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Thought is Not Reality

Written by Aikens Approach on May 31st, 2011

Thought is not reality.

Not exactly intuitive, is it? The first time I heard this it sounded so ridiculous, it was like someone trying to tell me clown shoes were in this season. Of course thought is reality. I told myself, smirking at the ludicrousness of anyone who might think otherwise. I mean, it may not be everyone else’s reality but it’s the only reality I have. So that makes it real to me, right?

But then, the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense.

As a person who is prone to over-thinking, I know first hand the power my thoughts have over my every day life. I’ll even notice it physically. Like when I find myself worrying about what I have to do today, or about a presentation I just finished. My thoughts become so strong a reality that I feel my jaw tense and my fingers drum steadily on whatever hard surface happens to be nearby. I think so much about the situation that my reality becomes: “Everyone was really laughing at me during that presentation. I sounded stupid. Why did I ever think I could manage this job?”

It’s not easy to convince myself that things are almost never as serious or important as they feel at a particular moment. But as experience has shown me, when I can make myself take a step back it is ultimately incredibly, incalculably rewarding.

The other day for example I was quietly freaking out about being late for a big meeting. As these things tend to go, I of course was stuck on a packed subway going approximately two miles per hour, trying to appear calm so that the other passengers wouldn’t think I required a straight jacket. “S*!&. . . . This is the end. I’m going to lose any opportunity I had. She’ll tell people I’m unprofessional and flakey and my reputation will be over!” My thoughts were very rapidly creating a horrible reality for myself. Stopping the flow of negativity was about as easy as stopping the subway itself, but taking a deep breath, I told myself that it wasn’t that bad. This happens to everyone. It is not as serious or problematic as I thought it was. “Yeah right.” Another part of my brain said, but in the end I was able to create a more sane reality for myself, allowing me to walk into the woman’s office with greater calm and composure. It turns out she had been stuck on the same subway the week before, making her late for her quarterly meeting with the board.  We laughed a bit about the situation, then moved on. The meeting went great. That reality I had half-convinced myself of on the subway? Poof. No more.

Of course thoughts really are what shape our experience. But that doesn’t mean we should accept them without question or take them so seriously. Many times thoughts alone can make a situation much worse than it is, or even fabricate a problem where there never was one. So next time you find yourself fretting, freaking out, or over-thinking just remember, they’re just thoughts. Nothing more than that.

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