Whenever I read someone else say, “We are totally responsible for our lives,” it clearly resonates with me. As a Career & Life Coach, I pass it along in my writings and workshops. And yet . . . I seem to “fail” at taking responsibility for taking responsibility much of the time. I view this as a pretty normal human condition, and yet in my quiet time this morning I saw the main problem: I allow myself to get distracted from taking responsibility for managing my thoughts.
For most of my life I was generally unconscious, in terms of even knowing I had such responsibility. Yes, I made choices and decisions, but my thoughts managed me rather than the other way around. Slowly, as I began to awaken from the dream that life (reality) is not necessarily the way it appears, I was more able to observe my thinking rather than get totally caught up in it. (I still find it almost amusing to discover other people do not have the same perceptions as I, or see things from a very different perspective.) My insight came from reading A Course in Miracles, personal growth workshops, and most recently Insight Meditation as a Buddhist practice of Mindfulness.
Still, most of my waking hours are spent in reaction to whatever my thoughts are thinking me. I have no real idea where or why this phenomenon (“hearing thoughts in our head”) is part of the human condition, but clearly everybody has them. But if we are to be the masters of our lives and take full responsibility for decisions, choices, and thoughts, then it becomes important to get better at managing the subtle, elusive and slippery stream of consciousness, which some say adds up to 60,000 thoughts per day.
One technique I have become a fan of is how Timothy Gallwey explains to play The Inner Game of Golf, and separates our mind process into two categories. He refers to Self #1 as the critic standing over our shoulder telling us how to hit the next shot, telling us what not to do, then scolding us for doing it (wrong)! To dispel the voice of what I call “The Intruder,” he suggests a number of action strategies for playing better golf to get us back in touch with Self #2 – or what I refer to as our “Natural Self” ─ the one who hits the ball far better than we would do otherwise when listening to the voice of our critic. This strategy has direct application to anything we do in life. By finding ways of getting back in the flow of being and doing that which is aligned with our authentic or Natural Self, we not only perform much better, experience less stress, are far happier during the process of living life, and are better able to direct our thoughts in creating intentions that best serve us.
So, because we can’t spend all our time playing golf, it behooves us to come up with some strategies that improve our ability to take responsibility for and manage our thoughts during our non-golf waking hours. In listing my top eight strategies below, I am keenly aware that this is an on-going lifetime practice (to embed new habits) and not a quick fix.
- First, back to dealing with the critic, or The Intruder as I like to call it. Here is what Richard Levy suggests in his daily internet email message about dealing with such thoughts:
“As soon as an unwanted thought makes its way into your mind, quietly say to yourself: ‘block.’ You may need to silently repeat the word ‘block’ several times if the stray thought doesn’t go away. It is not necessary to investigate the source of the thought. Let go of disliking the thought; all this will do is make it stronger. Block it before it becomes stronger, more intense, and gets energy that can affect your reality.”
- Start each day with 20 minutes of silence, allowing yourself to enter a peaceful and totally supported experience of sacredness and Peace in which there is no worry. Without trying to stop thoughts when they do arise, watch them settle to the bottom of the barrel, as do apple pieces that were not fully ground in the apple press, or moving in a small boat down the river while viewing them from a position on the bank. The trick here is to not get in the boat and go with them downstream!
- Join a mindfulness meditation class to continue this practice in a group setting. It always helps me to be supported by others who are practicing focusing on the present moment such as on breathing, body sensations, or sounds, in order to claim authority over the stream of consciousness my meditation teacher calls “time travel,” because those thoughts are of the past or future.
- When you catch yourself ruminating about the past or future, thinking negatively, or being caught in that stream of un-managed thinking that leads you astray, interrupt the process in a physically way. I will often just stop what I am doing and head out for a brief walk, look at the sky, and gather myself into the moment. This gets you back “in your body” and back (momentarily) in control. What NOT to do here is to judge yourself for not having better managed your thinking, or “falling off the wagon of mind control.” There is no way, as best I can tell, of doing this perfectly, (or even 10% of the time!), or anyone on the planet who has mastered it. Well, maybe a couple, but I have not met them. Buddha and Christ come to mind as possible choices, but feel free to add Lao-tzu, Mohammed, or anyone else you choose, which are gigantic shoes (or sandals) to fill.
- Focus some of your attention on helping or serving others, rather than being self-pre-occupied – which we are most of the time as normal human beings living on the planet and taking responsibility for our lives. This strategy not only directs your thinking, feels good if done in a joyful way that you choose, but also opens you up to intuitively hearing a third voice – one that comes from our Natural Self aligned with higher wisdom (or what some refer to as our Superconscious Mind, God, Spirit, Source, etc.) The key here is to have an intention to balance and practice directing your focus toward serving others, possibly even feeling being nudged by your higher wisdom into a particular area of service or receiving intuitive impulses for action taking.
- New research on how our minds influence the actual result, and actually physically affect the quantum field of matter to line up according to our vision and thought projection, might inspire you to better manage and take greater responsibility for your thinking. (Electrons, scientists have discovered, move in and out of the field of energy and matter depending up how we create them being present in a particular structure that determines the physical outcome we project.) So, while setting your focus early in the morning for a day of peace and joy, claim intentions of kindness, compassion, and love for yourself and all others you might come in contact with, or even think about. The heartfelt intentions you choose will focus your attention and guide you throughout the day in managing your thinking. (If you feel as though you are “losing control” of your energy and intentions, try sitting still for a second time during the day to reclaim your peace found in that space of sacred stillness.)
- OK, I admit that we do get caught in emotional negativity or entanglement without being able to head it off, so to speak. What to do when this occurs: first accept the truth of the situation, that you in some way you were the source of the thinking that got you into the momentary mess. Second, do not push the whole mess away by forcing yourself into new thinking images, because this doesn’t work. First you need to release the energy of the emotion, by allowing the feeling to wash over and through your body. And with mustering up a bit of fearlessness, even magnify the emotion to get to the bottom of it! Next, (sometimes the hard part), release the feeling and re-vision a state of serenity, or wholeness, or peace. Releasing becomes easier if you can image yourself stepping outside yourself while understanding, with empathy and compassion, the dilemma you found yourself in, or reactively created out of old beliefs or thought patterns. Check out those patterns, if you wish, to begin taking back authority over them so that you don’t respond to the next similar situation in the same way.
- Lastly, remember that you can do nothing wrong or bad in life, because you are linked and part of a perfect Source of Goodness. True, if we fail to learn how to take responsibility for our thoughts, we may create outcomes that don’t serve us or others, but from a higher perspective they cannot actually create permanent harm. Life is temporary and always changing, and we are in the flow of passing through it and waking up to a greater reality. So forgiveness, of yourself and others, is a great way to also interrupt thinking and reclaim authority over our reactions. All of us are doing our best, with what we have or know or aware of at the time. Feel free to give yourself a break, and even laugh a bit at being in the classroom called earth.
Given the magnitude and onerous responsibility for taking authority over our thoughts, along with some strategies to help in claiming that authority, it may seem too overwhelming a job or process to take on. But, if we treat it lightly, and consider it as did Florence Shinn in calling it “The Game of Life and How to Play it,” we stand a better chance to make some headway in directing how our future shows up. So it comes down to this: do you want to be the creator of your life, or live at the effect of your un-managed thinking (as in allowing yourself to be the victim of your thoughts)?
Life is a choice. By learning to take responsibility for it, as its co-creator based on how well we manage our thinking, is really the first choice we must consider making.