What’s all this talk in psychology about ‘being the observer of your thoughts’? And, why would I care? Here’s my take:
I’m starting to think my need for efficiency is a primary contributor to my baseline stress level. Like, even the smallest things about just spending an evening have to be ‘efficient’. If there are two things I need to grab in a room for two different efforts, I need to grab them both at the same time. It is some stupid level of failure if I have to go back for a second trip. It is subtle – but it’s there. Feel for it! If you are like me, if you left the room and didn’t grab the second item then you will kick yourself a little, and you can feel it (an, ‘ugh, why can’t you do better?’). But *allowing* that behavior – and NOT judging it – would feel – aimless, lost, inefficient, careless forgetful, not able to plan…. All sorts of ‘horrible’ attributes that my mind judges and labels ‘bad’.
And these are all true! (the mind screams) I don’t *want* to be careless or forgetful, right?! It’s OKAY, actually, to acknowledge these traits as something I don’t want – but that doesn’t mean it needs to apply to harmless small things – that, in reality, give you more exercise and ‘steps’ so you could say it is part of your health regimen 😊 Like rather, “I try to forget to grab at least 3 things per day so that I make sure to get my steps in!” lol.
IF we were able to acknowledge that these fears are valid, and that we are very THANKFUL for our ability to remember and plan and be efficient and streamlined – maybe we’d create the space to acknowledge it would be equally awesome to have the skill to turn it OFF. We don’t actually have to exhaustively protect against something to have it not be true. If we are someone conscientious, and always have been, we’re not going to suddenly wake up tomorrow and NOT be. It’s who we are. We can relax the rules and it’s not as slippery a slope as our fears convince us to believe.
We don’t realize that there IS a fee on running that subroutine all the time. That fee is stress. A little trickle of energy that gets sucked away by it. And when we are relaxing on lackadaisical days where we are supposed to be ‘vacationing’, we should be able to let it go. To ‘relax’ means to let go of TIME.
To just allow things to take however much time they take. Not trying to “get done” with any one anything. And only looking ahead to the next step, but ONLY the next step. Not the one after that, and after that, and at the end. Not everything should be done the right way the first time around.
And many (like my mind) would respond “why the heck wouldn’t you want to do something right the first time?! It’s B-E-T-T-E-R.”
Analogy: It’s like if you got free coffee every day, and thought that was great, but then discovered they were actually auto-deducting the coffee price from your bank account every day! Maybe you’d decide it was still worth it, but you’d sure think about it differently than when you thought it was free. You’d evaluate it a little harder, and maybe some days you’d decide to save the money.
Well, our subconscious patterns are like that. Things we ‘can’t accept’, almost on a moral level, DO incur a cost on our overall wellbeing. My “need” to be (internally judged as) smart & efficient in what I do means that I can’t Accept being inefficient. And when I’ve blindly and broadly applied that rule to myself for always and anything … well, then I’m always paying that cost.
So why would people ‘always’ hold themselves to such ridiculous standards? Because, I’d argue, they are discounting the cost. There IS a cost. How you do anything is how you do everything. And if we are people that cannot allow for just the organic unraveling of time, without having to control and plan it all out, then it is going to cause us a lot of chronic “thinking” ALL.THE.TIME. The *reason* we can’t get that damn voice to shut up is we’ve made *every* activity in life equally important. Some things really are trivial, they really don’t need the same level of care we use in our workday, or when in the middle of a big project. But if you are like me, these little subroutines of judgement (a.k.a. thinking, worry, anxiety) play with continuous reckless abandon – even on evenings when I’m just hanging out doing not much… evenings where, if I forget to grab something, and have to walk ALL THE WAY back <insert sarcasm voice> to that room to get it … then the worst thing to have happened is that I’ve gotten in more steps. 😊
This example is just a tiny example, when you start getting into your thoughts and unpacking them, you’ll find hundreds more <insert excited voice, not groan voice>! It’s like putting together a puzzle, the most fascinating puzzle I’ve ever worked on. What I’m suggesting is that by jumping in and starting to ‘observe’ these subtle things, they start to amount up. Each one is a subroutine that is always incurring a cost. Together, they equal anxiety/stress/worry/a-mind-that-never-stops-thinking/whatever you call it. The pattern that makes us “who we are” is a result of the beliefs and judgements we allow to run our lives. That once you can ‘relax’ enough rules, by exploring them, then the cumulative level of all that anxiety/stress/worry/a-mind-that-never-stops-thinking will come down. There is not one quick fix. There never was. But there IS a fix. It’s progressive, and relatively slow … but that’s okay! I am finding the process to be extremely gratifying; it feels like when you level-up on a video game or something.
That’s why being able to access The Observer is so important. Once you can observe your own thoughts, you can examine them: see where they actually serve you (typically a small amount of the time) and other circumstances where there is actually far more COST to them than they actually serve you (typically the majority). A cost-benefit analysis, if you will. You may think you know the costs, but you actually don’t till you really get in there. I’ve been shocked by myself more times than care to admit (basically, all the time).
There’s another cost to planning too much and being too efficient – mindfulness. There really is a richer experience in the present moment, and when we are distracting ourselves into the future we are not giving our 100% to the present moment. There is more joy and satisfaction to the art of living when you are not fast-forwarding to the next thing. You notice more, and this leads to more creativity because you aren’t so busy with restricting the path to the one planned out in your head already. It allows for more possibility.
There are all sorts of costs – but we don’t see them, because we’ve unilaterally decided that this one “moral” virtue must be adhered to at all costs under all circumstances.