Learning to Choose Better Thoughts

May 13, 2020

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A daily mindfulness meditation practice can help us choose our thoughts wisely. This ability to choose our thoughts helps lower stress, manage chronic pain, and curb negative thoughts. Here’s my crazy freaky story about what happened to me just six days into my daily meditation practice.

We can't control our thoughts, but we can choose better thoughts to engage in and listen to. A mindfulness meditation practice can retrain our brains to choose better thoughts and reject unwanted or harmful ones.

Mindfulness meditation helps us control our thoughts.

Sure, on some level, we can’t control our thoughts. They float in and out of our minds as they please.

However, mindfulness shows us that we are not our thoughts. We are merely witnesses to our thoughts. This means we can choose whether or not to engage in any given thought at any time. This separation between us and our thoughts gives us the necessary space to reject a negative thought or snap out of a harmful or stress-inducing thought spiral.

In other words, mindfulness meditation helps us choose our thoughts.

I experienced this benefit firsthand in the shower recently. Allow me to explain.

[Click here for a meditation how-to and some guided meditations to try.]

Here’s what I experienced six days into my daily meditation practice.

Let me set the scene a bit.

I’ve been meditating on and off for years.  But after reading Real Happiness: A 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg a couple months ago, I started to meditate every day, for just fifteen minutes a day.  And after just six days of daily meditation, on Day 7 of Salzberg’s program, I was taking my morning shower.

There I was, shampooing my hair, and some embarrassing memory crept into my head out of nowhere. I started replaying the memory in my head so vividly that it felt like yesterday, even though I’m pretty sure it was a memory from a few years ago. The usual reaction ensued: I closed my eyes, shook my head as if to make the memory go away, and began to cringe with humiliation, wondering why I was such a spaz and marveling at how long I’ve survived socially despite my spaziness.

I’m sure this has happened to you before, right? It’s a prime example of why many of us feel like we can’t really choose our thoughts. But wait. There’s more.

The next thing I knew, without even realizing it, I heard myself speaking out loud. Before I even realized my mouth had opened, I heard myself gently yet firmly say my own name out loud.

“Annie,” the way you interrupt someone prattling on when they have gotten off topic. No judgment, but just getting them back on track or making sure they pause to take a breath or something.

It sounded like my teacher voice, gently saying the name of a student who doesn’t realize he’s been clicking his ball-point pen repeatedly for the last fifteen seconds during a silent quiz. Just firmly enough to snap him out of whatever stupor he’s in.

I was so shaken at first by this involuntary speech! But I quickly realized that it was just my brain starting to develop muscle memory due to my meditation practice! I was choosing my thoughts. And when it comes to choosing your thoughts, given the training and opportunity to do so, we probably will choose the thoughts that make us happy, not the ones that makes us feel like a loser!

Think about it. Mindfulness retrains your brain and teaches you to choose your thoughts. During mindfulness meditation, you focus on your breath, and when thoughts enter into your screen of consciousness and distract you, you notice them and gently pull your attention back to your breath. After barely a week of practicing this action intentionally, my brain started to do it on its own! Here I was, beginning to spiral into an unwanted thought pattern. Because of my meditation practice, my unconscious brain knew what to do. It noticed my spiral and said, “Nope, come back to the present moment, Annie.”

And I did.

And here’s the kicker! The instant I heard my own voice tell me to stop engaging in the memory, I forgot it. Instantly! To this day, I can’t remember what humiliating memory had made me want to crawl into a hole and hide from humanity that morning while I was in the shower.

It simply vanished. Forever.

If I experienced this fluke meditation benefit so early on in my regular practice, I can only imagine the benefits months and years of regular meditation can bring to our mental health and well-being!

Do you have a regular meditation practice? Tell me about it in the comments below, or let me know how you hope to benefit from starting one.

2 Comments

  • Reply Dharma Rocks May 13, 2020 at 7:14 am

    That is actually incredible!!! I really struggle to meditate for longer than 5 minutes. Do you think you HAVE to do 15 mins per day?

    • Reply HappyAsAnnie May 13, 2020 at 2:20 pm

      I started with just 5! I was taught that the ideal time is 20 minutes a day, but I’m sure people do more or less all the time. The most important thing I think is doing it every day, even if it’s just 5 minutes.

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