The Addiction No One Is Thinking About

columboWhen I was younger, one of my favorite activities was simply to think.

I remember laying on my back, on the floor in my room and gazing out the window, just thinking. I would think about my friends, about school, about books I had read…really anything. I imagined future scenarios, and reminisced about past ones. Lost in daydreams, I never would have thought that I was fostering an addiction.

I was a thinking addict.

Most of us are, in fact, addicted to our thoughts. Indeed, this is not an accident, but rather a result of neurological efficiency. Each thought, just like every action we take, corresponds to neurologic activity in our brains. And if there is one thing our brains are especially good at, it’s being efficient. This is ultimately the process of learning, although it may sound strange for me to tell you that you actually had to learn to think. But you did. What you learned to think about as a child and young adult is largely driving your thoughts today. Spend just five minutes observing your mind at work to find out for yourself. It’s an illuminating experience to catch our thoughts, and a forever life-changing one to start noticing our inner dialogue.

While it seems that thinking is rather harmless (after all, you might think about how much you would like to tell off your boss, but you wouldn’t actually do it for fear of losing your job), it actually corresponds to very real changes in your brain. Thoughts generate electric impulses in neurons, that then communicate with other neurons via synapses. So while you don’t actually carry out a certain action with your body based on every thought, you are “acting” on a neuro-chemical level.

Our thoughts aren’t harmless, ephemeral, inconsequential things – we are constantly being affected by them, whether we like it or not.

The fundamental effects of thoughts on our brains cannot be denied. And just the way you develop muscle memory when you are learning a new sport, for example, you develop the same type of memory when it comes to repetitive thoughts. If any of your thoughts are distressing to you, then repeatedly thinking them won’t serve you in any way. What are some of your most common thoughts? Maybe you think that no one will find you attractive because you are overweight. Or that there’s no way you would be selected for the promotion at work because you aren’t smart enough. Repetitive thoughts based in insecurity and self-criticism quickly become addictive, and when they do, are anything but harmless.

But what about thoughts that aren’t distressing? Fantasizing about hoped-for future scenarios, or extended trips down memory lane, can be just as addictive as our self-critical thoughts. While we do need to think in order to live, we spend way too much time everywhere else other than the present moment. The harm with these types of thoughts is that we lose our cognitive ability to focus and pay attention. The more likely your mind is to wander to other realms, the less likely you are to notice what is happening around you right now. And since “right now” is the only moment that exists, learning to pay attention to it will serve you invaluably compared to repetitive thinking about the past or future.

The first step for any addict is to become aware of the addiction. So if you need to stage an intervention for yourself, do it! But do it lovingly. And once you are aware of your addictive thinking, check yourself into rehab. While I wish there really did exist a rehabilitation center for addictive thinking (I’m imagining gardens, yoga, plenty of sleep and laughter), the only rehab you need is a daily mindfulness practice. And I do mean daily. Consistency is the key when recovering from any type of addiction. You want to replace the old bad habit, with the new good one. Even five minutes a day can radically transform your thought patterns, and therefore, your actual neurologic wiring.

Five minutes a day, sitting in stillness, breathing easily while you observe your thoughts with love.

There’s no better cure than that.

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7 thoughts on “The Addiction No One Is Thinking About”

  1. Great post!!!

    I definitely enjoy taking some “me time” throughout the day and rebalancing myself to the present.

    1. Thank you!

      The great thing is, the more you bring yourself to the present moment, the more automatic it will become :)

  2. I feel like this was written for me, and it was something I desperately needed to read. I have been addicted to thinking about the things that have transpired in my life, and things that are too far in the future to worry about, now. Those thoughts have not been healthy, and I can tell they’re effecting my present, and near future. I don’t like it, and I want to change this about myself. Until about 30 seconds, I was oblivious that I even had a thought addiction problem. I truly believe that if I never would have read this, I would have gone my entire life not knowing that I am a thought addict. And what is the first step to curing addiction? I have been wanting to work on my mental reconstruction, but I was unaware of where to start. Thanks to you, I now know what direction to take in order to start this much needed process.

    1. Lee, you are definitely not alone. Pretty much everyone is a thought addict, in the sense that we develop much of our thought patterns early in life and unless we stumble across some type of meditation or mindfulness practice later, we keep reinforcing it. Developing awareness is the first step, but it actually accounts for half the work! The second step is remaining nonjudgmental. If you practice those two things, the thought patterns will change on their own.

      1. It is easy to think that we are alone in things like this, but it isn’t something we look at others and think that they may be in the same boat. When you sit down and actually think about it, it is easy to understand this is a problem for many. A certain special someone is helping me get into meditation. From the little bit that I’ve done, I can see the power in it. I look forward to my transformation.

  3. I found myself spending a good amount if time this past summer wrapping my head around where my perceptions had originated. Which, brought me to the realization or brains are always learning, regardless of our awareness, and this is what gives society such power. By being immersed we soak up our surroundings. The process of unlearning, and choosing my beliefs has been a fun adventure. I guess this related to your post on the level of awareness and the capability of our minds (brains).

    1. Peabody,

      You definitely nailed it. Our brains are always learning no matter what we do, and most of the time, we allow the outside world to shape our brains without our input. Once we intend to take over some of that process, amazing things can happen.

      Shadia

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