Editor’s note: This post by former Am I Hungry? Licensee Janet Jones is a follow up to her post Don’t judge your thoughts: All thoughts fit which explored the power of learning to allow our thoughts to just be without judging them. In this post, you’ll learn how to become aware of your thoughts without trying to change your thoughts.
Ironically, thoughts are often mindless!
Most people have trains of thought that are automatic, reactive, and ironically, mindless! These thoughts have been shaped by past experiences and people in our lives and have become internalized habits of thinking.
Allowing automatic thinking to control us is one way that restrictive and/or overeating patterns of behavior take over our lives. The intention of mindful eating is to learn how to be in charge of our eating and our thoughts.
The Focus, Explore, and Accept skills of F.E.A.S.T. (from chapter 3 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat) are very helpful.
Focus on your thoughts
Pause for a moment. Are you able to become aware of your thoughts? Can you can identify the trains of thought that regularly and automatically run through your mind? Can you give a particular train of thought a name, just as you might read the destinations on a board at a train station?
Here are some examples of naming a thought: That’s the past; that’s the future; that’s not true; that’s hyper-critical; that’s perfectionistic; that’s weight-focused; that’s black and white; etc.
Once you’ve identified your particular trains of thought, pick one and reflect on it using the Explore and Accept skills of F.E.A.S.T.
Explore your thoughts
Practice providing “space” for this train of thought without needing to judge, control, replace, or change your thoughts.
- Observe the content or direction of the train of thought.
- What do you know about why it is there?
- Are there memories associated with your train of thought?
- Where does this train of thought typically go?
With skill and practice you can allow these automatic trains of thought to pass through the train station of your mind, allowing them to be what they are: Thoughts, not facts!
Accept (or Allow) your thoughts
As you reflect on the train of thought you have identified, bring a compassionate, validating, and accepting attitude toward yourself. Respond to yourself as you would respond to someone that you love and care about, perhaps something like, “It’s understandable to have that thought in this situation. It’s just a thought.”
Allowing thoughts and feelings to simply “be” and have their space is an act of healing in itself.
Instead of trying to change your thoughts, allow them to be
Allowing your thoughts to simply be as they is very different from trying to replace, get rid of, or change your thoughts. It’s so different, it may seem odd at first!
Think of a time when you needed to express your thoughts to someone during a disagreement. How did it feel when you knew you had been heard and understood? Even if the other person didn’t agree or change their mind, having your feelings heard, understood, and taken seriously allows us to move on without getting stuck.
Also consider what happens when we tell ourselves not to eat a “bad” food, such as, “Don’t eat ice cream.” This just sets us up for the next episode of overeating ice cream!
The same thing happens with thoughts. If you tell yourself, “Don’t think, ‘I’m never going to change!’”, you’ll eventually have that thought anyway. When you do, you’re set up to judge yourself for having a thought you told yourself not to have!
How to allow your thoughts without changing them
In an all-thoughts-fit model, the pattern goes something like this instead:
- I have the thought, “I’m never going to change!”
- I notice it.
- I pause and take a breath.
- I recognize it as a train of thought that is there for a good reason (a habit I learned in the past).
- I name it; for example, “There’s my self-defeating train of thought.”
- I respond with, “I hear you; I know why you’re there.”
- I accept that the thought is present without judging the thought—or myself for having the thought.
- I move back to the Mindful Eating Cycle to help me with my next decision.
Just as with food, mindfulness give us the opportunity to pause and respond, rather than react out of habit, so we have a choice about what to do next. For example, we can allow the train of thought to simply pass through the station of our minds rather than getting on board. Perhaps we choose to reflect on which cycle the train of thought came from, and use our skills to lead us back to the intention of mindful, vibrant living.
Contributor: Janet Jones is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Belmont, North Carolina and completed Am I Hungry? Training.
Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you: