6000 thoughts - that’s how many thoughts we have a day according to some new research.
These thoughts, and the emotions generated by them define your reality. You may think you’re experiencing the objective reality of the room you’re in, the person you’re with, the job you’re doing.
But it ain’t so. Between the limits of our sensory perceptions, the architecture of our brain, and the cognitive and social biases that we all have, we are constantly creating a reality in our skulls that is only loosely coupled with any objective reality.
Coming to this understanding is the most important thing in my life.
I know that for most of my life, pretty much all 6000 thoughts just happened to me.
Which meant my reality happened to me. My irritation with traffic, or coworkers, or wives happened to me. My disdain for myself happened. My boredom happened. My cautiousness and fear just happened. My preference for a buzz vs being straight happened. My bad habits just happened.
I have an engineering degree. I was drawn to facts, principles, scientific truths, math and logic. I then extrapolated that fondness for clarity to the rest of my life, and became very certain and self-righteous about a lot of things. I prided myself on my ability to discern the truth and make clear judgements. I constantly judged myself and the people around me. I had a lot of clear preferences. And they all felt very true.
But in actual fact they were just thoughts happening to me, with little relationship to reality or truth.
Knowing this, I’ve set myself to being intentional and flexible in my thinking. I can pick out 5 thoughts in a day, question them, observe how they make me feel and what they make me do. If I don’t like the results, I stop thinking those thoughts, for the moment anyway, and think something else.
By paying attention to a tiny number of thoughts, out of 6000 per day, I have completely changed my reality for the better. This change shows up in external ways - the job I have, the quality of my relationships, the money available to me, my physique - and in internal ways - my level of peace, contentment, and satisfaction with my life.
I want to give one specific example of how paying attention to a few thoughts matters in relation to drinking.
I asked a client to tell me some of his positive thoughts about alcohol. He said:
People like me better when I drink.
Can you see the power of a thought like that, for creating a reality where someone drinks too much in social situations?
What do we want more than almost anything - for people to like us better! If ever there were a desire-causing thought that fuels the action of drinking, that's one.
The second this thought came out of his mouth, he realized the power of it. I asked him if it were true. He laughed and said that no actually it wasn’t.
But even if it did feel true, you could still unravel it. How might it be not true? What other things does or could you do that make people like him better? Should it matter so much whether people like you better?
If you can find and rethink a few thoughts like that about your drinking and your life, you will be well on your way to a very different relationship with alcohol, one where moderation is easy.
6000 thoughts today. Notice and question just 5 of them. Practice 5 new ones. Repeat tomorrow. You will change your life.