Imagine just you and your thoughts, alone in an empty room, with nothing else to distract you.
How long would you be able to spend in this room by yourself? For most people, the answer seems to be “not very long at all.”
In a recent study published in Science, participants were asked to spend between 6-15 minutes just entertaining themselves – with no cellphones, books, TV, or any type of distraction.
At first, they tried it in a laboratory, where almost 50% of the participants reported that they “didn’t enjoy the experience.” Next researchers let people spend time with their thoughts at home, and 36% ended up “cheating” by checking their phones or listening to music.
The most surprising finding was that when participants were given the option to spend time with just their thoughts or receive a small electric shock, 67% of men and 25% of women actually chose the electric shock rather than the alone time.
What is it about just you and your thoughts that can seem like such a frightening proposition? What makes it so unpleasant that many are even willing to go through a painful experience just to avoid it?
We often prefer “doing” over “thinking,” even if what we’re doing is harmful or unpleasant – because many see just “sitting and thinking” as unproductive, a waste of time, or a sign of laziness.
Over time, this belief has made us disconnect from our minds more and more. Today many people will occupy themselves with anything just so they don’t have to be alone with their thoughts and feelings.
Are you comfortable with just you and your thoughts, or do you need to constantly distract yourself from the inner workings of your own mind?
Try 5 Minutes of Just You and Your Thoughts
We have to start re-connecting with our minds, and being more comfortable with just sitting with our thoughts. Here’s a simple exercise I want you to try:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place where no one will bother you.
- Get rid of all distractions. Leave your phone, tablet, iPod, or whatever in another room. Make sure there is no TV or music on that you can hear.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes. (You can use your phone if you want – but just for this!)
- Sit down and just observe your experience.
- Watch your thoughts as they pass you by. Don’t judge them as “good” or “bad.” Don’t try to change them. Just watch.
- One useful analogy to keep in mind is to think of your thoughts as clouds passing through the sky. And the sky is your awareness.
- Continue this small exercise until the timer ends.
- Congratulations, you just self-reflected for 5 minutes without distraction!
In our fast-paced technological age, this can at first seem like a slow, boring, and even painful exercise. However, with practice, you should become more comfortable with spending time alone with your mind.
I think we all need a healthy dose of self-reflection every now and then. We’re always so focused on moving forward in life that we forget to take a step back and let it all in.
I personally try to do this exercise at least once throughout my day. It’s not hard, and it’s something you can do almost anywhere with practice. You can check out more about this exercise in my article open mind meditation.
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