I have been a long-time student of the power of our thoughts.
That’s part of why I enjoyed Waking Up by Sam Harris, a book that focuses a great deal on the power of our thoughts.
Before cell phones, when we saw someone walking down the street talking to himself, we imagined they had a mental illness. “But we all talk to ourselves constantly—most of us merely have the good sense to keep our mouths shut,” says Harris.
“We are capable of astonishing feats…But it’s not within our power to simply stop talking to ourselves, whatever the stakes. It’s not even in our power to recognize each thought as it arises in consciousness without getting distracted every few seconds by one of them.” Harris writes quite a bit about meditation because meditation training is an answer.
Here are a few more of my favorite takeaways:
He writes about how “looking on the bright side”—optimism, looking at the glass as half full, and thinking “it could be worse”—are important pieces of being happy; how they are all important proactive positivity strategies, and how they relate to gratitude.
Harris tells a story of water that came pouring into his house. He says his wife suggested they be thankful it was fresh water, not raw sewage and he explains how helpful it can be to manufacture a feeling of gratitude by thinking about “all the terrible things that have not happened to you, or to think of how many people would consider their prayers answered if they could only live as you are now. The mere fact that you have the leisure to read this book” is a privilege. It’s true. We do take for granted so many of the freedoms we have.
Harris writes about studies regarding the effects of consciously practicing gratitude: “When compared to merely thinking about significant life events, contemplating daily hassles, or comparing oneself favorably to others, thinking about what one is grateful for increases one’s feelings of well-being, motivation, and positive outlook toward the future.”
Another idea Harris writes about is something else I have written about. I call it The Power of Negative Thinking.
As Harris explains, “Most of us let our negative emotions persist longer than is necessary. Becoming suddenly angry, we tend to stay angry—and this requires that we actively produce the feeling of anger. We do this by thinking about our reasons for being angry—recalling an insult, rehearsing what we should have said to our malefactor, and so forth—and yet we tend not to notice the mechanics of this process. Without continually resurrecting the feeling of anger, it is impossible to stay angry for more than a few moments.”
He then gives a good example of how these feelings can be interrupted: “Imagine that someone has made you very angry…you receive an important phone call that requires you to put on your best social face.”
Have you invested the time to learn how to meditate to help you to recognize your thoughts? Please join the conversation with your comments…