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 do this, we have to judge our thoughts as good or bad, positive or negative, right or wrong. 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 can occur with our thoughts as well.
The practice of mindfulness invites us into a different relationship with our food—and our thoughts. Specifically, Am I Hungry?® uses an “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, recognizing some foods as more nutritious, while others are primarily for pleasure or fun.
What happens when we apply this principle to our thoughts? 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 are able to recognize when thoughts are just thoughts, not facts?
“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.
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, learn to accept particular trains of thought for what they are: habitual patterns of thinking!
- 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 my body; I’ll just lose control again. Better start another diet.
By cultivating the skill of observing or witnessing our thoughts without judgment, we are able to detach from their power so we are 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.