Observing and managing your mind at work is not a complicated thing. In fact, it is really a very simple activity, although at first it may seem a difficult task. This is because, as I said before, we are not used to doing so and we have no idea how to do it.
There are several ways to learn the art of self-observation, each with its methodologies and its purposes. In my opinion, the techniques of mindfulness (and meditation of consciousness) and cognitive psychotherapy are very useful. Both of them would of course require a very extensive and detailed discussion, so here I will just make a brief summary of each of these strategies to learn to observe your own thoughts …
- In the practice of mindfulness, to truly contemplate thoughts we need two components: concentration and awareness. Simplifying, we can say that concentration serves to predestine ourselves to observation, while with consciousness we can observe thoughts (images, fantasies, etc.) for what they really are: mental events with a beginning, a development, and an end. With the right amount of concentration and awareness, it’s getting easier to see these phenomena and to look at them from a different perspective so that they can also notice the effects that these mental events have on our way of emotion and action.
- With the self-monitoring and self-observation techniques of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy, it may often be useful to begin your own observation from the emotions we experience, then go back and find out the thoughts that have determined it. For example, when we feel sad, we can stop for a moment and try to go to mind what thoughts preceded this emotion. If we do it every time we feel a negative emotion, we learn at a little bit to be more aware of the thoughts behind us, so as to recognize them in time and eventually address them with the right techniques. So that you do not get entangled in emotional and behavioral reactions that can hurt us.
Observing thoughts is simple but at the same time difficult, but only because our monkey mind is not trained to do so. Managing your thoughts, that’s another pair of sleeves.
With this I do not mean that you cannot do it, because it is actually more than possible (in fact, I would say that it is also advisable to do it!). However, it is a higher level that certainly requires a different attention and often the help of a professional who can guide us to the discovery of our inner world.
At the moment when we stop to look really, we might notice some things that might even make us feel unpleasant emotions. Taking the example of my friend, getting to see clearly our fears, such as being alone and abandoning ourselves, can be a disarming and mortifying experience. But if you learn to do it right, seeing what we fear as a mere manifestation of our needs, we can finally understand what we can really do to satisfy them in the best possible way and in respect of their nature.
Looking at your own fears is by no means easy. Especially if we are afraid of what we can find. But it is not the face of their own fears that makes it worse, is ignoring them that it really does. Because if we are not aware of what happens to us, of what we feel, of what we do, we will always be at the mercy of events.
Leaving us to wander from the waves, we will never go where we really want to go. Only by learning how to govern the ship, we can achieve serenity and well-being. And learning to look at it is the first step towards happiness.