My brother is one of the smartest people I know.
As a teenager in the early 2000's he was already building his own computers from scratch, and as an adult he's in charge of some of the most complicated machines in the world - nuclear powered submarines.
But intelligence is a double edged sword. The reality of having a super active and creative brain that likes to think all day is that it tends to never actually slow down, and this can be extremely challenging.
That's why, when my brother was going through some of the most intensive training on the planet (with very little sleep), he was struggling with self-doubt and negative self-talk that was getting in the way of his performance and his well-being.
As someone who has struggled with an overly active and often negatively oriented mind, I thought it would be helpful to share what I've learned on my journey so far.
Below is the letter I wrote to him.
What you think and your relationship to your thoughts determines your experience.
To prove this to yourself, think of something that upsets you and watch your entire thought process and body sensations become more and more "bad" feeling. Now, think of something that makes you happy or gets you super excited and watch the opposite happen.
What you focus on determines your emotional state and how you feel.
This same mechanism is why you can simply think of a pretty woman and feel aroused even if she only exists as a thought in your mind.
Most of us are never taught that we can learn to regulate and even cultivate our thoughts (and therefore feelings) to better serve us. Instead, we move through life in a completely reactive state, unconsciously reacting to whatever is presented to us (including our thoughts). It's no wonder we often find ourselves struggling, especially when we encounter challenging life situations like the one your dealing with right now.
The good news is, you can choose to "take control" of your thoughts and how you relate to them. In this way, you can "take control" of the way you experience the world. This allows you the freedom to go through life feeling more calm, grounded, focused, and present if you choose to.
The first step of this process is to start to become more aware of your thoughts. You can do this literally anytime, anywhere. Simply watch them like you would watch a bird fly past outside the window. Be the witness of your brain talk.
You will come to notice that your mind is constantly narrating things from the minor (oh man, that steak looks delicious) to the major (if I don't stop thinking so much I won't do well in school and then I'll have to repeat it and then... etc).
It can also be really fucking rude to you and tell you to worry about things and all the reasons why you failed in the past or why that conversation went wrong earlier because you're stupid.
It's like an inner roommate ate that you have lived with for your whole life so it knows all the buttons to push. The roomate loves to talk about literally everything, it's a loudmouth.
Maybe until now you never thought about how this roommate is keeping you stuck but you have important shit to do and now it seems to be holding you back.
When you start to watch your thoughts, don't try to change your them or get rid of them, just watch them. If you try to get rid of them they will stay there longer. This is important!
Example: DO NOT think of a yellow elephant right now....
Really, don't think about it.
The more you try to not think about something the more you think about it...
It's as if your brain has to remember what it's not supposed to be thinking about and the only way to do that is to keep reminding itself. This perpetuates the problem instead of helping.
Don't judge thoughts either or tell yourself that you shouldn't be thinking so much because wanting to stop thinking is also a thought (it took me a long time to figure that one out).
Literally just watch and get to know your inner roommate. Watch when it gets triggered, when it calms down, when it gets nervous, when it's deciding if your shoes are shined enough, etc.
Here's another analogy that might sound cliche but it's very true... Your mind is like the sky and your thoughts are like clouds. They drift by and some are rain clouds (sadness) and some are thunderstorms (anger) and some are just little tiny clouds that just float around and don't make much of an impact. Some are even fun to look at!
When all you can see are clouds from one horizon to the other, it looks like that is all there is anymore. BUT the secret is that no matter what the cloud cover looks like, the clear sky itself is always present just beyond the clouds.
Your mind is like the sky. It is just one massive fucking open space that can have anything fly through it or show up in it.
With all this being said, becoming more aware of your thoughts and their effects is how you consciously change their impact on you.
You have never been your thoughts but it's easy to get stuck in them when you don't know what they are, clouds that will soon pass. They are always changing and evolving as you grow and they are a natural part of being able to speak a language basically.
When you were younger you had a different set of thoughts then you did when you were a teenager and different than they are now as you are older and chasing your goals.
This shows you that thoughts are not fundamental to your identity, they are just your brain talking to you and trying to keep you safe and secure throughout your life. That is literally the brain's job.
When you start to watch them like a third party observer you become much less attached to them and so they kind of fall away naturally. Even when they don't go away entirely, they wont take up all of your awareness or focus and you can instead concentrate on the present moment.
Being aware enough to not get lost in your mental chatter all day is the secret to internal peace, external success and literally anything else you want in life.
If you don't know how to use your mind, it will use you. In my experience this leads to a lot of unnecessary suffering.