Mindfulness of Thoughts

This videos overlaps a little with the last two, and goes in to how we can be mindful of our thoughts in a little more detail.

Mindfulness of Thoughts

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

My first video on mindfulness and dbt was an overview of the goals of mindfulness and six of the core mindfulness skills. In this video we’re going to go into more detail about how we can practice mindfulness, and especially how we can be mindful of our thoughts.

One way to practice mindfulness is through meditation. In a mindfulness meditation we’re noticing, paying attention to, and observing whatever we’re experiencing in the present moment, focusing on our inner experiences: our breath, our thoughts, our feelings and emotions, and the physical sensations in our bodies. And then whenever we get distracted and our minds start to wander, we simply acknowledge whatever’s distracted us, and then as best we can we let it go and redirect our attention back to what we’re trying to pay attention to, which is usually our breath. And if you’d like to learn how to practice mindfulness meditation check out the videos that i link to in the pinned comment and description.

But the fact is most people aren’t going to practice mindfulness meditation on a regular basis. But all of the things we do in a mindfulness meditation, we can also do as we go about our daily lives. We just need to focus our attention on whatever we’re doing in the present moment. If we’re working, we’re focused on our work: what we’re doing, and thoughts related to what we’re working on. And we’re aware of other thoughts and feelings and emotions and body sensations that arise while we’re focused on our work, but we just observe these thoughts, feelings and sensations. We don’t allow them to carry our minds away. We acknowledge them, and then as best we can we let them go and redirect our attention back to whatever it is we’re trying to pay attention to.

Now the two main ways that we practice mindfulness in dbt are by observing, and describing and labeling. So as we go about our daily lives, we’re being mindful when we’re able to take a step back from what we’re doing, stay in the present moment, and observe what’s going on with our thoughts, feelings and emotions, and body sensations.

But often instead of just observing what we’re experiencing, we start getting pulled into our experiences. Rather than simply observing our thoughts, we get stuck in our heads, our minds racing, and we can get completely caught up in our thoughts. Or our emotions and body sensations can become so strong that they begin to overwhelm and subsume us. One way to stay mindful in the face of strong uncomfortable feelings emotions and body sensations is to practice radical acceptance, and we can also use various emotion regulation skills and i have videos that go into more details about these topics that i link to in the description and pinned comment. And in the remainder of this video we’re going to look at how to stay mindful of our thoughts by observing and describing or labeling them.

There are always lots of thoughts passing into and out of our minds. And while we can’t control what thoughts come into our minds at any given time, we do have the ability to choose which thoughts we want to pay attention to. When we’re being mindful we’re aware of and observing the thoughts that come into our minds. And then when we notice ourselves having a thought that’s not related to what we want to be paying attention to at the time, we’re mindful of this thought, we notice we’re having it, but that’s all we do with. It we don’t engage with it. We don’t think about it. We just acknowledge that we’re having that thought. And then as best we can let it go and redirect our attention back to what we’re trying to pay attention, to without allowing that thought to distract us and carry our minds away.

And the best way to explain how we practice being mindful of our thoughts is to use some metaphors. One way we can be mindful of our extraneous thoughts that aren’t related to what we’re doing at the time is to treat them as if they were just sounds going on in the background. We generally don’t pay attention to these sounds or think about them very much, and we just allow them to pass in one ear and write out the other. And we can do the same sort of thing with our thoughts: not give them any undue attention and think about them or try to figure out what they mean, and just treat them like mental noise in the background, allow them to pass into our mind and then right out again.

Another metaphor for this way of relating to our thoughts is to simply treat our thoughts as if they were clouds passing through the sky: noticing as a cloud or a thought passes into our field of awareness, sticks around for a while, and then continues to float through the sky or through our minds until it passes away.

Or sitting back and observing our thoughts as if we were at the movies and watching our thoughts being projected on the screen in front of us. Not actively participating or getting caught up in the action on the screen that is our thoughts, and just sitting back and watching them as they unfold. And remember that the thoughts that we’re trying to simply watch and observe and allow to pass from our minds without interacting with them aren’t the thoughts related to what we’re doing at the time, but extraneous thoughts that act as distractions that can pull us away from what we’re trying to focus on. And if you’d like to try an exercise that leads you through these metaphors with a guided audio file, please check out the link in the description and pinned comment.

But often it’s not that easy to just sit back and watch our thoughts. And so if we find ourselves getting caught up in our thoughts rather than just observing them, describing or labeling our thoughts is a great way to take a step back. When we’re describing our thoughts we’re observing our thoughts and simply describing to ourselves what’s going on in our minds.

So instead of just observing the thought, i hate my life, describing what’s going on in your mind: first that you’re having a thought, and then noting what you’re thinking about. I’m having the thought, i hate my life. Instead of just observing the thought ,what if i can’t get this done on time, describing what’s going on in your mind. I’m worrying, what if i can’t get this done on time? Or I’m wondering, why haven’t they emailed me back yet? Or I’m having the thought, how could he do that to me?

Now instead of describing the content of our thoughts we can simply label our thoughts with a couple of words or a short phrase that labels what’s going on in our minds so merely noting that we’re thinking thinking; or worrying about work; or I’m obsessing; or I’m dwelling on an argument. When we label our thoughts, we’re shifting our focus away from the content of what we’re thinking about, and merely observe that we’re engaged in the act of thinking or worrying, or obsessing, or dwelling, and the content of our thoughts loses its power.

If we’re observing ourselves having the thought, i hate my life, or why haven’t they emailed me back yet, those thoughts generate an emotional reaction that makes them more difficult to let go. But if instead we describe our thoughts with a simple label like thinking or worrying, there’s really no emotional pull to that label. So labeling helps us become aware of and acknowledge our extraneous thoughts, while making it less likely that these thoughts end up carrying our minds away from what we’re trying to pay attention to.

So even if you don’t practice mindfulness meditation there are lots of ways that you can learn to be more mindful of your thoughts. And remember that being mindful takes practice, so try to use these strategies on a regular basis to build up your mindfulness skills, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed or a crisis arises they’ll be ingrained enough that you can rely on them to help you through it. And if you missed my first video on dbt and mindfulness please check out the link in the description and pinned comment, where you’ll also find a link to my guided mindfulness of thoughts exercise.

The next post contains the Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts exercise mentioned in this video. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

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