.
Because what’s the opposite of I can handle this? I can’t handle this.
But you can. You can handle it. And you can release it.
Just not all at once.
A word of caution
Lots of these darker thoughts can be very difficult to deal with.
If you cannot handle it in the moment, stop for now. Stop the mantra, take a deep breath, and continue with your day.
This will push the thought (and connected trauma) back into your psyche. But with the right intent, and desire to be free from it, it will come back up then when you’re ready to release you will do it.
Happy to answer your questions if you have any.
Just reply to this email.