According to Buddhist teachings, there are four areas in which a person can train his or her own attentiveness. These four areas are body perception, feelings and their perception, experiencing thoughts and recognizing thought patterns. Today I would like to devote myself to the fourth area, our mindset. Before we come to concrete ways of thinking in the next blog post that can positively influence our lives in the long term, I would like to clarify today what we understand by mindset and why it plays such an important role for us at all
A thought seldom comes alone: prejudices, attitudes, basic convictions, opinions or chains of associations about certain people, things or topics are repeated over and over again and are constantly confirmed anew. With some thoughts we know from the outset that they are untrue - and yet we continue to think them. This is often the case with fears and the imagination of worst-case scenarios. Often we take things personally that other people have said or done, or over-interpret certain situations. Because we are not rational thinking beings, such thinking patterns are in principle completely normal.
How do thought patterns emerge? What are they good for?
Our brain processes countless pieces of information every second. However, not all of this information can be passed on and "thought through to the end", as this would exceed the capacity of our brain. Therefore our brain filters all this information. It categorizes them and adds them to already existing, similar associations or drops them and does not process them further. Our brain wants to relieve us through this filter. Basically, the filter serves to ensure our survival. We learn to assess situations adequately in order to be able to react to them appropriately.
I would like to illustrate this with an example: If we put our hand into an open fire or observe this situation in another person, we learn that this is not such a good idea. Our brain makes an association; it links "fire + hand (or body part) = pain / burning / life-threatening". So we learn that fire can be threatening for humans. If we were not able to form such associations, a situation in which we come into contact with fire could be life-threatening every time we touch it. We would have to learn everything over and over again and would thus not only be treading on the spot, but would also have extremely low chances of survival.
Why do thought patterns have such a power over our lives?
So thinking patterns help us to act faster and to better assess future situations. They are created by linking new information to already existing neuron networks. Now it is like this: The more often a neuron network is activated, the easier it is to activate this network. In other words: The more often a thought is thought, the faster we think this thought in the future, because it is more easily accessible to us than other thoughts
If after a defeat or a mistake I think "Oh dear, I'm really a failure; I knew this wouldn't work out", then after the next situation that didn't go as planned I also think "I'm a failure..." rather than "This can happen. What can I learn from that?" - precisely because there are pre-existing associations between "defeat = bad/not good enough = failure". And so, ultimately, patterns of thought emerge..
This hopefully makes it clear how important everything we think from second to second is and what kind of thoughts we fill our head with
Our brain is plastic
The good news is that none of this would work if our brain could not be changed. The so-called plasticity of our brain allows us to make new associations or strengthen certain existing associations. We therefore have the best conditions for changing our thinking and ultimately our actions. We are not powerless in the face of our thoughts. You yourself can influence how you see the world, what you think about yourself and how you want to face life
The "bad" news is that it all takes practice. We have been living on this planet for several decades now, and we may have strengthened the same associative networks thousands or millions of times. These associations are therefore very stable and our chains of thought are activated almost automatically without us consciously noticing. This makes it difficult to change these networks. That is why we have to train our brain like a muscle, and that takes time. Just as we cannot lose 10 kg overnight, we cannot bring our mindset from zero to a hundred overnight
How can we change our mindset?
If you want to change your way of thinking, get rid of old patterns or build a new, positive mindset, mindfulness is your best friend. The further we progress in mindfulness practice, the more likely it is that we will be able to let go of thoughts, stop thinking them, or replace them with more appropriate thinking.
To change dysfunctional or negative cognitions, it is first necessary to perceive them. In everyday life we are so caught up in our autopilot that it can be really difficult at first to identify typical thoughts and thought patterns. Meditation helps tremendously to decelerate the thoughts and to perceive them from an observer's perspective without having to evaluate or suppress them. Here you will find some suggestions and tips about meditation
Journaling can also be a good exercise for the perception of one's own thought patterns. If you put your thoughts on paper, you can identify more quickly what positive and dysfunctional thoughts you have in general
The next step is to transform these old, dysfunctional thoughts into new, positive thoughts, in order to gradually build a new mindset. How you can transform basic beliefs and which concrete ways of thinking can make your life better, you will learn in our next blog post
Until then I will give you a small task
Over the next few days, try to actively participate in your thoughts. Say "stop" in between and observe what you were thinking in the moments before the stop signal. How do you talk to yourself daily? What are typical thought patterns for you? You can also write these things down at the end of the day or reflect them for yourself in bed before going to bed.
Try to approach this in a playful way, like a little explorer who is totally curious
Please don't be so hard on yourself if you notice that you think negatively. This is not about running around all day like a honey pie horse and having to find everything great. Try to perceive your thoughts as free of values as possible. The whole thing should give you an insight into your head and help you to get to know yourself better
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, healthy eating or sustainability, take a look here over.