Speaking of mental chatter, most people get one of its properties backward. Doing nothing isn’t boring; it’s overwhelming.
People think of doing nothing as boring, as in devoid of anything to think about or do. On the contrary, doing nothing generally overwhelms your awareness. Most people’s minds give them more to think about than they can handle. You turn on the television or read a book when you have nothing to do to calm it or distract your mind. Otherwise most people can’t handle their mental chatter.
Like you can control your breathing when you consciously focus on it, you can consciously choose your thoughts if you focus on them. If you don’t, your thoughts will flow one to the next to who knows where. If you let them flow while doing nothing, you’ll usually hit an obligation or someone to talk to, which will make you get up. Often you’ll hit some conflict and dwell on it, like something you wish you had said in yesterday’s debate with someone, or an argument you had with your third grade teacher.
The result for most people after less than a minute of sitting still is to end up angry, frustrated, or feeling some emotional conflict. People who haven’t trained their minds are slaves to unconscious mental drives that create mental conflict.
Thursday’s exercise reveals patterns of your mental chatter. Nearly everyone has the same patterns — judgmental, evaluative, repetitive, etc.
Try this exercise: sit still doing nothing for ten minutes. For that matter try sitting still for five or even one minute. Most people can’t do it. Observe your thoughts and see where they go. For that matter, just observe how much mental activity your mind creates.
I bet if you’ve never done it before you won’t be able to do it.
This exercise is the foundation of meditation. A valuable skill meditation, or even just this exercise, teaches is to be able to observe your mental chatter without it gripping you uncontrollably. That is, when your mind gets caught on some thought of that argument you should have won, you just observe that you think about it, not get swept away into dwelling on those thoughts. You might note that “this too shall pass.”
If you can’t handle letting your thoughts pass when alone, you won’t be able to resist getting swept up by external events — other people bothering you, ads, etc.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book