The idea of watching your thoughts might sound odd at first, but you will soon see that this is a very accurate description of a very useful tool. And once you get the hang of watching your thoughts, it will become one of the most powerful tools available to you.
This technique has been around for as long as people have been meditating. Watching your thoughts is a small change that offers you the amazing opportunity to stop the wheels from turning every second and gain critical perspective. The payoff will change your life for good. Here's how it works.
The technique itself is not complicated, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise. Imagine going to a theater and watching a movie. You can be completely immersed in the movie and yet a part of you is totally detached. If you're watching the latest horror movie about giant sea monsters, you obviously don't feel compelled to bring scuba tanks and underwater guns to the theater. Why? Because you are detached enough to know the movie is just a movie.
When you start watching your own thoughts as you would a movie, the same detachment allows you to witness the many thoughts that occur in your brain, but without being overcome by these thoughts.
What you come to realize is that you have an infinite number of thoughts every day, and many vie for your attention simultaneously. It's as if one is yelling out to you, "Pay attention to me," while another is saying, "No, pay attention to me." This realization, like the scary movie, can be frightening. The good news, however, is that, just like the movie, these are only thoughts. And as you watch thought after thought enter your mind, you realize that you can quiet the inner noise they make. This is where the importance of detachment comes in.
Over time, and with a little practice, you can get to the point where you treat your own thoughts much like the movie you watch at the theater. You can be totally responsive to them, yet detached enough to keep your bearings and not allow your thoughts to drive you nuts.
Let me give you an everyday and personal example of how watching your thoughts works. A few weeks ago, two very dear friends of mine separately asked me to do them a favor on the same day. At first I welcomed the chance to help out. It's rare that either of these friends asks me to do anything for them, and both are always there for me. The problems was that both favors were being "called in" at exactly the same time! There was no way around it. If I was to help one friend, I would have to let the other friend down.
Obviously this wasn't a life-or-death dilemma, but you can probably imagine what my mind started to do. My thoughts began going in about six different directions, and each thought seemed perfectly logical as it called out to me, "This is why you should do it this way." Then, not a tenth of a second later, another thought would jump in and say, "But, Richard, you can't possibly be there for John; he's never once not been there for you." When I imagined saying no to both requests, a few self-loathing thoughts sneaked into the mix, such as "How can you possibly be so selfish?"
Fortunately, about five minutes into this potentially endless agony, I remembered the technique of watching my thoughts. Instead of engaging my thoughts any further, I simply started to observe them. It was as if I stepped back and removed myself from the picture. I did nothing else but watch. Within a few minutes my thoughts began to slow down. My mind quieted, and the situation seemed less like an emergency.
Shortly thereafter, I knew it would all work out just fine. I trusted that I would make the right decision, which, as it turned out, I did. I was able to be with one friend and, explaining the situation, had a heart-to-heart phone conversation with the other.
Every day we must deal with hundreds of competing thoughts. The small change we can make is to stop trying to engage every thought that pops into our mind and stop trying to figure out every drama in our mind. Instead, we can simply step back and watch the show. It's really just like watching that movie on the screen.
You can go as far as you want to with this technique. It can be a tool you use on occasion to deal with the stress that builds up during the day. Or you can make it an integral part of your everyday life.
The next time you become agitated, worried, harried, or simply unable to focus, step back and watch your thoughts. The results will amaze you. With just this subtle shift, you can move from stress and uncertainty to resolution, calm, and joy.