Why is my mind soooooooooo busy?!!! I know your frustration. I have felt driven mad by my mind too. Mulling over things at a million miles per hour. I’ve tossed and turned through sleepless nights, found it near impossible to focus during work or play and, to be totally honest, even had moments when my mind has felt too intense to live with, and secretly questioned whether it wouldn’t be easier to check out of this life.
One time I was so caught up in my thoughts I didn’t see the wet leaves sprawled across the corner I was heading around and nearly fell off my motorbike. Nearly hitting the hard tarmac that day was certainly a wake-up call, and one of the many motivations that have led to such in-depth exploration into how to move from mental chaos to mind calm.
From this study, together with what I’ve observed in the many people that I’ve taught meditation to, I have discovered a number of the subtler hidden causes as to why so many people suffer from such busy minds. I am curious if you can relate to any of them.
Hidden cause 1: The Judgement Game
Making sense of life is one of the mind’s jobs. Behind the scenes, every moment of every day, your mind is doing its best to attach meaning to everything that happens. With your best interests at heart, it works tirelessly to help you stay safe, keep you on track and have a good life.
Fully committed to this meaning-full role, the mind plays what I call the ‘Judgement Game’. With this, your mind judges what has happened in the past, is happening now or might happen in the future. Always with the intention of determining whether it is good or bad, positive or negative, right or wrong, better or worse. Then, if it deems something to be bad, negative, wrong or worse, you end up with what is commonly called a ‘problem’.
Judgement and the compulsion to overthink:
There is a direct relationship between judging things as being problems and the compulsion to overthink. The mind loves to problem-solve. Having judged something as potentially problematic, it immediately springs into a hive of activity to either produce thoughts about the problem or attempt to find the best possible solutions.
Whether it is a minor irritation or a major catastrophe, the mind tends to react in the same manner: Why has this happened to me? How might this impact my life? Am I going to be OK? Is my family going to be OK? How is it making me feel? Why am I feeling this way? How can I change, fix or improve things so everything will be better and I can feel good again?
Usually a deluge of thoughts floods in, as your mind does whatever it can to answer the problem-solving questions that it is truly sublime at creating. Such a stream, or in some cases tsunami, of mental movement stemming from the Judgement Game can be, quite literally, endless! When unintentionally engaged in the Judgement Game, your thoughts can end up going round and round in your mind like a hamster in a turbo-boosted wheel, as you consider the many possible ways to escape your predicament. Quite ironically, all this mental activity happens to be due to the mind’s best intentions of bringing resolution, and with it, mind calm.
Improve whatever you want:
Let me be clear, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with making improvements to your life, especially if things are happening that require your attention. You may need to make sure you have enough money to pay the bills this month, do what you can to heal a physical problem or sort a relationship disagreement. However, if you want a calmer mind, to be happier, more loving and tap into your intuition to find creative ways forward then a new relationship with the Judgement Game is required.
Quick cure 1: Suspend judgement
Whether you like it or not, as long as the mind is in play, the Judgement Game will happen. Remember it is how your mind makes sense of reality, which can be very useful at times, especially if potentially life-threatening things are happening. However, if we’re completely honest, most things the mind judges and overthinks are not life-threatening at all, far from it. So for the rest of the time – I’d suggest, 99 per cent of the time – it is more useful to suspend judgement.
Suspending judgement requires you to see the judgement instead of being the judger.
The first antidote to this hidden cause for having a chaotic mind is simply to see it, don’t be it. Shining a light on the judgmental thoughts by seeing them happening in your mind can be incredibly powerful. When you observe the mind, the likelihood of unconsciously reacting to the judgemental opinions is reduced. By seeing the judgement, you can begin to step back from any previous engagement in the destructive game. Instead, you begin to see it for what it is – a judgemental opinion happening in your mind. It can be a remarkable revelation to discover that most of your problems are mind-made and due to an inner judgement of something being bad, negative, wrong or worse.
Albeit a simple strategy, ‘seeing the judgement not being the judger’ stops you being a victim of circumstance. External people, events or things stop being the cause of your inner stress or lack of serenity. Instead, you see that engaging in the judgements happening in your mind is a major cause of your dissatisfaction with the people, events or things. So whenever you notice that you’ve been overthinking a problem, take a moment to see the thoughts instead of being the thoughts. Ask this question: What in my life is my mind currently judging negatively? Example observations might be:
• I can see that my mind has been judging how much money I have.
• I can see that my mind has been judging what my partner just said to me.
• I can see that my mind has been judging my body.
This is an easy awareness-raising intervention that can create a moment of conscious calm in which you suspend judgement and start to see it for what it is – a thought happening in your mind about life. This insight is made all the more powerful when combined with the next quick cure.
Quick cure 2: It just is!
One of the quickest ways to slow the mind down is to override the Judgement Game with a totally neutral non-opinionated thought. One that is non-judgemental and within it holds the possibility that whatever is happening may not be a problem at all.
With no problem needing to be solved, the mind very quickly and naturally becomes still.
Remember the mind becomes active when it finds a problem that needs to be fixed. But if you are willing to let go of perceiving things as being problems, then you may find your mind has little to do and becomes quiet.
Hidden cause 2: The Resist Persist
Joined at the hip with the Judgement Game is resistance. The mind often starts resisting whatever it has just judged as bad, negative, wrong or worse. Although it may seem natural to push away ‘bad’ things, moving on, unaware of this hidden cause, leads to a very active mind – due to what happens when
you resist things.
Let’s have another behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the mind. Whenever something happens, your mind immediately jumps into gear – judging whether it is good or bad, positive or negative, right or wrong, or better or worse. We know this by now, but the next unseen habit of the mind is another major cause of overthinking that you must see if you want to be more calm and contented moving forward.
When the mind decides something is good, positive, right and better then it will allow it. This makes sense: it is good, positive, right and better after all! But the game changer that you may not have previously considered is…
It is your optimistic judgements and subsequent inner allowing of ‘what is’ that is the cause of your good feelings. No person, place or event makes you feel good, but your inner allowing does.
Take a moment to process this idea. Before, I thought my relationship, money, or new car were the determining factors in making me feel good. In reality, however, it was actually when things happened that my mind judged as good, positive, right or better, that I would allow them to be. I would have a moment of being at peace with ‘what is’, in which I didn’t need my moment to be any different. Or, in other words, I accepted things as they were and had harmony with life in these moments. It turns out, however, that it has always been my allowance of ‘what is’ that has been the real source of my happiness and contentment. Wow!
The product of pushing life away:
However, and it is a big HOWEVER! If your mind judges something as bad, negative, wrong or worse then it is very common for it to start resisting it automatically. Although pushing away negativity may seem both reasonable and logical, it is a major hidden cause of much stress, anguish, heartache and mental chaos.
Prior to exploring the true impact of pushing life events away, I thought it was the people, places, events and things happening that ‘made me feel bad’. In reality, however, it was actually my inner mind-made judgements and subsequent resistance that were the cause of all those ‘negative’ emotions. Quite remarkable really! I spent so many hours working hard to fix, change and improve my body and life so that I could feel good, when all the time my feelings had very little to do with any external factors.
Anger, sadness, fear, guilt, grief, hurt and any other unfavourable feeling you care to mention require negative judgements and resistance in order to exist. Seeing this not only gives you great insight into how to feel fantastic more often – i.e. suspend judgements and remove reactive resistances – but it also shines another
Resistance and the compulsion to overthink:
There is a direct relationship between feeling bad due to resisting things and the compulsion to overthink. The mind wants to feel good. In fact, it is the natural tendency of your mind to do whatever it can to help you to be happy. Much of your mind’s activity stems from the positive intention to be happy. As a direct consequence, whenever your mind notices what it’s learned to be a ‘negative’ emotional energy, it feels compelled to figure out all possible ways to make the bad feelings go away so you can once again be happy.
Having noticed a negative emotion, two questions usually come to mind:
1. What am I feeling?
2. Why am I feeling this way?
Finding the answers to these questions frequently involves lots of mental activity. Once you have given the energy a label – anger, sadness, or anxiety, for example – you will find your mind has a brilliant ability to think up logical and legitimate reasons for why you are feeling the way you do. For example, just a few of the common reasons might be,
• I’m feeling this way because of what they just said.
• I’m feeling this way because of the state of my bank account.
• I’m feeling this way because I’m stuck in this job.
And maybe the other person did say something that was unpleasant to hear, perhaps you are genuinely struggling for cash this month, or you could possibly benefit from moving jobs. But this isn’t the point if you want mind calm. More important is to see the mind’s hidden causes of overthinking, which happen behind the scenes and are often the source of undesirable feelings. Resisting life won’t resolve the relationship disagreement, doesn’t help you make more money or make you more effective in getting a new job. Resistance only causes you unnecessary stress and suffering. When you get this, it becomes the obvious choice to let go of resistance and take whatever action is required with mind calm.
Resistance causes stress and suffering. Acceptance creates calm and is the more conscious way to live.
Quick cure 1: Remove Reactive Resistance
Lack of money, for example, isn’t the cause of bad feelings. Instead, the source of those bad feelings is the mind’s judgements and inner resistance to what appears to be happening. If you are willing to play with this possibility then you can be free to feel good now. Worry doesn’t help either. In fact, worry involves focusing on the very things you don’t want. In short, resistance makes you narrow-minded and magnetizes you to the things you don’t want.
By seeing the resistance instead of reactively resisting, the compulsion to overthink about your perceived predicament reduces and is replaced with clear-minded clarity and creativity on ways to improve things. The same is true for any other challenge that you face. Whenever you notice any negative emotions or overthinking about a problem, I recommend you take time out to see the resistance instead of unconsciously resisting. Ask: What in my life is my mind currently resisting?
Possible responses might include:
• I can see that my mind is resisting what happened in my past.
• I can see that my mind is resisting my physical condition.
• I can see that my mind is resisting where I’m currently living.
Having identified what you are pushing away, return to having harmony with life by resting instead of resisting. This easy exercise creates a moment of conscious calm. Provided, of course, that you are open to seeing that it is your allowing or resistance that is causing your negative emotions rather than your circumstances. Why intentionally go on resisting life if you know it is your resistance that’s making you feel bad? That’s not going to help anything because what you resist persists.
Resistance only keeps you stuck to what it is you don’t want. Instead, let your mind become calm by rising above resistance.
Hidden cause 3: The Attach Catch
Attachment happens whenever you believe that being, doing or having x, y or z will make you happier, peaceful, loved, successful or some other desirable state. Being attached makes you move away from wanting certain things to believing that you need them to be OK. Attachment is based upon the illusion that you can’t feel good now without fixing, changing or improving particular aspects of your body or life first. However, as you’ve already discovered, feeling calm, content and connected comes from no longer buying into the judgements happening in your mind or resisting life.
Growing up you probably learned what a good life looks like. How much money you should have, the kind of house you should live in, the type of person you should end up with, the shape of body you should have, even the make and model of car you should drive… the list goes on and on. The criteria for a good life are perpetuated in the movies and media, and can often be unintentionally instilled by our parents and peers. Predictably you can pick up a checklist of requirements in order to enjoy a happy and successful life.
Highly motivated to achieve this good life – as, let’s face it, your experience of happiness, peace, love and success depends on it – we take our rulebook of requirements and set about doing everything we possibly can to make it all happen.
I spent countless hours setting goals and working hard to achieve them. Totally lost in a ‘I’ll be happy when’ mentality, I was waiting to feel calm and contented in the future; when I’d ticked off my list everything I thought needed to happen.
It was not only tiring but also torturous, especially as I couldn’t help noticing how, even when I reached my goals, I only felt good for a short while.
Attachment and the compulsion to overthink:
There is a direct relationship between being attached to things being a certain way and the compulsion to overthink. Whenever your mind believes that it needs something to be OK, it becomes very active in trying to figure out how to get away from where you are now and into a more appealing time in the future.
Attachment dulls your experience of now – the present. It stops the moment you are in ever being good enough, leading to discontentment. Attachment also makes you live in fear. Afraid of people disliking or leaving you, as they are your source of love. Or scared of losing the success you’ve worked so hard to get.
Attachment leads to a very limited life in which you need to control and manipulate things to fit your rulebook of requirements. As a result, the mind is given good cause to start producing copious amounts of thoughts about how to improve your current set of circumstances.
Quick cure: Let go of things needing to be different
Ever catch yourself thinking this classic attachment thought? I’ll be happy when… Take a moment to consider all the things that you think you need to change, fix or improve before you can be truly happy and enjoy Mind Calm. Whether it is your job, relationship, finances, the healing of a physical condition or something else. Take note of any reasons you can think of for not chilling out and being calm now.
If you feel discontented with any aspect of your life, then there’s a high chance that you’re attached.
Once you have your list, see what happens if you ask this curious question: What happens within me if I let go of needing this to be any different to how it is now? Consider it in relation to one or more of the items on your list. Then notice how you feel when you let go of it needing to be fixed, changed or improved? Remember I’m not saying you can’t at some point take steps to make things better, but I care most about how you feel right now. What happens when you let go? You’ll feel relief, calm, and free!
Your mind may temporarily kick up a fuss that you really must improve things first. It might even tell you that I don’t know how bad things are for you, or some other judgement. But if you are willing to be brave, by letting this moment be good enough, exactly as it is, I’m really curious as to what happens inside you.
Source: Sandy Newbigging (2014) Mind Calm: The Modern-Day Meditation Technique that Proves the Secret to Success is Stillness