Editor’s note: This post by former Am I Hungry? Licensee Janet Jones takes the nonjudgmental concept of “all foods fit” and applies it to our thoughts. What happens when you don’t judge your thoughts?
The downside to “positive thinking”
For years we’ve been taught replacement thinking, for example, to replace a “bad” thought with a “good” thought, or to get rid of “negative” thinking by switching to “positive” thinking.
However, in order to switch to positive thinking, we have to judge our thoughts as positive or negative, right or wrong, and good or bad.
Judging thoughts is a habit
This is similar to the way we’ve learned to judge food as good or bad—with similar results! Certainly many of us have experienced the effects of labeling ourselves as “bad” because we have eaten “bad” food. This occurs with our thoughts too.
The practice of mindfulness invites us into a different relationship with food—and our thoughts. Specifically, Am I Hungry? uses a nonjudgmental “all-foods-fit” approach to eating. (See chapter 10 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. ) When all foods fit, food is neither good nor bad, just food, so the power food has had over us diminishes. We learn to relate to food simply as food, perhaps considering the role each food plays, whether primarily for fuel, nutrition, enjoyment, or most often, a combination of these.
Making the shift to all-thoughts-fit
What if we approach thinking as all-thoughts-fit? In other words, what if thoughts are neither good nor bad, and instead, are just thoughts? More important, what if we’re able to recognize when thoughts are just thoughts, not facts?
In other words, thoughts aren’t always true and thoughts don’t always require a specific feeling or action.
“All-thoughts-fit” may be about as unconventional as an all-foods-fit philosophy—and just as challenging! By recognizing that labeling thoughts as good or bad is simply a habit that has been learned and reinforced, we can take advantage of our ability to learn a new, more helpful habit.
What happens when we observe instead of judge our thoughts?
In order to release ourselves from the power our thoughts can have over us, we can practice observing our thinking, without needing to judge thoughts as good/bad/right/wrong, or even positive/negative.
By observing our thoughts in this way, we accept particular trains of thought for what they are: habitual patterns of thinking!
Try this brief meditation on your thoughts. Imagine listening to a “train of thought” pulling into the station of your mind. Look overhead to the sign to see where the train is going before you decide to get on board.
While some thoughts are helpful, others are just learned patterns. Here are a few examples of automatic trains of thought that may show up as you are learning to eat mindfully:
- Might as well eat it all now that I’ve blown it.
- I’ll never be any good at this.
- This might work for other people but not me.
- I’ll always be this way.
- I can’t trust myself; I’ll just lose control again. Better start another diet.
By cultivating the skill of observing or witnessing our thoughts without judgment, we’re able to detach from their power so we’re in charge of what we do next. We gain the flexibility to identify and reflect on a particular “train of thought” without having to change it, control it, or act upon it. In other words, we can watch the train come in then decide whether to board that particular train or not!
In my next post, we’ll explore the process of identifying and responding to our trains of thought without judging them.
This article has been updated from a previously published version.
Contributor: Janet Jones is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Belmont, North Carolina and completed Am I Hungry? Training.
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