What happens when you listen to yourself? When there isn’t any external input happening to my brain via reading, watching or listening to other external inputs, I have a permanently running internal monologue. When I was younger, my stream of consciousness involved a lot more daydreaming. Now, it almost always is just this voice. For the sake of this post, I’ll call it The Mind.
The Mind’s absolute favourite thing to do is list off all the things that I did not do what I was supposed to do or could have done today, or this week, or this month. A constant list of small criticisms. It’s not like The Mind is overly mean or nasty. The Mind isn’t calling me stupid or ugly. It’s more like a disappointed manager giving a matter-of-fact performance review with a rating that never exceeds “Meets Expectations” and is usually “Needs Improvement”.
Since having kids, I feel like time to be alone and think has diminished. And then in the small gaps of time I have the opportunity to be alone, I fill it with something like a podcast, or reading something on my phone. I realised recently, I’ve been trying to drive out The Mind and its annoying lists that make me feel bad.
Recently I wrote about my struggles with screen use and since then I’ve been trying to unpack what I’m trying to avoid when I dive in to a screen. If being alone with my thoughts is so awful, what are my thoughts saying to make it so awful? I started deliberately listening to The Mind and really paying attention to its chatter. This is how I discovered just how persistent the constructive criticisms and suggestions for improvement are.
So my current daily mindfulness practice is to notice when The Mind starts up its performance review and redirect it with thoughts about all the reasons I’m doing great. The Mind likes to focus obsess over “doing” so I try to counteract with ways I’m “being”. For example, The Mind might start up making a list of what I’m failing to bake for the kids (note: I do bake for them, The Mind thinks there isn’t enough variety 🙄) so I’ll think about how I was loving and caring and listened to them today, therefore being the mum I aspire to be.
The best part of getting better at noticing when The Mind is sneaking its lists in to my consciousness and telling it to back off is that I’m less likely to reach for distraction from it, aka, my phone. I am trying to spend at least 30 minutes a day in solitude: free from inputs to the brain. It’s usually when I’m taking the dog for a walk. I used to listen to podcasts while doing that because without them a full walk with The Mind running rampant would just give me a bunch of time anxiety. I’m getting better at noticing what’s happening and redirecting my thinking, making quiet walks more enjoyable.
I wonder, what happens in your head when you’re left alone with your thoughts? Is your consciousness a constant, chatty commentary, like mine? What sort of things is it saying? Or is it voiceless and more imagery based? Do you spend much time with your own thoughts or do you fill the day with inputs, like me? Let me know, I find this subject fascinating.