You Control Your Thoughts, Not Your Impulses
But if you do it right, that’s all you need to improve your behavior
When you’re hungry, are you actually hungry, or do you just think you’re hungry?
“What a dumb question,” you might think, “of course I know when I’m hungry!” But do you? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise.
For one thing, 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese. Not all those cases might be the result of overeating, but a lot of them are. At some point in their lives, two out of three people in the United States have lost the connection between how much they should eat and how much they actually eat. Chances are, that initial question has something to do with it.
You may not have a weight problem yourself, but you sure know what it’s like to eat something you shouldn’t have. We all do. Who can blame us? So many tasty snacks, so many great TV shows, modern technology just makes it too easy to keep munching chips long after you’re satisfied. Clearly, we can’t always tell reality from fiction when it comes to our stomachs growling.
Why is that? Let’s do a thought exercise to understand what’s going on.
The river inside your mind
The point of meditation is observing your thoughts without engaging with them. There are many analogies to help you grasp this concept.
The one I use is this: Imagine a stream of threads. Thousands of little strands of fabric, swimming by in front of your inner eye. Each thread is a thought, and they all have different colors. Whenever you want, you can reach into the river and grab one of them. If you do, however, you’ll now be looking at the thread in your hand. As a result, you’ll miss all the others passing by.
Meditation, then, is about looking at the river without grabbing any threads.
Just like the threads have many colors, so do our thoughts. There are factual ones, like “2 + 2 = 4,” bland ones, like “this wall is white,” surprising ones, like old memories that come up unexpectedly, and many more. In my mind, the thoughts that come with impulses are threads in bright red. They stand out. They’re shiny. You really want to grab them.