Getting our monkey minds to “stop” Overthinking, as most of us know, is not as easy as it sounds. There are two main obstacles. First, is the misconception that to stop thinking means having no thoughts. That’s about as possible as getting your ears to stop hearing. The various forms of meditation practice are about cultivating the mind’s capacity of attention, which is a fundamentally different neurological activity from thinking, and most people suck at paying attention.
Thinking slows down tremendously and often vanishes entirely when one is deeply absorbed in attention. When attention (i.e consciousness) grows in strength, so does our ability to direct and influence the default, repetitive, useless and often damaging thinking patterns of our brain. Better yet, we can use our power of attention to train the brain to focus, and dare I say, think about positive and beneficial stuff, which is really good for our mind and bodies. Hooray!
If you’d like to learn more about skillful thinking check out this post.
Now that we have addressed the misconception of having no thoughts, let us deal with the second obstacle, actually meditating. Many people who first try meditation find it difficult, frustrating, boring, impossible etc and then never try again. Why is this the case?
Why Is It so Hard to Stop Overthinking?
Firstly, our entire culture is built from birth onwards to avoid conscious attention at all costs. Boredom is an enemy and we will seek out stimulus, distraction, daydreaming and fantasy to avoid the terrible fate of simply being wherever we are (i.e paying attention to the present moment / simply observing stuff, like the birds and the bees and the flowers). So, the would be meditator has that going against them.
Secondly, and I apologize in advance for calling this out, most folks lack the sticktoitiveness (i.e patience and commitment) to learn something new. In our culture, if we don’t get something right away, or encounter difficulty early on, we give up. Period. Full stop. Combine the lack of sticktoitiveness with an entire life history of avoiding attention and obsessively thinking…it’s a tough thing to get started on. It’s sort of like expecting to instantly be able to walk on your hands as well as you walk on your feet. It ain’t gonna happen.
Thirdly, and the real reason why I wrote this post, is that there are two general ways to stop over thinking and cultivate attention, one emphasizes the mind and the other, the body. As I like to say, you can go up or you can go down. Often though, you need to get down to get up.
Unfortunately, most people get introduced to meditation through mind based attention practices. In my opinion, this is usually the most difficult and unpleasant way to be introduced to meditation. For most folks, it drives their thinking mind crazy and sets it into angry overdrive. It would be like, “oh, you’ve never walked on your hands before? Try it on this bed of nails.”
So What Can You Try Instead?
On the other end of the spectrum are the body (somatic) based attention practices, like body scanning and sensory techniques. With the smallest amount of guidance, almost anyone can do this easily, effectively and, believe it or not, pleasurably. It’s more like, “oh you’ve never walked on your hands before? Try it on this bed of purring kittens.” If you want to stop overthinking, this is the way to go.
Even now, after 18 years of mindfulness practice, I go down to get up more than half the time. It’s a total game changer. For a mini experience of this, try my Guided 5 Sense Meditation. For a feature length experience, fill out the form below and get special access to my Triune Brain Meditation. Or for the Transform Your Life Experience, reach out to me to learn how to join Stress School’s Group Coaching Program.