Don’t Fight the Polar Bear: Mindfulness isn’t about Turning off your Thoughts

Don’t think of a polar bear right now. What are you thinking about? A polar bear? I told you not to!

Like teenagers, our minds don’t like being bossed around. A big reason people don’t try mindfulness is they believe that mindfulness is about shutting off our thoughts, something our minds don’t enjoy. Indeed, turning off our mind seems impossible, with thoughts rushing through our heads like traffic on the freeway.

The good news is mindfulness (emphasis on the middle syllable!) is not about shutting off our thoughts or even slowing them down. Mindfulness is about learning to relate differently to our thoughts.

Your thoughts are like a raging river. Mindfulness is the rope you can use to pull yourself out of those whitewater rapids to stand on the riverbank. From there, you can observe your thoughts from a distance rather than getting pushed along or pushed under by them. You choose which thoughts to pursue and which to let roll by.

Mindfulness isn’t a dam to try to block your thinking; it’s a tool for changing your location relative to your thoughts.

Practicing mindfulness allows you to live the adage, “Don’t believe everything you think.” You gain calm perspective and more focus as you practice. 

It’s as if mindfulness were an elevator that took you higher the more you practiced.  As you become more mindful, you gain the best vantage point in the city, to observe patterns previously unseen, and to plan exactly where you want to go.

Whatever analogy you want to use, the point is that practicing mindfulness helps you control your thoughts to make the most of your day. Give it a try and see what difference it makes for you. (Instructions at the bottom of this link.)