I was absent-mindedly pulling a few weeds while my son was waiting to be picked up for school.
What are you doing Mum?
Pulling out the weeds.
So there’s room for the plants we want to grow there.
Oh. You mean like worry thoughts and happy thoughts?* What will happen if you don’t pull out the weeds?
The weeds will take over and there won’t be enough space for the plants we want to grow.
Oh. That makes sense.
*Nicky Johnston’s series of children’s books uses the concept of worrythoughts and happythoughts to help little worriers gain confidence.
My little man is a worrier. Some of that I assume he has got from me and some is just a part of who he is. We’ve been spending a lot of time and energy helping him understand and then manage his worries so he can feel more confident, more positive. He is learning skills that I only developed as an adult and he often shares insights that leave me gaping and sure he’s been here before.
Thoughts are like plants. They germinate, grow, blossom and flourish given the right circumstances. It is only our judgement that decides whether they are plants or weeds. Helpful or not helpful.
Ignoring a weed in the garden, pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. Chances are it will continue to take hold.
Ripping the weed out in anger is also not the solution. Bits of root get left behind, ready to grow again. Who is left feeling bad? You.
The middle path can show us the way – mindfulness, detached awareness.
Oh, there’s a plant there that is not helping to create the garden I want. Let’s gently set you aside to make space for the plants I want to flourish.
No judgement. No anger. No struggle.
Ease. Calm. Peace.
I first encountered this approach when reading The Inner Game series of books at university in relation to performance nerves and later when working with a therapist who used Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Mindfulness is such a powerful tool. No wonder Buddhists have been practising it for centuries.
So allow those thoughts to be. Acknowledge them. But that’s all they are. Thoughts. Notice the unhelpful ones and set them gently aside.
Like in the garden, weeding our thoughts is a continual process that is never finished. Some seasons are easier or harder than others depending on the conditions we find ourselves in. But regular attention helps our chosen ‘flowers’ from becoming completely overwhelmed by pesky weeds.
How do you deal with unhelpful thoughts?