What are you thinking about right now?
I’m sure part of you is focused on this article and wondering where this is going. You may also be simultaneously asking yourself if you’re hungry enough to eat the rest of your breakfast, or if you should stop reading this and do something more productive (definitely not), or regretting not going to the gym this morning, or worrying about work/school/your family…
My point is you’re probably not just thinking one thing at any point in time. Our thoughts tend to jump around from one thing to the next so quickly and often overlap so that we can do one thing while thinking about at least one other thing that is completely unrelated.
If you grew up in the 90’s, you most likely came across a show called Lizzie McGuire. Just your typical teen girl, Lizzie struggled with all the things normal teen girls go through like buying your first bra, the dreamy (but sadly oblivious) guy and the mean girl who somehow was super popular despite her mean-ness.
In the show, Lizzie had a cartoon counterpart- we’ll call her Cartoon Lizzie. So when Lizzie was in the middle of a conversation or event we would get insight into what was really going on in her head through Cartoon Lizzie’s (much more honest) reaction.
Often I feel that I have my own Cartoon Lizzie living in my head who talks and reacts relentlessly. In fact sometimes I feel more in tune to my inner voice than what is going on around me.
I became more aware of this tendency recently when I started reading ‘Mindfulness: An 8-week plan for finding peace in a frantic world‘ (highly recommend it, btw). I’ve increasingly noticed my ability (or vice) to be having a conversation with someone while thinking about something or someone else entirely.
While this may seem harmless (if slightly rude), the chaotic stream of thoughts is what often causes the anxiety and uneasiness we experience in our day-to-day lives. Instead of focusing on what is currently happening we live inside our heads, controlled by a constant, frantic stream of thoughts that is often unrelated to reality.
As hard as it may be to wrap our heads around, our thoughts are not truth. And you are not what you think. This is crucial to grasp because I think too often we accept our thoughts as matters of fact instead of what they really are: just thoughts.
This can be dangerous when you have thoughts like…
I look like crap right now.
I’m not good enough for him.
I shouldn’t feel this way…why do I feel this way
I shouldn’t have eaten that
She’s prettier than I am
This is not going to go well
Whether they’re anything like these or completely different, we often have thoughts that are pessimistic and self-defeating that we quickly accept without question.
Thoughts ≠ Truth
If we don’t learn to live in the present moment and forgo the constant stream of thoughts, we leave ourselves to the mercy of something that will never serve us or allow us to enjoy our lives.
While Cartoon Lizzie certainly added humor and even some honesty to Lizzie McGuire, I don’t think we should let our inner cartoon run our lives. Staying grounded to (the often less dramatic) reality and living the moment instead of thinking about it is definitely something I want to learn through mindfulness.
After all, I’d rather live my life than just think about it. Wouldn’t you?