Why is it beneficial to be aware of everything flying around in your head?
Your thoughts create your experience of the world. Your thoughts shape what information you pay attention to and how you interpret that information. And your thoughts produce feelings in your body.
When we’re aware of our thoughts, we can be more intentional about our lives.
One way to increase this awareness is simply by writing down our thoughts.
This idea may sound familiar.
David Allen has a practice specifically for outstanding tasks called a Mind Sweep that he introduces in Getting Things Done. Julia Cameron has a practice for artists called Morning Pages in which someone starts their day by writing down three pages of the thoughts currently on their mind.
I do a similar practice I usually call a Thought Download. I set aside 15 minutes each morning to write down everything on my mind.
Unlike Cameron, who says, “Do not reread these pages or allow anyone else to read them” in The Artist’s Way, I like to read my Thought Download.
It helps me to see what I’m creating for myself right now.
For example, suppose I review my Thought Download, and it’s full of stuff like:
- I didn’t prepare enough for that presentation.
- I should have started working on it earlier.
- You could see the disappointment on her face.
- He took too long to send me that report.
- There’s so much work left to do.
You can start to see the experience I’m creating for myself. It may look something like this:
- I’m incompetent.
- I’m not good enough to meet their expectations.
- Other people aren’t reliable.
- I can’t do it.
- I feel embarrassed, angry, and overwhelmed.
Now I can see what I’m creating for myself because of where I’m putting my attention.
It’s valuable to observe that I am creating this experience for myself even if I wasn’t aware of all the thoughts I was having.
The Thought Download reveals some things that would otherwise be hidden in my blindspot.
This is empowering.
I can now start to see the consequences of where I am focusing my attention.
And I can now start to see other choices I didn’t realize I had.
If you’re anything like me, you may struggle with Thought Downloads sometimes.
You may sit down to do the work but write nothing down.
It seems like nothing is coming to mind.
If I take a closer look, though, I’m often thinking things like:
- This is a waste of my time.
- It shouldn’t be this hard to write down my thoughts.
- I’m not doing this right.
- The thoughts I’m having don’t belong in a Thought Download.
- Why can’t I do this?
- This is stupid.
Now, these thoughts are super helpful to write down.
Again, they reveal the experience we’re creating for ourselves: that we’re stuck, don’t know what we’re doing, and don’t want to try.
Furthermore, they reveal thought patterns that may be coming up elsewhere in your life.
It could be a book you’re reading.
It could be a new skill you’ve picked up.
Or it could be a situation you’ve found yourself in at work.
Without this exercise, you may not have realized your role in the experience you’ve been having.
A Thought Download is only one step.
But it is a step towards maintaining or regaining a feeling of control over your life.