You are not your thoughts. This is such a simple sentence, but believe me when I tell you that it’s pretty much the key to everything.

How can your thoughts not be you? They appear in your head, and it sounds like your voice. Stop and listen to that voice for a while, especially when you are a bit agitated, and you’re realise that, rather than being that voice, you are the ‘person’ who is listening to that voice.

Very often that voice is something which we have taken on board from others, particularly parents or caregivers in our early years. We may hear echoes of their voices scolding us, telling us what we should do, or even encouraging us (the voice isn’t always negative). This is a process known as introjection (the inverse of projection). This isn’t you, it’s like a mini parent in your head, that you’re carrying around (and often a much worse parent that your parent actually was)

The voice also provides a running commentary on what is happening around us. If we narrate everything that happens to us, we somehow feel more in control of the world around us. Everyone does this. I just caught myself thinking, ‘Oh, it’s windy today, isn’t it?’

Where things can really go wrong.

However, crucially, we don’t just narrate, we also interpret. This is where things can really go wrong, because our mind’s interpretation is much more often negative than positive. Jim didn’t ring you back? Maybe he’s met someone else/doesn’t really like you/is going to ghost you? You haven’t had any enquires about your availability for work for a while? You’ll probably never get any work again, and will have to go back to that job you hated. If you think about it, these kinds of thoughts are no more logical than, ‘It’s windy today, isn’t it? The Gods must be angry with me.’

It’s natural for us to interpret things negatively and be fearful. It’s a biological way of keeping us safe.

However, it is also the source of a great deal of misery. As well as interpreting what happens to us negatively, we also tend to spend a lot of time worrying about things which may well never happen, or going over and over in our heads what we think we might like to say to other people (but don’t dare).

Until we can believe that ‘you are not your thoughts’, we are controlled by those thoughts, and that is generally not much fun at all.

How can we break free?

With practice, it gets easier and easier to spot that inner voice, and detach from it. One tip is to listen carefully to the language it uses. As soon as you hear extreme language ‘it’ll be a disaster’, ‘this always happens’ or ‘shoulds’ or anything highly critical, that’s a big hint.

Once you’ve spotted that this voice isn’t you, you can start to detach from it. This isn’t about trying to suppress it (it will shout louder), but simply being aware of it, and recognising that doing what it says is rarely a good idea. Think of it like an angry or scared toddler, and deal with it appropriately- with love, and reassurance where needed, but by no means seeing the toddler as boss, and doing everything it says.

You’re in charge, not the toddler.