We all develop patterns of thinking over our lifetime, many of which are unconscious and can undermine our mental health by trapping us in painful moods. There are ways to break the pattern: a 2016 study again validated Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for treating depression.
One premise of MBCT is that greater awareness of the content of our thoughts—cultivated through mindfulness practice—allows us to recognize destructive mental habits and, over time, create new approaches around even the most challenging experiences.
One mindfulness practice that builds awareness of thoughts is called “watching the weather.” The aim isn’t to disconnect from life. At some other time, we may choose to problem solve or run with a creative idea. But for a few minutes we let it all slide, give ourselves a mental rest, and observe the passing mental clouds.
• Take a few minutes to observe your thoughts.
• As thoughts surface, ask yourself: Is it true? Negative thoughts might arise: I’m not good enough to handle this. If she doesn’t get her act together, she’ll never get into college. But is it true? So much of what feels fixed or permanent turns out to be assumption, conjecture, or fantasy. After you’ve asked yourself this question of a particular thought you are having, try to gently let the thought go.
• Note the directions your mind tends toward: specific storylines or thoughts, boredom, hunger, etc.
• Become aware of habits, then note them as habits. Let go of what you choose, and see what else you might influence moving forward.