Continuing our run of mindfulness exercises to help you overcome insomnia, taken from Dr Guy Meadows' excellent book The Sleep Book: How to Sleep Well Every Night

Noticing Your Thoughts

We have the capacity to both notice and think about things. However, you may have observed that you spend more time thinking than you do noticing. On a recent holiday I saw an amazing sunset. Unfortunately, as soon as I saw it, I thought that I must take a photo to post on Facebook. 

As I searched for my camera, my mind drifted off onto all of the complimentary comments that friends would post when they saw the photo. It took me five minutes to find my camera, by which time I had missed the best of the sunset and did not get the photo! This experience made me realise that I couldn't have stopped myself from having those thoughts and the urge to act upon them, but I could have responded differently to them. In hindsight, if I had acknowledged each thought and then chosen to return my attention back to appreciating the beauty of the sunset in the moment that it gradually dipped below the horizon, I wouldn't have missed it. 

Your thoughts can play a key role in how you behave; however, what is vital to remember is that they needn't determine your behaviour. You always have a choice! Realising that there are two of you reading this book at this moment in time can be a strange concept to grasp, but understanding the difference between 'you', the person who is noticing the words on the page, and your 'thinking mind', the person who is thinking about the words on the page, is extremely important. 

Being able to notice the thinker helps you to realise that you are separate from your thoughts. Let's try the following exercise to demonstrate what I mean.

Exercise 2: Noticing the Thinker

  • Close your eyes for 30 seconds and notice any thoughts or images that pop into your mind.
  • As soon as you see a thought or image, say out loud, or under your breath, the word 'thought' and then gently return your attention back to noticing to see if any more pop in.
  • If you like, you can label your thoughts with a descriptive name such as 'work', 'dinner', 'relationship' or whatever they happen to be. If no thoughts turn up, which can sometimes happen, you may find yourself thinking that no thoughts appear to be arriving, which in itself is a thought.

Getting into the habit of looking at your thoughts and labelling them in this way lessens the risk of automatically identifying with your thoughts and getting stuck in them.