Have you ever found yourself halfway to the fridge, but can’t remember why you went there? Something prompted you, but what? And, have you ever looked up while driving suddenly wondering how you came all that way without really noticing?
You were busy thinking of something else. You know we aren’t always aware of what we are doing, yet we are thinking something to make us do it.
Sometimes, subconscious thoughts—assumptions we’ve made about life and the people in it—control our decisions and, therefore, actions without us even noticing it. If we stop to pay attention, we can see what’s going on and start making conscious decisions instead.
Why do we have invisible thoughts?
Some thoughts are patterns—patterns engrained in our brain. We don’t really stop to question ourselves when we open the milk carton in the morning to pour milk over our cereal. Nor do we really think about signaling when making a turn. We just do it—often while thinking about something else. If we stop to consider what we are doing, we will see it though.
If the brain didn’t establish patterns, we’d constantly have to relearn things. It’s really beneficial for us if we learn that fires burn our hands, meaning we don’t really think about it—we just keep our hands out of the fires.
The problem is that, as children, we make up a lot of things about life that aren’t true, from us being unlovable to rich people being nasty. We generalize. And then, we make decisions based on these generalizations. Often, it’s completely illogical (like thinking men are emotionless and try to be emotionless to win their acceptance and love, which is an emotion).
The fact that you don’t have to think about how to open your toothpaste is great. The fact that you don’t think when approaching men, maybe not so great.
Compare it to intuition: most of us, at some point, felt that we should turn left instead of right. It wasn’t a thought that seemed logical at the time, which is why we paid no attention to it—until getting stuck in a traffic jam for an hour that is.
Then, suddenly we remember that we had a hunch about turning left instead of our usual right. This is very similar to invisible thinking—decisions we make without thinking about making them as our attention is on something else.
How do invisible thoughts work?
Not too long ago, I found myself sitting and thinking about a guy. I thought that he was a player and wanted sex from me. I’d sort of written him off that way. I also thought he’d likely be one of those guys who, if you kept it cool and didn’t fall for him, might go for you.
Then, out of the blue, it hit me what I was thinking. Just like tying my shoelaces or driving my car, I wasn’t really thinking about what I was thinking about. It suddenly occurred to me I was thinking this about a man who, while clearly enjoying women, had had several long and committed relationships, so he was capable of falling in love.
I also realized the problem was that, for years, I’d been aloof from men, thinking they’d all see me as needy if I showed any sign of emotions, so I busied myself trying to have none, ensuring I didn’t lose my head to the wrong guy.
I had, at times, said I’d have nothing but a relationship, being a strong woman standing up for herself (though never quite believing in herself); at other times, I’d been the uninterested sex kitten, but I’d never just been. I’d always put an attitude on top, thinking that just me wasn’t good enough because I’d confused being open and caring with being needy.
You see, as a child I was humiliated afew times by boys for having emotions, and later I dated a man who basically told me off if I so much as hinted at a future with him even though we were in a committed relationship.
So, the idea of adoring a man had become confused with seeming needy or being that geeky child who no one wanted to be associated with. As a result, I tried to play it cool, by being either uninterested or demanding. However, having emotions and being loving and playful with someone is not the same as being needy.
Of course, you need to have emotions and show that you adore someone. You also need to ensure that you put your own life first until you get to know someone and don’t confuse love with attraction. Needy women are those who need a man to feel good about themselves. Attractive women are those who want a man because they love men.
For years, invisible thoughts controlled my love life. I’d unraveled some over the years, but I’d never quite seen the full picture. I can’t say I’m sure I have now either; it was just an epiphany to see how I’d already written someone off as cold and not wanting a relationship without even realizing I’d done it.
Simultaneously, I’d been telling myself to feel nothing and show nothing, which is a surefire way to get nothing.
How do you see invisible thoughts?
Invisible thoughts become visible the moment you start paying attention to them. They’re never truly invisible, it’s just that your attention is elsewhere. If you don’t look at the cat sitting next to you, you won’t see it, but the cat is still there. So are the “invisible” thoughts.
To become aware of what you are thinking, start paying attention to what you feel. In drama school (where I was taught about invisible thinking when learning to understand characters), we had to pay attention to our body. It wasn’t until teachers started pointing out how I was sitting or I did body awareness classes that I realized how I often sat in a way that was actually uncomfortable. I learnt to pay attention to my body, my breathing and my voice, just as I learnt to pay attention to my thinking.
One way to learn to pay attention is to have an alarm go off a couple of times a day and ask yourself how you are feeling? Why are you feeling that way? Include your body. Do a mental check of where you are at, what you are doing, how your body feels and what you are thinking.
Also, make a mental note, which you repeat to yourself daily, to pay attention to your feelings. If you feel happy, uncomfortable, sad, agitated, etc., there are thoughts underpinning those emotions. Instead of just feeling agitated, ask yourself why? You will find that just by looking at the thoughts sometimes dissolves the anxiety.
Managing subconscious mind – what not to do
Say you realize you have a very disturbing thought about men because of something that happened in your childhood. What you shouldn’t do is eat three tubs of ice cream to feel better, or shove the thought into the recesses of your brain and try to keep it there. Don’t control it. Don’t put a lid on it. Don’t declare war on it.
It’s just a thought. It isn’t real. It’s not based on reality. It’s an assumption your brain made based on real events that happened to you. Our brains are capable of making the most ridiculous and traumatizing assumptions. Just because you think it and it’s been unconsciously ruling your life doesn’t mean you believe it once you discover it. It’s a thought, not reality.
Fighting your thoughts is like wrestling—they won’t go away because you’re holding onto them. If you try to hide them, you push them down and they stay there. If you make friends with them, however, you realize they aren’t harmful.
They are just some assumptions you made a long time ago based on events. You don’t have to act on them. Once you acknowledge them, they tend to evaporate and so do the emotions attached to them. Books that lend insight into invisible thinking are The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and The Science of Acting by Sam Kogan.
The funny thing is we often have opposing thoughts in our minds too, which are activated at different times. One minute, we are the nice catholic girl our mother preached about, the next we’re our pagan grandmother come back to life.
We grew up with different influences and different events trigger those influences. It’s like running into someone who looks like your first grade teacher and suddenly you start calling them Ma’am without thinking.
Invisible thoughts do tend to rule our lives. We need them as they are generalizations we have made about life, which we learn from past events. If we didn’t generalize, we’d have to spend a long time thinking before making any decisions.
Sometimes what we’ve learnt/assumed in the past isn’t true though and we still act on it. Therefore, it’s good to check in during the day to see how you are feeling and try to figure out the thoughts behind the feelings.
And when we see them, rather than fight them or suppress them, make friends with them. They are just thoughts – not reality. We don’t have to act on them. It’s especially beneficial to do check-ins when we meet new men, decide on a career move, desperately want to make friends with someone, ditch a friend and so forth.