Stop Being a Slave to Your Thoughts

“Why do you stay in prison, when the door is so wide open.”


Everything you perceive in the world, in your imagination and in your thoughts is happening in your head. 

Sometimes we’re simply aware of the world around us, but most of the time we are interpreting the world, and where we fit in – usually just lost in thought. 

We spend so much time thinking without realizing what a direct role this plays in how we feel.

Let’s say you’re looking forward to dinner with friends and you’re thinking about how the evening will go. These are good friends, you imagine the meal will be pleasant – you’re having lots of positive thoughts about it. So in turn your brain will give you a pleasant feeling.

Now let’s imagine its Sunday night and you’re dreading the upcoming work week. As you think about what’s ahead of you, how much work there is to do, that annoying client…  your brain will give you some unpleasant feelings.

Your brain will always match your emotions with the story.

We have a good thought, we feel good. We have a bad thought, we feel bad.

All day long this is how it goes. 

Almost everyone is ruled by their thoughts – are slaves to their thoughts.

How many times have you wanted to let go of a thought, maybe you even know how miserable it’s making you, but still you can’t drop it?

If you can’t let a thought go then your mind has become a prison. You aren’t in control.

What makes this all the more frightening is that we have no idea what our next thought is going to be.  It could be a nice thought or an irritating thought, an angry thought, a sad thought – it’s completely up for grabs.

Every little thought that pops into our head we act as though it’s a fact, it’s real and it’s urgent – we must pay attention to it now!

But how many times have our thoughts been wrong? Where we’ve misperceived a situation, gotten ourselves all worked up only to realize later our thoughts about it were wrong. We agonized and got angry and then poof it’s all gone – everything’s OK again. Phew!

Our thoughts are constantly throwing us around, toying with us, torturing us at times and we unquestioningly believe them. Notice how this is happening all the time!

A random thought pops in about someone that annoys us and instantly we’re irritated as we feed on this thought-stream for a while. Later we move on to a nice memory, ahhh this one feels good, until another random thought comes in and throws us to the wolves again.

I’ve learned over the years not to trust most of my thoughts – because what I’ve found is that they’re mostly wrong.

Particularly when I’m not feeling very good, or maybe I’m just bored. 

We all experience moments of boredom, we’re tired or situations where there’s been a change in plans and we need to readjust. With this change, our brain is trying to make sense of what’s going on so in come our thoughts to tell a story about what’s happening.

I’m bored….my life sucks!

I’m tired….my life sucks!

Things didn’t go the way I was expecting…my life sucks!

Of course our thoughts are better storytellers than that – but that’s the general theme. 

Instead of recognizing this is a temporary state, of being tired or bored or adapting to the change in plans (we always do eventually!), we create this elaborate story around it that isn’t remotely based in reality. So we end up feeling worse.

Many of you who have been reading my blog, or coming to my classes for a while know exactly what I’m talking about.  And yet you’ll still get caught off guard sometimes (I do too!). Which is why I’m trying to come at this from so many different angles, to keep drilling this in so you can see how deceptive and sneaky our thoughts are!

So what is a thought?

A thought is an intangible, impermanent burst of electrical activity down a neural pathway in our brain. Our thoughts are fleeting. They come and they go. 

On average each of us has 50,000 thoughts a day and with each thought there is a little tag giving our brain an instruction. 

Negative thoughts tell our brain, make me feel bad.  

Positive thoughts tell our brain, make me feel good. 

Interestingly, neutral thoughts tell our brain, make me feel bad, just not as bad as having a negative thought, but not as good as a positive one either.

Most of the thoughts you’re having today, you had yesterday and the day before that. They are not unique, they are not interesting and they are very often not even based in reality.

These random, impermanent little bursts of electrical activity are completely in charge. This is what you are a slave to. 

One minute you’re doing the dishes, the next minute you’re angry. 

What changed? 

Just your thoughts.

If you really want to be free of your thoughts you must realize their true nature.

That they aren’t real.

They’re an interpretation of a perception that is biased and usually not true. 

That they make you feel bad more often than good.

They aren’t adding to your experience, they are taking you away from it.

This isn’t to say that all thoughts are bad. Or that thinking is the enemy. But we cloud our minds with so many garbage thoughts that leave us completely exhausted – there’s little room left for anything else!

The only way to be free of your thoughts is to stop giving them so much importance. To see their true fleeting nature. 

And most importantly to practice letting them go. To notice the contraction that arises with the thought and then come back into what you are doing, knowing where you are and that this moment really is OK.

You aren’t going to blackout due to a lack of thinking!

Instead you will feel more whole, more connected and at peace. Take the keys, walk out the door and get out of this prison!

5 Responses

  1. My husband and I are in the middle of selling and buying some real estate and the timing of the deals is crucial, naturally. I tried very hard not to let my crazy thoughts take me down with worry that we wouldn’t sell one house in time to get the new house. Even with all that effort, I still went to crazy town for nothing, because we got an offer, accepted it and it looks like it will work out. Of course, as I write this, I’m thinking of all the ways it can go south. And now I’m letting those thoughts go. Ooops. They’re back. Get out and stay out. Knock knock. Who’s there? Your crazy roommate and boy do I have a story to tell you.

    1. Hi Grasshopper! Being aware of the pattern is a big step in the right direction – but still doesn’t mean we don’t get caught. It just shows how much power our thoughts (and roommates) really have over us. They won’t go of their own accord even if we ask them politely. You have to see their true nature – they are fleeting and mostly harmful!

  2. A very helpful article to start working on a Saturday. So much self talk about how horrible the day will be and how annoying it is to work on a Saturday. Poor, poor me. But after reading the article and telling those stupid thoughts to go away, I feel a lot better. The reality is that the office is quite, the temperature is fine, and most of all, my mind is ready to handle the task I could not do yesterday. Thanks Meredith for another fabulous article!!

    1. Hi Pamela! I’m glad you read the article before going to the office! And that this was a good real-time example for you to see how your thoughts were shaping your perception of reality – and not in a good way. I hope you and your niece had a wonderful time in London!

  3. Pam ,

    This article is so great. Thank you. Lately I’ve wanted to let go of a thought, and like you said I know how miserable it’s making me, but still you can’t drop it.
    I never realized I was unquestionable believing my thoughts and taking them as facts. Id think something and believe it and try to convince myself that though wasnt true, and just go in circles all day. Its been truly tiring. Im going to concentrate on letting these thoughts go and even stepping away from media, and everything that also triggers my thoughts for a while.

    I’l check back. I want to be so free from this I’m trying really hard.

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