Addictive thinking is by far the most common addiction both literally and figuratively. It literally affects the entire population to some extent or other and figuratively because it is arguably the root cause of all other addictions.
Our addiction to food, alcohol, work, gadgets and screen time (just to name a few) stems directly from our attempt to escape from, numb ourselves or shut out the relentless chatter that goes on inside our heads.
First, lets understand what an addiction is.
An addiction is a physical or psychological need to do, take or use something often. Addiction is most commonly associated with gambling, drugs, alcohol or smoking. These are considered more harmful and destructive than other addictions. However behaviours such as: workaholism, over exercising, mobile phone and screen use, shopping, emotional eating and excess sugar consumption are also strong addictions that have a negative impact on both the physical and psychological body.
Whatever a person is addicted to, they can’t control how they use it.
There is no doubt that most of us are pretty much compulsively occupied with the content of our mind. I liken this to a dog catching a scent. Imagine a dog following a good scent, they display 100% undivided attention towards following the smell. There is no recall, or any sign of stopping.
This is how our minds can work with a thought. We suddenly become so involved in the thought that we completely lose our conscious mind. We slip into a trance like state, and become fully unaware of real time situations eg: walking into the kitchen for something and standing there for 5 mins trying to remember what. An example of how quickly a present thought can be taken over by the unconscious thought patterns.
Addictive thinking is an addiction that perhaps goes unnoticed by others and even the thinker! Most likely, overthinking will never be detected as a pathology throughout one’s life. We can spend days lost in unconscious and unproductive thinking – addictively replaying the same mental patterns, the same stories over and over in our heads like a scratched cd.
The buddhists use the term monkey mind to describe the type of incessant mental chatter that can make a lasting peace so difficult to achieve.
Thinking and suffering are inseparable. Therefore ADDICTIVE THINKING IS THE PRIMARY CAUSE OF SUFFERING!
So how do we stop it?
The first step and most important step to stop thinking as much is to bring more awareness (conscious thought) to the unconscious thinking process. Or in other words become the observer of our own thoughts. (easier said than done). It’s a process and requires much practise (like everything else in life).
Every time we are conscious enough to step back and become the observer of the mind rather than being caught up in the content and emotion, thinking automatically stops. The simple act of becoming aware of the mind stops thinking in its tracks.
Our thoughts are generally pulling our attention into the past and future. Focusing on being present in the moment is the key to breaking down the addictive thinking habit.
Our awareness can only be in one place at a time. You can either be thinking or present in the moment. So consciously withdrawing our attention from overthinking by shifting our awareness to the present moment is the simplest and most direct way to break this habit.
By adding a different thought such as gratitude, helps reroute the unconscious mind as we simply cannot be in the depth of a worrisome thought and in a state of gratitude.