A Mindfulness Practice for Changing Your Relationship to Thoughts

Thoughts (including the menacing and intrusive ones) are not facts. Here we learn to work with our thoughts in a kind way, without letting them overwhelm us.

Adobe Stock/ Vitalii Vodolazskyi

Thoughts play a major role in our lives. We grab onto them, our emotions kick into high gear, we react, and sometimes get into trouble. Yet all of our thoughts, including the menacing and intrusive ones, are just that: thoughts, not facts. 

We can learn to work with thoughts in a friendly way. It’s good to remember that changing your relationship to your thoughts won’t happen overnight, and there’s no need to be hard on yourself along the way. It may be a long road, but it’s well traveled. 

It’s good to remember that changing your relationship to your thoughts won’t happen overnight, and there’s no need to be hard on yourself along the way.

It can be helpful to meet with an authorized mindfulness meditation instructor, either online or in person. Mindfulness practice is a living, breathing part of life rather than something rigid and formalized, so it’s helpful to interact with a person and not only the below instructions. Working with a teacher’s guidance will help encourage ongoing practice and will support you through any bumps in the road. If you would like to deepen your involvement with the mindfulness community, see if there’s a practice group near you that you can meet with regularly.

Mindfulness is not meant to take the place of therapy, whether it’s meeting with a counselor, another professional individually, or in a group. Continue with the therapy you have been doing, and do your mindfulness practice (if you find it helpful) in parallel. 

A Mindfulness Practice for Changing Your Relationship to Thoughts

  1. In a seated posture, upright and with your head up over your shoulders, bring your attention to your feet on the floor—the sensations of your feet in contact with the floor—and when you notice that thoughts have taken over, come back to your feet on the floor.
  2. The eyes can be either open or half-open. Rather than focusing on something in particular, you can be generally aware.
  3. After a little while, switch your attention to your natural breathing. Don’t change your breathing at all. Go along with the breath, as it is.
  4. When you notice a thought, like planning what you’re going to do tomorrow, come back to the breathing. There is no need to judge your thoughts, good or bad.
  5. If you are finding it difficult to go along with your breath, you can always switch your attention back to your feet on the floor.
  6. You are not trying to get rid of thoughts, or see them as the problem. You are coexisting with them for a short time, and then going back to the breath. As painful as they may feel, thoughts are not the enemy. How we relate to them is what matters.
  7. When you become aware of a thought, use that as a reminder to come back to the breath. This way, you are not a captive audience to your thoughts. They become less important. Over time, you might find that this new relationship has you becoming less reactive, and less influenced by your thoughts. 
  8. After a while, you are starting to get used to the coming and going of thoughts. Seeing they don’t last, you start to take them less seriously.
  9. Each time you leave a thought and come back to the breath and the present moment, you are interrupting the thought process, as a natural result of shifting your attention.

Make Your Practice a Daily Habit

Aim to do this practice daily, roughly 5 to 10 minutes in the beginning. Just do the practice as best you can, and then move on to the next part of your day. Practicing at the same time each day (for example, first thing in the morning, at lunch time, or before going to bed) gives it a place in your routine. 

After a week or so, you might begin to time your sessions, starting with a guesstimate of the amount of time you practiced daily in the first week. Aim to increase your time by a minute or two each week. There is no magic amount of time to practice—instead, you can discover what works for you, like water seeking its own level. 

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