You have barely been awake two minutes and already your overactive mind is gatecrashing your peace.
Like a gaggle of squabbling geese, random thoughts crowd your headspace — worries, concerns, fears, to-do lists—plying for your attention, leaving you feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and longing to drag the covers back over your head.
There is nothing more exasperating than having your ear chewed off by a unrelenting chatterbox in your head and not knowing how to pull the plug.
The truth is, everybody experiences mental turbulence. It is a question of degree.
If you are lucky, exposure to the incessant ramblings of an overactive mind may result in nothing worse than a constant background hum of low-level agitation and a sense that your life is never quite how it ought to be.
If you are less fortunate, your mind may be more like an out of control Frankenstein monster that torments you relentlessly, leaving you bruised, battered and wishing some compassionate soul would come along and lop your head off… or at least hand you a stiff drink for some relief.
Happily, there are other, less extreme ways to pull the plug on an overactive mind… ways to transform your relationship with the mind into one of peaceful co-existence.
If You Weren’t Messed Up, There Would Be Something Wrong With You
One of the main reasons we suffer at the hands of a turbulent mind is not because of the thoughts themselves but because of the belief that there is something wrong with us for having these thoughts in the first place.
You suffer because you believe you are responsible for the thoughts that appear in your head.
An angry thought arises and you blame yourself for having it. A sad thought appears and you think there is something wrong with you.
Well, here is some good news.
Everyone, without exception, experiences fear, worry, doubt and insecurity— the whole gamut of negative (and positive) thoughts . It is an inescapable part of being human.
Everybody, without exception, has what you might call ‘a messed up mind’.
Thoughts are self-arising. We suffer when we take them personally.
As we shall see later, we don’t suffer so much because of our thoughts themselves. We suffer through our identification with them.
See Your Thoughts, Don’t Be Your Thoughts
When you are identified with intense thoughts, they are suffocating—a bit like having a tight balaclava glued to your head.
If you wish to experience more peace, you need to create some space between yourself and the thoughts that appear.
You need to step back and become the watcher of the thoughts— like you might watch clouds passing across the sky.
If you observe the mind in this way, you will notice that thoughts arise by themselves, hang around for a bit and then drift off again.
There is a helpful analogy used in mindfulness meditation called ‘the undercurrent and the observer’.
The undercurrent is the self-arising stream of thoughts, feelings, emotions and impressions (over which you have no control) that constantly flow through your awareness.
The main cause of mental turmoil is our non-acceptance of the content in the stream. We stand like traffic policemen in the middle of the river, trying to direct the current, a futile endeavour which leaves us feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
Better to watch peacefully from the riverbank with an attitude of non-judgemental acceptance.
Which brings us to the next point:
Non-Resistance Will Set You Free
Trying to control the thoughts that appear in your mind is like trying to iron the waves on the ocean.
As The Borg say in Star Trek: “Resistance is futile.”
The mind has a mind of its own. If you were to liken thoughts to guests arriving at the door of your guest house, it is natural that you would be more open to receiving some guests than others.
Pleasurable thoughts are met with open arms. We are happy to invite them in for dinner.
Thoughts that are deemed undesirable, on the other hand—sad thoughts, jealous thoughts, angry thoughts—are met with somewhat less enthusiasm.
We would rather they would just go away and leave us in peace.
And yet the fact remains that they are there anyway, whether we like it or not.
Our inner resistance to them being present becomes a source of inner tension and a barrier to our peace.
So,what to do?
Roll out the red carpet and invite them in. It may seem counter-intuitive at first to welcome sad thoughts or anxious thoughts into your experience but if they are there anyway, it is better to work with them rather than against them.
Resisting what is already present only adds fuel to the fire and creates added suffering.
The Secret To Ongoing Peace Is To Stop Minding What Your Mind Is Doing
During one of his lectures, the Indian sage, Jiddu Krishnamurti, offered the audience a valuable insight on how to experience ongoing peace in all situations.
“My secret is that I do not mind what happens.” he is purported to have said.
Whilst he was presumably referring to life situations in general, this advice pertains equally well to the undercurrent in the mind. When you don’t mind what the mind is doing, there is no conflict.
We experience peace through maintaining a relationship of inner non-resistance towards whatever is happening—in the mind or in our lives.
Normally, we have a compulsive fascination with our minds. Taking what it tells us to be true, we obsessively chew over every little detail and, in doing so, create all kinds of trouble for ourselves.
Stop giving the mind so much attention. The less bothered you are about what it gets up to, the easier it is to peacefully co-exist.
Your Mind Is A Bigger Liar Than Pinocchio
Another common reason that many people suffer at the hands of an overactive mind is that they believe what it tells them.
I will let you in on another secret. The mind tells more lies than Pinocchio!
“You are not good enough. You are a failure. The world is against you. People don’t like you.”
Get into the habit of rigorously challenging the beliefs that the mind throws up.
If you believe, for example, that life is against you, take note of all the things that work out in your favour. Like a private detective, build a compelling case for the opposite belief.
You will most likely discover that many of your long-held beliefs crumble with just a little scrutiny.
Take everything the mind tells you with a large pinch of salt.
The Difference Between Thoughts And Thinking
As we have seen, there is nothing you can do (or need do) about thoughts arising. It is a natural function of the mind to churn out thoughts, both positive and negative.
Just let them come and go and don’t give them too much attention. Mind your own business. Leave them in peace and they will leave you in peace.
The act of thinking, on the other hand is a habit and an addiction. You can’t choose your thoughts but you CAN choose whether to think or not.
For example the thought of an ended relationship appears and triggers a story:
“We were so good together. I can’t understand how she could have ended it. What does she see in him? He doesn’t love her nearly as much as I do. Maybe I will be alone forever. I will never meet someone as right for me ever again.”
It is this type of thinking, in which the overactive mind goes round and round in circles — reaching no conclusions and offering no resolution — that can leave us feeling overwhelmed and wanting to pull our hair out.
A lot of this type of thinking is automatic and happens on autopilot.
The good news, however, is that, with a little more awareness, you can choose to stop in any moment. Like any habit, you can learn to drop it.
The Present Is A Gift
The simplest and most effective way to nip unproductive thinking in the bud is to bring your attention to the present moment.
Thinking pulls your attention into the past and future. As your awareness can only be in one place at a time, focusing on being present here and now stops thinking in its tracks.
How to be present?
Bring your attention to the sensation of the breath flowing in and out. Thoughts will continue to grab your attention. That is fine.
Just gently bring your attention back to the breath, over and over if necessary.
Staying present in the moment is the real key to ongoing peace.
A turbulent and out of control mind can cause you no end of trouble and seriously impact your quality of life… if you allow it.
Fortunately, the mind’s bark is bigger than its bite. When you realise it is not the big scary monster you have been taking it to be, its power to affect your peace is greatly diminished.
Everyone, without exception, has an overactive mind—a neurotic chatterbox living between their ears. It is an unavoidable part of being human—and there is nothing ‘wrong’ with it being there.
You are now equipped with some powerful strategies to peacefully co-exist an overactive mind.
Just because thoughts are there doesn’t mean you need to be concerned or intimidated by them.
Don’t resist them, don’t believe them, don’t identify with them, don’t bother about them being there and stay present in the moment— and see for yourself how this affects your peace.
Who knows? The next time you experience turbulent thoughts, you might just shrug your shoulders and think: “There goes the mind again, doing its crazy stuff. It is none of my business.”
2 thoughts on “How To Peacefully Co-Exist With An Overactive Mind”
Thank you for this beautiful article. This came in my inbox recently (https://www.becomingminimalist.com/stop-overthinking/ ) which brought me to this site and the way you clarify things with humor and grace is really incredible. “The act of thinking, on the other hand is a habit and an addiction. You can’t choose your thoughts but you CAN choose whether to think or not.” I have had this confused with believing thinking was my thoughts and this was something I could not control. As I cannot control what I am thinking whenever I am thinking of it. I can now see for years how this ruminating, unhealthy, repetitive pattern of holding onto my thinking is a habit and one now I’m starting to use my awareness to hopefully break this cycle more and more each day.
I just noticed your post. Many thanks for your kind words.