It’s all very well to tell yourself, “I accept my thoughts and feelings without judgment.”
It sounds like you’re finally giving yourself permission to look at what you’re thinking and feeling without punishing yourself for what you see.
But how do you not identify with thoughts that are occupying your mind? Or how do you separate your true self from your feelings?
When you take a moment to think about what mindfulness is, what does “you are not your thoughts” mean?
And what steps can you take to learn your true identity?
Do Your Thoughts Define You?
“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly — you usually don’t use it at all.
It uses you. This is the disease. You believe that you are your mind. This is the delusion. The instrument has taken you over.”
Your thoughts are learned responses to stimuli.
As such, they are products of a mind formed by outside influences. What psychiatrist Aaron Beck called “automatic negative thoughts” are conditioned responses that have nothing to do with your true nature.
So, you can honestly say, “I am not my thoughts.” And that is excellent news, for the following reasons:
- You are responsible for how you respond to your thoughts, not for the thoughts themselves.
- You can choose to accept your thoughts and act on them,
- Or you can choose to simply acknowledge those thoughts and let them go.
As you read through the steps below, keep in mind this second quote by Eckhardt Tolle:
“To realize that you are not your thoughts is when you begin to awaken spiritually.”
You Are Not Your Thoughts: 9 Ways to Stop Identifying with Them
Your mind is yours, but you are not your mind, however much it sounds like you.
Your mind develops and changes over the years, but your core identity remains the same. Your nature doesn’t change with your thinking.
The following steps can help you stop identifying with your thoughts and feelings and describing yourself as an extension of either. It’s time to get to know who you really are.
1. Practice Being a Passive Observer (of Your Thoughts)
Noticing what you’re thinking and feeling is an essential first step to accepting them and either acting on them or letting them go.
It’s okay to be curious about what your mind is up to. Soon enough, you realize they come without invitation, linger in your conscious mind for a bit, then dissipate to make room for the new arrivals.
A lack of awareness of your thinking leads to autopilot behavior.
The more aware you are of your thoughts, the more effectively you can dismiss those that have nothing to do with you or who you want to be — and consciously decide which actions to take.
2. Write About Your Feelings.
Document them as you would an interesting phenomenon that isn’t tied to you. Write as an intrigued observer rather than as someone who identifies with those feelings.
This practice can help you detach yourself from the following types of thoughts:
- Anxious or Panicky
- Depressed or Discouraged
- Lonely or Sad
- Hurt or Disappointed
- Nervous or Worried
For example, if you’re feeling anxious, you can take note and write that you’re experiencing anxious thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, you’ve learned some tricks to distract yourself and act upon thoughts of your choosing.
3. Stop Punishing Yourself for Random Thoughts.
There’s no sense in punishing yourself for the bizarre, terrifying, or wildly antisocial thoughts you have daily.
We all have them. And most of us know better than to act on them (or say them out loud).
It’s perfectly reasonable to acknowledge the crazy thought and just as quickly and matter-of-factly dismiss it as something alien to us. You are not those thoughts; so, why would you punish yourself for them?
Instead, you can choose instead to acknowledge those thoughts, however scary or ridiculous, chalk them up to random brain activity, and let them go.
4. Recognize that Other People’s Words are Not About You.
If you are not your thoughts, how can someone else’s thoughts define you?
Another person’s thoughts are the product of their conditioning and perspective, which has to do with learned attitudes and assumptions.
Their thoughts come from their minds, but they are not those thoughts, either.
That’s not to say words can’t do harm. But when you hear someone’s insulting comments or judgments directed at you, you can decide whether to accept those words and take them personally or dismiss them as irrelevant to you.
The other person is responsible for using language to harm another, which ultimately hurts them more. But you are the one responsible for how much you allow those words to affect you.
5. Recognize that Your Immediate Response to Those Words is Not You.
The thoughts that fill your mind in reaction to the message you’re receiving from someone else are not you; it’s a conditioned response to those messages.
Immediate responses have more to do with habits of thinking. They spring to mind in reaction to something, as if an incoming message has struck a specific chord.
Because you’re only dimly aware of the mechanisms at work, you tend to assume that those thoughts come from you and are tied to the essence of your being. So, you don’t question them.
You won’t always feel the way you feel after someone insults you. And, at any point, whatever you’re feeling, you are the same person.
How seriously you take another’s perception of you doesn’t determine your identity but rather how well you understand it.
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6. Listen for What You Can Use (without Taking It Personally)
You can be skeptical of what someone says to you and still listen for whatever you can use or learn from it. It’s possible to remember that someone else’s perception of you is about them — not you — and still draw from their words something of value.
You can still learn from those who misuse language out of a desire to hurt you. And you can still appreciate what you learn from them without allowing them to hurt (or continue hurting) you.
The more you take the role of an observer of your thoughts and feelings, the easier it is not to take other’s cutting words to heart.
And when you no longer allow others’ words to wound you (because their ultimate target isn’t the real you but their perception of you), you can glean from their words whatever might help you better understand them and your past words and actions.
7. Don’t Assume Someone Else’s Perception of You is Based on Truth.
Their in-house autobiographical movie says things about themselves and about you that are different from the things your in-house movie says about yourself and about them.
And neither of those movies tell the truth about who either of you are. Those movies are all about trying to make sense of the world through a conditioned lens. And anyone who doesn’t question those movies is as likely to have a skewed perception of others.
Whatever other people say about you is based on their thoughts and what they feel toward you — which is not about you. It’s not them, either, but it does affect them, especially if they act on those thoughts by doing or saying things to hurt others.
They are still free to choose otherwise. But they may not know that yet.
8. Commit to Changing Your Focus
Focus on what you know to be true — not what you’re hearing from other people or even from your own (conditioned or habitual) thoughts.
Focus on what’s important to you, who you want to be, and what you want to accomplish.
Focus on the meaning and purpose behind all three.
Once you realize you are not your emotions or random, unwieldy thoughts, you can focus on something else.
It takes daily effort to practice awareness of your thoughts and then reinforce your commitment to focusing on something you know to be true and worthy of your attention.
9. Make Daily Mindfulness Meditation a Priority
The more consistently you spend time in mindful awareness of your thoughts and feelings, the more you can practice reminding yourself they don’t determine your identity.
They don’t reflect your character, much less the nature of your being.
Spend more time allowing yourself to pay attention to what’s going on inside and outside your physical body.
Allow yourself to notice without judging and without trying to remake your internal landscape into something you think it should be.
Mindfulness is not about fixing yourself or trying to be more like an ideal. The goal is to be more aware of the present moment and everything in it, including those thoughts and feelings you’ve gotten used to associating with shame, suffering, or embarrassment.
The goal is acceptance and letting go so that you can see beyond the noise to the real person behind it all.
Your Thoughts Are Just Thoughts — They Don’t Define You
Now that you know why you are not your thoughts or your feelings, what has changed? What will you do differently the next time you catch yourself feeling anxious or wondering what kind of person has the kinds of thoughts you’re having?
Isn’t it time you learn who you truly are, apart from all the learned thoughts, feelings, and reactive behaviors? You deserve to know yourself.
And you need that self-knowledge to understand the meaning and purpose in your life.
Consider this an essential part of your daily self-care.