Why You’re Not Your Thoughts: How to Stop Identifying with Mental Suffering


July 7, 2022
Filipe Bastos

When you’re lost in thought, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the mental stories you tell yourself. You may start to believe that you are your thoughts – after all, they are happening inside your head. But the truth is, you are not your thoughts. You are the one who is observing them. This is an important distinction to make, especially if you want to live a more mindful life. In this blog post, we will discuss how mindfulness can help you discover who you really are underneath all of those thoughts!

Do Your Thoughts Define You?

It is very easy to let your thoughts overcome you but they do not define who you are. Eckhardt Tolle states in his book The Power of Now:

“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.”

This might sound scary but in reality, everyone experiences this feeling throughout their everyday life. The more we understand something, the less scary it becomes!

Automatic Thoughts

Thoughts that the busy mind goes through are products of a mind formed by outside influences and emotional reactions. What psychiatrist Aaron Beck called “automatic negative thoughts” are conditioned responses that have nothing to do with your true nature. 

So, if you say: “I am not my thoughts.” This is a step towards a good attitude to life, for the following reasons: 

  • You’re responsible for how you respond, not for the thoughts themselves.
  • You can decide whether to accept your thoughts and then act on them.
  • You can choose to just acknowledge those thoughts and let go of them.

Your thoughts aren’t you; they’re just a conditioned response to the messages you receive.

Immediate responses occur because of habits of thinking. This is because you’re only vaguely aware of the mechanisms at play, you tend to assume that those thoughts come from you, and are tied to the core of your being.

You don’t always feel the way you think you feel after someone insults or hurts you. At any point, whatever you’re feeling, you are the exact same person. It doesn’t matter how seriously you take someone else’s perception of you; it matters how well you understand it.

Why Your Thoughts Are Not Real

You may not be aware of it now, but everything that happens inside your head is taking place only within your own private inner world. You’re thinking only to yourself, and no one else is hearing your thoughts. There is only one physical world here on earth, but there are billions of internal worlds. We are all in separate theatres, witnessing completely different events, and yet we act as if we are in one theatre, watching the very same show that we call life.

It’s important to contemplate this truth because it implies that what we are personally living inside our heads is not real. We know our thoughts happen because we are aware of them, but they don’t exist outside of our awareness. Unlike the way we imagine it, our thoughts are not solid, like trees or rocks that exist outside of us in some physical way. You can surely say you have never seen a thought walk by you in the day. It’s not clear where, how, or if thoughts even exist within our bodies.

What makes a thought seem real is the attention we give it. We think something into a solid form by focusing on it and thinking of it as an event happening somewhere. Our thought does not affect the object of that thought unless we believe it does or take action against it. It can be so liberating to know that if we don’t attend to a thought, respond to it, identify with it, and all the rest, then it simply ceases to exist.

If we let a thought be nothing, then that’s what it will be…nothing. 

“Where does a thought go when its forgotten?” – Sigmund Freud.

Thoughts come and go, but you are always here

One of the first things you should notice is that thoughts are self-arising. They appear out of nowhere, linger briefly in your awareness, and then disappear again—like clouds passing across the sky. You have no idea what your next thought will be, you don’t really have a say in their appearance and disappearance. It’s like the mind has a mind of its own.

As clouds of all shapes and forms float across the unchanging expanse of the sky, all kinds of thoughts arise and pass in your unchanging awareness. The ‘you’ you are today is very different from when you were younger and you will be different to the version of yourself you are yet to become when you get older. However, your awareness of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and memories have not changed at all. It is immutably, immaculately, eternal.

No matter what thoughts enter and leave your being, you are still here in the present, the next thought will always be right around the corner but it will always leave and make way for the next one. Something you think of today, you probably won’t remember next week or even tomorrow. Thoughts can be so fleeting and it’s important to be aware of this so we can live outside of our thinking minds and enjoy the current moment.

Who Are You Without Your Thoughts? Guided Meditation 

First, find a comfortable position. 

Take a few deep breaths and as you exhale, do so with a sense of releasing and letting go.

Just be present right now, exactly as you are.

Put aside all thoughts of who we are, any images we have of ourselves, any ideas associated with our personal identities—all notions such as sex, gender, status, age.

Empty yourself of any preconceptions, beliefs, or knowledge you may have about the world. You must be completely open.

Put aside all ideas, thoughts, feelings, judgements, pride, shame, achievements, failures

Set aside all memories of the past  and put aside all thoughts of the future — as if you had just arrived on earth at this very moment.

Just be present here and now. Breathe in, breathe out.

If stripped of all these concepts, ideals, and beliefs, what part of “you” is left?

How can you describe the ‘you’ that remains? Aware? Present? Conscious?

How do you feel? Peaceful? Empty? Expansive? If you don’t feel something in particular, rather think is it Positive or Negative?

Do you have any things you’ve put aside that, if taken back, would enhance your current experience?

The more you become aware of your thoughts, the less power they have over you

The fact is that most of our thoughts and actions come from autopilot behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong. Our habits, routines, impulses, and reactions carry us through our lives so we don’t have to stop and think all the time.

The problem is when we’re on autopilot for so long, we tend to forget we are on autopilot. This is problematic because when we are not even aware of our habits, routines, impulses and reactions, then we don’t control them; they control us instead.

If we take a moment to become aware of our thoughts, we can break this cycle of behaviour by having a more conscious mind. You are not your thoughts, its important to understand that, just because you think something it doesn’t mean it defines you as a person, if you just let the thought go, it never existed in the first place. Your thoughts don’t make you a good or bad person; how you act and react based on these thoughts says something about who you are.

Take a moment now to try the above guided meditation and see how you feel afterwards, try answer some of the questions provided and become aware of your thoughts!

Frequently Asked Questions: 

What does it mean you are not your thoughts?

Your thoughts are merely objects of the mind. Just like sounds, perceptions, feelings, and ideas. Thoughts are nothing but passing clouds that only you can see.

How do you remind yourself that you are not your thoughts?

Take a moment to try the guided meditation each time you think you need to remind yourself. Remember the more you are aware of your thoughts, the less control they have over you.

What does it mean to live inside your own head?

Living inside ones head means being lost inside of our thoughts. Most people that spend an extensive amount of time daydreaming and fantasizing often pay little attention to the world outside of their head.

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A little reminder that kindness is contagious. ✨

#quotesaboutlife #mindfulquotes #practicemindfulness #bekind #bekindtoyourmind #dogoodfeelgood #realhappiness #selfempowerment #mindfulmovement #intentionalliving #mentalhealthquote #peacefulness
Our greatest moments, memories, and experiences aren’t defined by their magnitude or greatness, but by the people who fill them and give them life. ✨

#findingyourself #bekindtoyourmind #mindfulquote #mindfulmoment #positivepsychology #dailycalm #practicemindfulness #calmthemind #innerwork #realhappiness #selfacceptance #findingyourself #mentalhealthjourney #mensmentalhealth
You are exactly where you're meant to be. 💚

#mindandbody #mensmentalhealth #mindfulmovement #keepbreathing #practicemindfulness #mindfulnessmoment #livinginthemoment #bekindtoyourmind #mentalhealthjourney #dailycalm #groundyourself #livemindfully
With rising temperatures, worrisome droughts, and looming environmental issues, it’s perfectly normal to feel sad, anxious, angry, and powerless. 😔

In times like this, mindfulness and self-awareness can be crucial in your ability to cope with fear. Here are 3 tips to help manage your climate anxiety:

🌍 Practice acceptance, not denial - accept you can't change the world on your own, only your tiny role within it
🌍 Try not to feel responsible for others - concentrate on your own journey.
🌍 Reduce your carbon footprint - take pride in lifestyle changes that you make. 

#mindandbody #practicemindfulness #dailycalm #mensmentalhealth #climateaction #cleanplanet #believeinbetter #groundyourself #livemindfully #mindfulnessmoment #keepbreathing #selfempowerment #peaceofmind #mindfultip #calmthemind #mentalhealthjourney
The greatest challenges we experience are often also our greatest teachers. 

If you’re repeatedly experiencing the same challenge, know that it is there not to push you down or hold you back, but to teach and strengthen you. 💪

#mindfulquotes #selfawareness #innerstrength #mensmentalhealth #innerwork #selfempowerment #peaceofmind #mindfulliving #mindfulmoment #practicemindfulness #findingyourself #reducestress
Fear is often the thing that holds us back most from developing a deeper self-knowledge and awareness in our lives:

🌖 We fear being vulnerable.
🌗 We fear change.
🌘 We fear the truth.
🌑 We fear being wrong.

In moments that you feel fear creeping up on you, or notice it holding you back, take a moment to question your fear and ask yourself if your fear is truly serving you.

If you're interested in reading more on self-awareness and fear, check out last week's article on our blog. 🦉

#selfempowerment #peaceofmind #mensmentalhealth #findingyourself #practicemindfulness #peacefulness #calmthemind #innerwork #quietthemind #dealingwithanxiety #keepbreathing  #positivepsychology #dailycalm

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