Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

How To Think Less and Feel More

It will change your life for the better.

I have spent most of my life in my head, thinking.

Or rather, over-thinking.

Over-analyzing everything.

I have always loved studying. I thought when I graduated, that would be the end of paper writing and research.

But as a teacher, reading, taking notes, analyzing and organizing ideas in order to present them is most of what I do.

When I am not working, I spend most of my free time thinking.

I am both a self-help/ personal development and productivity junkie, and I have notes from a whole lot of books and articles to prove it.

Reading, taking notes, analyzing my faults and other people’s recommended cures, planning what to do, how I should do it, how to do what others have figured out how to do so I can do it better or differently.

I have comprehensive to do lists, detailed, daily and weekly schedules, 30–60–90–1000 day challenges to break my bad habits and create new healthier ones.

Once the latest master plan is done, perfectly, exhaustively, comprehensively, I set it aside, misplace it, and soon forget about it.

That is, until I read the next article or book with helpful, potentially life-changing tips.

There’s always another, better, shinier solution to try.

Or at least, to think about trying.

I don’t think I’m alone in my tendency to favor thinking over doing.

And I know I’m not alone my preference to think rather than feel.

Culturally, we value thinking over feeling:

Thinking is productive

Feelings are optional, and often inconvenient.

Thinking is rewarded: measurable by products produced.

Feelings aren’t taken into consideration, even if they directly affect the bottom line.

Thinking is socially expected and acceptable.

Feelings are socially risky, and in excess, socially embarrassing.

Thinking gives you a sense of purpose, direction, control.

Feelings can overwhelm and don’t always tell you what to do with them.

I can remember exactly when I decided at the age of fourteen to dissociate from my body, which I identified as the source of all my pain and humiliation.

In my mind I was safe; I would be the one judging rather than the one subject to judgements of others.

Those who like to be always be in control, and who are afraid of losing control are likely to be over-thinkers.

Thinking, is after all the way, we keep ourselves safe;

If we just think long and hard, we will know what to do if something bad from happens.

Thinking is our best insurance to fight fear of the unknown.

That’s what we tell ourselves, anyway.

But it’s a lie.

As anyone knows when faced with something unexpected, that you didn’t anticipate and can’t control — unexpected partings, sudden losses, illnesses, accidents, natural and personal disasters — are the stuff of life.

These are the things that happen, as John Lennon famously said, when you are busy making other plans.

It’s not thinking that helps you to get though these — it’s feeling.

Feelings connect you to your body

Thinking perpetuates the illusion that we can live in a state disassociated from our bodies: I can stare at a computer hours for hours, forget to eat, ignore my bladder, sit in a way that compresses my spine, makes my hips hurt and my legs stiff.

As you become aware of your feelings you also become aware of bodily sensations.

Feeling nervous or anxious is something that affects your stomach, your heart rate, your breathing, the movement of your hands and legs.

When you feel your feelings you must do so in and through your body.

If you are not used to feeling your feelings, it may be hard to identify what it is you feel, because you may not have a well developed vocabulary for the variety of emotions and bodily sensations you feel.

But it’s worth taking the time to pay attention to the subtleties of your feelings and the bodily sensations that are part of parcel of these feelings

It’s worth it because your body is a source of wisdom, different from your thinking mind.

With my mind, I can convince myself to believe what I want to believe is true.

I wanted to believe that a person I loved, loved me back, was a good person, was someone I could trust. That’s what I thought and that’s what I believed.

If I had paid more attention to my bodily sensations and my feelings, I would have picked up on the glaring red flags a lot sooner.

I lie to myself with my mind.

Feelings that are grounded in my body always tell me the truth.

When you can identify your feelings and the subtle and no so subtle bodily sensations that accompany them, you have an invaluable bullshit meter at your disposal.

You are less likely to be swayed by the opinions of external authorities, and more likely to listen to your own wisdom, knowledge and experience.

Feelings connect your head to your heart

In Western medicine, the brain is understood to be the central control mechanism of thinking and also of bodily functions.

This may be in part due to notion of a Homunculus, or “little man” conceived by 16th century alchemists

Jennifer Garcia (Reverie) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

According to Christopher H Ramey Ph.D., “A homunculus is essentially ‘a little man’ inside you, the agent behind your actions, the decider behind your decisions, the see-er behind your sight. Think of the so-called Cartesian theater inside your mind.”

Even though that idea of a homunculus has been debunked, we still tend to locate and associate thinking with what happens in our brains.

We tend to believe what we think.

But as William James, and many others have pointed out, we tend to filter information through our beliefs, and thus find the evidence that confirms it

“Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” — William James

In addition the problem of confirmation bias (accepting as true only that which supports what you already believe), there are some good reasons to, as the bumper sticker says, not believe everything you think.

Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on the body’s energy system or Qi which is centered around the heart.

Physical, as well as emotional health has to do with the distribution of energy throughout the different organs in the body.

There is also scientific evidence that strong emotions, such as grief, fear or love affect our hearts physiologically.

Feelings are central to our overall sense of well-being.

They also have a huge impact on our physical health.

And, many argue that it feelings are what determines our beliefs. Feeling, is in essence believing.

Thus if you want to change some aspect of your life, you must first pay attention to what you feel.

If you want to be successful, you must start by recognizing the ways that you are already successful in your life. The more you do this, the more you create the conditions that create new circumstances and results.

By spending more time focused on how you want to feel, will make you happier, healthier and is more likely to produce results you are seeking, than spending your time trying to figure it all out.

Feelings connect you to other people

Billionaire Warren Buffett uses one question to measure as his metric for success: “Do the people you care about love you back?”

In order to be a caring friend, a responsive partner, a present parent, an engaged member of a community, you have to be able to know what you feel, and be present and sensitive to the feelings of those around you too.

And the reason to do this is because the quality of our lives is tied to the quality of our relationships with others.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

If you aren’t present because you are lost in your phone, wrapped up in social media, overworking and thinking too much about what you have to do to be where you are, its hard to have the time or take the time you need to develop the relationships that make life worth living.

It’s ironic that we know more and are more connected to people around the world, have access all of the information in the world’s libraries in our phones and yet, more than half of Americans report feeling alone, unseen, as if no one really knows them at all.

The price we pay for thinking too much and not feeling enough is that thinking is often accompanied by social isolation. We think alone, accomplish tasks alone, and very often socialize alone — in the company of our computers.

We can feel all by ourselves too, and feeling lonely, depressed and uncared for — are feelings that are exacerbated and reinforced by not having actual face to face social relationships.

Too much thinking and not enough feeling disconnects us from face to face interpersonal relationships where we may be seen, known, felt and heard.

But if we are willing to spend more time feeling and paying attention to how we feel, we can recognize when we need to get outside, we need to play, we need to talk to and think and connect to another person.

As I write this, a friend who I have not seen in years who lives in my town writes me and says we should have coffee sometime. In my overthinking mode, I respond yes and then never follow up. And because of this, I have not actually spend any time with her in over five years, though we express the desire to do so.

I want to feel less lonely and that means making time to actually commit to spending time with my friends rather than putting it off until I have more time and am not so busy. In my mind, I am always busy and never enough time.

But when I connect with people I remember how good that feels, and the feeling makes remember what is actually important to me.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

This quote, which you probably recognize from Steve Jobs is instructive, first because he is example of someone who chose thinking over feeling.

He’s a household name, he changed the world, and ended up a billionaire, but his success was attained by running roughshod over those that helped him along the way, his friends, employees and family members.

While he did a good job of not listening to the dogma of others, but I wonder how much more successful he might have felt had he had valued and recognized feelings and contributions of those around him. In Warren Buffet’s metric for success, there might be a whole lot more people who could say they genuinely loved, as well as admired him.

His quote also gives us a good reason to think less and feel more. If I am right, that feelings connect you to your body’s wisdom, your heart and the full range of your emotions, and to rich relations with other people, then feelings are key to listening to your inner voice and the way you find the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

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