Label your thoughts as they drift by

It’s normal that your minds drifts off from time to time. If it does, it can help to recognise the thought and even give it a name as you return to the present moment.

Moody returned to the present with a jolt, and saw that Thomas Balfour was still looking at him, with an expression of intrigued expectation upon his face.

‘I beg your pardon,’ Moody said, in confusion. ‘I believe I must have drifted off into my own thoughts—for a moment—’

‘What were you thinking of?’ said Balfour.

What had he been thinking of? Only the cravat, the silver hand, that name, gasped out of the darkness. The scene was like a small world, Moody thought, possessed of its own dimensions. Any amount of ordinary time could pass, when his mind was straying there. There was this large world of rolling time and shifting spaces, and that small, stilled world of horror and unease; they fit inside each other, a sphere within a sphere. How strange, that Balfour had been watching him; that real time had been passing—revolving around him, all the while—

‘I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular,’ he said. ‘I have endured a difficult journey, that is all, and I am very tired.’

Eleanor Catton. The Luminaries.

‘Inevitably, there will be times when you get caught up in your thoughts. You may start daydreaming, or you may get trapped in your psychological pain. You may think about what you had for breakfast, what time the kids are due home from school, what movie you want to watch that night, or an ex-girlfriend you haven’t seen in years. As you know, your mind is extremely adept at creating thought. It’s likely you’ll find when you sit quietly that it seems as if your mind’s already natural talents have been amplified. You may have millions of thoughts flowing through your mind, and it’s likely you’ll get caught in them from time to time.

When this happens, simply notice that it has happened, and try to bring yourself back to the present moment and your observing self. Note that you have been in a thought and then return to the here and now.

One technique that is particularly effective to use while sitting is to label your thoughts. As you watch your thoughts pass before your mind’s eye, you may say, “I am having the thought that I had eggs for breakfast,” or, “I am having the feeling that I am sad.” It is also useful to note when you have drifted off, and even the thought that you have drifted off with: “I have been daydreaming about my ex-girlfriend. I am having the thought that I have been daydreaming.”

This can be particularly effective while you sit, because it is brief but still allows you to notice your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations as they come and go.’

Steven Hayes and Spencer Smith. Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy.

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